The UK is in the midst of a ‘stress epidemic’ with over 10.5m working days lost to stress each year costing employers in excess of £3.7bn. Britons are finding their jobs more stressful, unstable and demanding than ever before, according to an extensive poll conducted for the Trade Union Congress...
Unfortunately, over-stressed workers are far more likely to blame a stomach bug or migraine for their absence than to admit they are not coping with long hours, excessive workloads or bullying, which makes it even more difficult to assess the impact of work-related stress.
Impact of stress
Stress can cause mental and physical illness such as anxiety, depression, altered appetite, headaches, backache or difficulty in sleeping. Over time, heart disease or stomach ulcers may also develop.
Causes of work related stress
Typical causes of work-related stress include poor communication, bad management practices, chronic understaffing, excessive hours (poor work-life balance), job instability, bullying and workers’ skills not matching those required for the job at hand.
Under the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations (1999) employers must assess the nature and scale of health risks at work, including stress and take measures to control them.
If an employee suffers from and brings a claim for stress related ill-health and a court decides that it was preventable, then the employer could be found to be negligent.
Companies must also be aware that if they dismiss an employee because they have work-related stress, then an employment tribunal will treat this as unfair dismissal unless it can be proven that the employer acted reasonably.
In certain circumstances a claim for stress from harassment may form part of a claim to the employment tribunal in respect of age, disability, race, sex or sexual orientation discrimination under the Equality Act.
Bullying claims often go hand in hand with stress claims and can lead to substantial damages awarded for employees where their future loss of earnings have been impacted by bullying.
The best way for employers to deal with workplace bullying, harassment and discrimination is to have clear policies and systems in place, which are well communicated throughout the organisation.
Stress claims are often difficult to defend, expensive to investigate, document heavy and extremely reliant on accurate and contemporaneous recording of the evidence and best avoided.
Employers need to stop viewing stress as a ‘well being’ initiative and consider it a health & safety issue. They must ensure that they have a robust framework of employment, health & safety policies and systems to support managers and staff in minimising the risk of work-related stress. It is worth considering that where staff are highly engaged, organisations report 19.2% financial improvement, contrast this with 32.7% drop in financial performance where engagement is low.
Tim Hayward, Claims Controller, UK Casualty Claims