Stress-related absence and your employer’s duty of care

Stress is a major factor in modern workplaces, and society as a whole, but it is important to remember that employers have a duty of care to those who work for them.

Clearly, no one should consider making a constructive dismissal claim merely because the boss asks them to do their job. But it is a reminder that the law offers protection and prevents employers from unfairly punishing their staff when genuine issues arise. Thankfully, there is the option to contact Employment Law Friend or similar firms and seek legal advice to prevent an injustice from occurring. However, it is also important for you to know the basics of what you should expect from any employer.

Your employer’s duty of care

Your employer has a duty of care to ensure that any tasks that are allocated to you do not damage your health. Failure to do this can result in claims for common law duty of care breaches and negligence.

It may also be a breach of duty on your employer’s behalf if you take time off sick with work-related stress and then return to an environment that is completely unchanged and causes you to take further sick leave.

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Unfair dismissal

You may also consider that you have been unfairly dismissed if you suffer from stress and, after at least two years of service, are dismissed with no fair reason, or if your employer has failed in their duty to follow procedures. A constructive dismissal claim may also be made if, for example, your employer overloads you with work, leaving you feeling as if you have no choice but to resign.

Stress is a serious matter

Stress is routinely dismissed by some employers, but the fact is that it can have serious consequences. It can lead to depression and anxiety and can actually fulfil the statutory definition of disability. This means that you may be considered ‘disabled’ when it comes to the Equality Act 2010. The site has some useful information in this context

This opens the door for claims for harassment or disability discrimination if your employer does not treat you properly and adequately assess any risk of stress-based illness that could arise from work. They have a responsibility to control any risk and a failure to do this is a breach of statutory duty.

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What your employer should consider

Your employer should try to understand what is causing any stress you are experiencing and whether this is related to your work. They should do this within your firm’s sickness absence policy and the must follow any agreed procedures when it comes to contacting you whilst you are off sick.

It is also important that employers remember that whilst stress is not officially a recognised psychiatric condition if it leads to depression, anxiety or other related mental health issues, then you may be deemed to be disabled and ‘reasonable adjustments’ will need to be made for you by your employer.

It may be that your employer needs to consider making a referral to an occupational health professional, depending on the length of any absence, in order to assess how your work may be affecting your health, whether you are fit for your job, and what help, if any, can be offered to help you back into the workplace.

What if you can’t go back to work?

Your employer has a duty to consider whether there is another role for which you could be suitable, although they don’t have a duty to create a job for you.