Brainfood: Workplace rights - Duty to ease stress

Work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounted for an estimated 13.5 million lost working days in 2001/02, making this the largest contributor to ill-health absenteeism. Last year, a TUC poll revealed stress as the biggest single health concern in 60% of organisations - well ahead of back pain. And according to HR consultancy Ceridian Centrefile, the burden of caring for an ageing population will place fresh demands on a 'sandwich generation' of working parents. The study concluded that the cost to business of stress-related illness would treble by 2020. Inevitably, employers are increasingly vulnerable to litigation by stressed-out staff. A landmark Court of Appeal decision in 2002 emphasised the difficulties employees face when making a claim for stress-related psychiatric injury. But although apparently endorsing the appeal court's restrictive approach, the House of Lords recently upheld a claim for £72,500 damages by a teacher who suffered a mental breakdown on account of job pressure. They said the employer had failed to take proactive steps to lessen the employee's stress, such as making sympathetic inquiries and reducing his workload. Workplace stress, it seems, will continue to cause sleepless nights.

by Michael Burd and James Davies, Lewis Silkin solicitors, e-mail: employment@lewissilkin.com
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

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