Stress in the work place – liability

Workplace stress costs UK employers in excess of £3.7bn every year with Britons finding their jobs more stressful than ever before.

Over-stressed workers are also more likely to blame their absence on an illness rather than admit they are unable to cope, which creates the additional problem of making workplace stress even more difficult to assess.

The Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations (1999) says that employers must assess the nature and scale of health risks at work, including stress, and take measures to control them. Therefore, an employer can be found negligent should an employee bring a claim for stress related illness that a court decides was preventable.

Stress can cause mental and physical illness such as anxiety, depression, headaches, backaches and difficulty sleeping. Over time, heart disease or stomach ulcers may also develop.

If an employee claims they were dismissed due to suffering from work-related stress, an employment tribunal may treat this as an unfair dismissal unless the employer can claim they acted reasonably.

Typical causes of work-related stress include poor communication, bad management practices, understaffing, excessive hours, job insecurity, bullying and workers’ skills not matching those required for their role.

Bullying claims often go hand in hand with stress claims and can lead to substantial damages awarded to employees.

The best way for employers to deal with workplace bullying 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 best avoided.

An Employment Practices Liability insurance policy can help businesses protect their directors and staff against accusations of violating employment rights, as well as providing advice and legal support that can protect businesses against stress related issues.

Please contact us for more information on Employment Practices Liability cover.