Stress issues

It is now commonly said that stress is the biggest practical issue facing HR
managers. Statistical evidence repeatedly shows that an astonishing number of
employees now claim to suffer from stress, and that it causes high absence
rates.

Legal issues

Legal exposure for employers in terms of stress does exist, but is often
over dramatised. This article looks at various legal ramifications which can
follow from a stress situation:

– If an employee is being asked to do much more than he or she can in fact
be reasonably expected to do, then this could amount, in extreme cases, to a
constructive (and thus potentially unfair) dismissal. This is because the
employer is obliged to maintain trust and confidence and a safe system of work

– Stress will rarely constitute a disability under the Disability
Discrimination Act 1995. To qualify as being "disabled", the
individual will need to show that he or she is suffering from a mental
impairment which is clinically well recognised and which meets the test that it
is likely to last for 12 months or more. The mental impairment must also have a
substantial and adverse effect on the individual’s ability to carry out normal
day-to-day activities, which includes the ability to concentrate

– There have only been a handful of well publicised cases brought by
employees for personal injury, as a result of stress caused to them through the
employer’s negligence. Any such liability is likely to be covered by the
obligatory Employee’s Liability Insurance

– If an employer can be shown to have caused an employee psychiatric injury
through some form of unlawful discrimination (currently sex, race or
disability), the compensation awarded can include a sum for the psychiatric
injury. This could be a problem for an employer since this claim is unlikely to
be covered by Employee’s Liability Insurance. However, once again, this is a
rather extreme situation. If in doubt, ensure you obtain medical advice at an
early stage

– The House of Lords has recently hinted that compensation for the stress
and humiliation of a dismissal might be available in a successful unfair
dismissal claim, subject to the limit of £51,700. There is no reported case yet
of an award being made in these circumstances, although it has been used many
times already in negotiations

– Usually the UK follows the US in legal matters, but the Australian
approach might catch on here too. Employees in Australia can already claim
compensation for stress and humiliation suffered as a result of an unfair
dismissal in "unusually exacerbating circumstances". The Australian
Industrial Relations Commission has taken that entitlement one step further, to
provide that employers may be liable for stress and humiliation that employees
have suffered during employment as well as as a result of any dismissal. Watch
out for that here!

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