A leading consultant is warning employers to tackle workforce stress or risk future legal claims from staff accusing them of shortening their life expectancy.
Michael Reddy, chairman of Independent Counselling and Advisory Services, said he believes employees diagnosed with terminal illnesses later in life will seek compensation from former employers.
He said the growing body of research on the effect of stress on the body will enable employees to bring such cases.
Reddy said, "The problem is that some people's bloodstream is so overloaded with cortisol, caused by stress, that it harms their immune defence.
"I think the way the research is progressing, it is only a matter of time before people with terminal illnesses sue former employers for reducing their life expectancy."
The latest research evidence on stress was published by Harvard School of Public Health last month.
Based on a study of more than 20,000 nurses, researchers found that "low control in their jobs predicted significant declines in physical function and mental health".
They concluded that the health problems caused by "job strain" are as serious as those suffered by smokers. Previous research quoted in the Harvard study has already linked stress to poor health including heart disease.
Reddy, who has recently advised call centres on reducing staff stress levels, added that the research could have implications for many organisations and staff.
"I believe that there are large numbers of people in a chronically depressed state in organisations and the causality can be laid straightfowardly at the way their work is structured. They are lurking in many organisations throughout the UK workforce and no-one does anything about it."
Reddy's comments come just weeks after the HSE confirmed it will force employers to take action following new research showing stress is damaging the health of staff (Personnel Today, 23 May).
HSE action could range from a semi-binding code of practice to full legislation, although the latter is considered unlikely.