In reality all employment roles come with a certain degree of stress which many employees automatically assume they have to absorb. The fact is that all employers have a legal obligation under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure the well-being of their employees. This is the umbrella act which covers a legal obligation on employers towards their employees although there are other industry related acts of Parliament offering further protection.
The constant need to improve profits and increase efficiencies in the workplace can lead to an increase in stress levels but this is not an excuse or a way in which employers can escape their legal obligations. If you have had a stress related illness and believe it’s because of the pressures of work you should talk with a personal injury solicitor to see if you could claim compensation.
Common Causes Of Stress At Work
If you ask 10 people to explain their understanding of stress you will no doubt get an array of varied answers. In simple terms, stress in the workplace can be caused by many issues including:
- Excessive workload
- Undue pressure
- Substandard working conditions
Many instances of stress will be related to specific industries but the above list gives you an idea of the basis for many stress at work claims. In theory, proving undue stress in the workplace can be challenging at times but nowadays evidence can emerge in many ways such as internal emails, written notices and staff meetings where witnesses are present. If you believe you have been suffering due to stress at work then you may well be eligible for compensation from your employer.
Statistics On Stress In The Workplace
A report by the Health and Safety Executive casts a very dark shadow across the world of stress, depression and anxiety in the workplace. The number of new or long-standing instances of stress, depression and anxiety in the workplace totalled 595,000 in the financial year 2017/18. Over that same period there was a staggering 15.4 million working days lost due to work-related stress. An excessive workload (at 44%) accounted for most stress-related absences from the workplace.
Looking back at historic work-related stress compensation claims we know that the following business sectors have higher than average rates of stress, depression and anxiety:
- Social work activities
- Public administration and defence
When you consider that stress, depression and anxiety accounted for 40% of work-related illnesses in 2016/17 (and 49% of lost working days) it is surprising that more investment is not made in these particular areas. The fact that it is now possible for employees to pursue compensation when exposed to excessive stress in the workplace should focus the minds of employers.
Common Signs Of Stress From Work
There are a number of tell-tale signs to indicate that an employee may be suffering a stress-related illness, which include:
- Higher than average absences and sick days
- Lower productivity and efficiency
- Higher than average complaints and grievances
- Arguments and bickering with colleagues
The cumulative effect of these tell-tale signs can be extremely damaging to an employee’s long-term prospects and role within the company. They can lead to:
- Extended periods of absence from work
- A lack of confidence in their ability
- A heightened state of anxiety often leading to aggression and heightened emotions
In years gone by stress-related illnesses were often dismissed and we can only guess at the number of employees who lost their jobs because of a stress-related condition. It is also worth noting that the heightened levels of stress at work can also impact a person’s home life, finances and ultimately their well-being.
Employers have legal obligations towards their employees to ensure their well-being. We know from historic compensation claims that a number of common factors can lead to stress-related illnesses in the workplace which include:
- A lack of initial and ongoing training
- Staff shortages
- Long hours
- Uncertainty over job security
- Excessive pressure to deliver
- Allocating inexperienced staff to specific projects
- Unrealistic timescales
Many people will not be aware that employers also have a legal obligation to offer help and assistance to employees suffering from issues such as work related stress. There must be documented systems in place to:
- Identify and reduce the likely causes of work-related stress
- Recognise when there may be issues with an employee
- Address issues causing excessive stress for an employee
- Offer support for employees suffering from stress
- Assess and regularly update cases of and reasons for stress in the workplace
It is also worth noting that employees also have an obligation to abide by company procedures, work to the best of their ability and avoid last-minute cramming to meet reasonable deadlines. Where there are stress-related issues outside of the workplace, maybe of a domestic nature, it may be in the employer’s interest to offer support where required and even additional time away from the workplace to recover.
If any of these procedures are not in place, and you experience work-related stress, then your employer may well be deemed negligent and liable to pay compensation.
Proving Negligence In Stress At Work Claims
Proof of negligence is central to any stress at work claim for compensation. Before we go into this issue in more detail it is worth noting that work-related stress should not be seen as “part of your employment” – it certainly does not exclude an employer from their legal obligations to protect the workforce.
