Last Updated on 15.2.23 by David Rogers
In recent years, mental well-being has rightfully emerged at the forefront of society’s collective conscience. Public and professional awareness of the damaging effects of poor mental health is at an all-time high.
For an employer, there is now a real need to show a visible commitment to positive mental health. A supportive, inclusive workplace can help to prevent new mental health problems and support those struggling with their mental health to stay at work and prosper.
Did you know?
Widespread workplace stress and anxiety have contributed to a significant drop in productivity a survey has found.
A report from Champion Health (published in January 2022), polled 2,200 UK employees. It found that two-thirds (67 per cent) were experiencing moderate to high levels of stress. More than a quarter (28 per cent) had seen their productivity negatively impacted.
More than a third (34 per cent) of those polled said that stress was negatively impacting them. The main causes of stress at work cited as workload, lack of control and less support.
What must the employer do?
Employers have a duty of care, meaning they must do all they reasonably can to support their employees’ health, safety and wellbeing. This includes:
- Making sure the working environment is safe
- Protecting staff from discrimination
- Carrying out risk assessments and wellbeing checks
- Making reasonable adjustments
Case law has made it entirely clear that the duty to make reasonable adjustments requires a proactive approach on the part of the employer – it is not enough to simply sit back and wait for an employee to suggest how their work-related stress could be alleviated.
What claims can an employee bring?
Employers must be aware of the nine protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. Disability constitutes one of those protected characteristics, and recent case law shows that mental health (including stress) can amount to a disability.
This means that an employee could make a discrimination claim against their employer for failure to make reasonable adjustments that alleviate their work stress, or for placing them at a detriment due to a mental health problem.
Compensation for discrimination is uncapped. An employee need only show that injury to feelings was reasonably foreseeable, in order to claim damages for psychiatric injury. For an employer, it is not a sufficient defence to attribute an employee’s stress to external factors outside of the workplace, such as home life. Where there are multiple causes for psychiatric harm, courts and tribunals are willing to divide compensation in accordance with percentage factors.
Frequently, an act of discrimination will also amount to a repudiatory breach by the employer. This may entitle the employee to resign and argue that they have been constructively dismissed.
Clearly, there are many legal, moral and financial reasons for employers to deal with cases of stress at work sensitively and carefully.
If you require advice on this topic or any other employment law matter, please contact our employment law team today on 0161 930 5151 or send us an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org to see how we can help.