The primary way to determine a stress-related illness is to visit your GP with blood-pressure, insomnia and heightened anxiety some of the main symptoms that your doctor will look out for. They will also talk through your emotional state, concerns and symptoms, offering advice as well as practical and medical support. While being “signed off” by your GP because of work-related stress is very important when looking to pursue a stress at work claim, in isolation it may not be enough.
If possible you should also seek additional supportive evidence which could take in:
- Photographic evidence of the workplace
- Emails and messages which contributed to stress
- Examples of similar stress-related illnesses amongst colleagues
- A copy of the work’s employee protection procedures
- Examples of tasks forced to carry out for which you were under experienced
Many people who suffer from work-related stress may keep a diary of events, issues and a snapshot of their mental state. It is worth noting that even where there is an obvious case of work-related stress, if the employee decided not to utilise support offered by their employer this could have an impact upon any compensation award. It may well be that both an employee and employer are each deemed partially liable because of their own actions or inactions.
Appointing A Personal Injury Solicitor
Proving a work-related stress illness is not always as straightforward as many more traditional work injury claims. In some cases there will be one action that increased the stress to a level which was unbearable although in many cases it can be a general slow buildup of pressure. There are many personal injury solicitors who will have significant experience in pursuing stress-related illnesses especially in the workplace.
In a consultation with a solicitor they will want to go through any evidence you might have thus far, your account of events leading up to the stress illness and any medical treatment. Should your solicitor feel there is a case to answer for stress-related compensation and you sign a No Win No Fee arrangement they will often require an additional examination from an independent specialist to confirm the level of stress you may be under. This would be arranged in your local area in most cases.
The No Win No Fee arrangement would mean the solicitor agreeing to cover their own legal costs when pursuing your stress at work claim, in exchange for a “success fee” if compensation is awarded. The success fee is no more than 25% of the compensation awarded, but as with any contract you put your signature on you should make sure you know exactly what fee/fees you will be charged for as these may vary.
Lodging A Stress At Work Claim
When you have reached an agreement for a solicitor to take on your stress at work claim, the claim will be lodged with the courts together with supporting evidence. A copy of this evidence would be made available to the defendant and where negligence is readily accepted they may prefer an out-of-court arrangement. While this would obviously mitigate the defendant’s legal fees going forward it would also allow the claimant to receive compensation sooner than if they went through the courts. If negligence has been accepted but no out-of-court arrangement can be agreed, the case would go to court, although the claimant may be able to obtain an interim payment to assist with their financial obligations in the short term.
There will also be occasions where negligence for workplace stress is denied, or there are more than one party involved, with these claims put before the courts. The judge would review all evidence, making an appropriate ruling and compensation award.
Stress At Work Compensation
There are two specific types of compensation for stress at work which are known as general damages and special damages. General damages are essentially financial compensation for issues which arose directly as a result of the work-related stress. They include:
- Mental anguish/trauma
- Pain and suffering
- Life changing/altering injuries
While these elements of general damages may be relevant to a work-related stress case, mental trauma is often a major issue. Thankfully the courts now recognise mental trauma in line with physical suffering and can award comparable levels of compensation. When calculating general damages the courts and insurance companies often refer to the Judicial College guidelines which collate historic compensation claims by type of injury and severity. There is a degree of discretion available so that any compensation awarded would directly reflect the specific circumstances of each individual claim.
Special damages relate directly to financial recompense, funding requirements in the future and lost income. These include specific issues such as:
- Loss of earnings
- Future loss of earnings
- Medical expenses
- Future medical expenses
- Therapy costs
There is no discretion when it comes to special damages as they are simply repayment of costs incurred as a direct result of the work related stress and future funding requirements.
Over the last few years we have seen a significant tightening of regulations regarding the protection of whistleblowers in the workplace. In theory, from a legal standpoint, employers are not able to act in a detrimental manner to those who have brought specific matters to the attention of the management and/or the authorities. In practice, it is difficult to divide that line between acceptable workplace decisions and mistreatment of whistleblowers. Unfortunately, perfectly valid cases of whistleblowing can also lead to increased work-related stress.