What duty of care should an employer show if you are absent with stress?

what duty of care should an employer show if you are absent with stress
JuanitaHFNE

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behaviour, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.

In this brief blog, we will consider what duty of care should an employer show if you are absent with stress.

What duty of care should an employer show if you are absent with stress?

You may be wondering “What duty of care should an employer show if you are absent with stress?”. Employers have a duty of care for their employees, which means they have to take steps to ensure the safety of each staff member. The steps should ensure their health, safety, and wellbeing. 

“An employer has a duty of care to provide a safe and stress-free place of work. There are also disability laws, implied duty of care laws and health and safety implications where an employer fails to observe the welfare of staff” (Christine Pratt FCMI for managers.org.uk).

Additionally, they indicate that if stress or anxiety is caused by something related to the workplace, the employer should take immediate action and investigate deeper into it. Also, an employer shouldn’t expect a formal complaint to be submitted before they attempt to investigate this situation. 

What duty of care should an employer show if you are absent with stress?

Moreover, employers should demonstrate a genuine concern for the physical and mental health of your employees is both a legal concern and morale for the integrity of a business. To ensure they have the best employees working there to help the business achieve its objective.  Requirements under an employer’s duty of care are wide-ranging and may manifest themselves in many different ways, such as:

  • Clearly defining jobs and undertaking risk assessments
  • Ensuring a safe work environment
  • Providing adequate training and feedback on performance
  • Ensuring that staff do not work excessive hours
  • Providing areas for rest and relaxation
  • Protecting staff from bullying or harassment, either from colleagues or third parties
  • Protecting staff from discrimination
  • Providing communication channels for employees to raise concerns
  • Consulting employees on issues that concern them.

An employer can be deemed to have breached their duty of care by failing to do everything that was reasonable in the circumstances to keep the employee safe from harm.

If you are absent from work due to stress, an employer has a duty of care to be proactive in considering what factors could cause ill-health or make existing health conditions even worse. They should be taking reasonable steps to identify the risks and identify possible sources of stress that could foreseeably cause you health issues.

How to conduct a risk assessment for stress and depression?

Risk assessment should always be conducted when there is a perceived or alleged failure of duty on behalf of the employer that needs to ensure a safe and stress-free environment at the workplace. 

It is highly recommended to make staff aware of colleague’s behavioral changes and increased performance to detect anxiety and depression at its early stages to be able to flag up any issues. This is especially true in the case of managers or supervisors that come in contact (usually daily) with people under their chain of command and can notice such changes easily. 

Ideally, line managers and supervisors should be approachable and have people skills but this is not true in all cases. Additionally, they should let their staff know where and how to access policies and procedures and where to seek support if needed. 

What duty of care should an employer show if you are absent with stress?

Employers should also keep records of their annual absence rates and turnover statistics to monitor change to be able to determine the main causes and act on it to prevent higher rates in the future. 

According to DWF Law “Stress is one of the biggest problems in the workplace, with the cost to the British economy being estimated at around £4 billion each year due to both long and short-term absence, lower productivity and poor customer service. Recent research shows that one in four employees is in a near-constant state of stress”.  

What happens if an employer fails to act on identified early warning signs of stress?

Employers need to differentiate between pressure and stress since they tend to confuse it by saying they are synonyms when that is far from the truth. It is normal for employers to set deadlines and put a certain amount of pressure over an employee, in fact, sometimes it can even be beneficial an improve their performance and job satisfaction. However, when the pressure becomes too overwhelming then it becomes harmful to the employee’s health and this can result in stress-related claims. 

What duty of care should an employer show if you are absent with stress?

Some of the most common early signs to be aware at the workplace include a marked loss of motivation, working extra-long hours, poor timekeeping, aggressiveness or irritability, social withdrawal, decreased ability to make decisions, missing deadlines and poor planning.

Usually, what most managers or supervisors do is avoiding to talk to the employee to avoid confrontation or waiting for the issue to resolve by itself when this rarely tends to happen. Managers proactively should interact with employees in order to be able to support them when needed.  

Failure to act once there is a potential stress-related illness identified

If after conducting a risk assessment and a potential stress-related illness has been identified, action must be taken by the employer to avoid the issue from escalating or generating related problems or a potential lawsuit that could have cost millions in compensation.

Additionally, according to DWF Law, “if any stress-related factors come to light during the course of an individual’s employment i.e. at performance interviews, in the course of disciplinary proceedings or at appraisals, the employer will be on notice of the health risks and therefore needs to take reasonable steps to remove that risk. This should certainly involve the employee in the process by asking what steps could be taken to remove or reduce the risk”. 

Identifying potential risks for employers

Rest assured there are a few employees who are suffering from stress and there is an increased probability they may not be able to perform well their job-related tasks. If an employer fails to manage the high-stress levels at work, it is likely they will start having a high rate of absenteeism and potential claims for compensation through lawsuits.

It has been suggested that stress-related work topics can influence many aspects of employment law and workplace policies such as:

  • Capabilities
  • Sick leave
  • Bullying or harassment 
  • Grievances
  • Disciplinary processes
  • Adjustments or flexibility 
  • Equal treatment

One of the main key factors that can help reduce the high levels of stress is to work on having effective policies that can help resolve grievances related to certain working conditions and bullying. 

Additionally, being understanding about an employee’s individual concerns and providing the time to attend to a GP appointment or psychotherapy can be even more beneficial in the long-term than having an employee with dissatisfaction, stress and frequently being absent due to mental health conditions. 

When mental health leads to absenteeism

It is not easy to manage how mental illness can impact someone’s performance and each case should be assessed individually. If an employee starts to be absent due to a mental health-related condition, the employer should make some adjustments that can help the employee feel supported and cared for, once they return back to work. 

As an employer, it is imperative to reassure your employee that there is an open-door policy or that as a manager or supervisor you are always available (when possible of course) to listen to them if they are having a problem. If you are an employer or part of the management area, it is imperative to reiterate, repeatedly that support is available and if necessary, offer support in writing. 

What duty of care should an employer show if you are absent with stress?

Why is this blog about what duty of care should an employer show if you are absent with stress is important?

As we have discussed so far, employers have an undoubted duty of care with their employee’s well being, safety and support. Your employee should attempt to conduct an investigation and determine if your absence due to stress is related to the workplace, if it is, then they need to ensure making the necessary modifications to make sure you feel as comfortable and happy as possible.

If as an employee you have identified stress-related factors on one of your employees, it is important to act on it as soon as possible to avoid major complications in the future and an even higher absenteeism rate from this employee. 

If they fail to comply or assess potential work-related risk, they know they can possibly face a lawsuit and millions worth in compensation. 

Please feel free to comment in the comments section below!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about what duty of care should an employer show if you are absent with stress

What is the employer’s duty of care?

Employers have a duty of care to their employees, meaning they should attempt to exhaust all the necessary steps to ensure their health, safety, and wellbeing. When an employer demonstrates concern for their employee’s physical and mental health, then this can also ensure the employee feels supported and valued by its employer. 

Can work contact me when off sick with stress?

Work can contact you to find out about your condition. However, if you are suffering from an illness that can possibly get worse if they get in contact then your employer needs to asses carefully the situation before getting in contact with you. There are certain mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression that can get aggravated by contact from an employer. 

Can you take time off work for stress?

You can actually take some time off work due to stress for up to 7 days. If after the seven day period you feel you need more time you need to get a fit note from your GP justifying your condition.

Are employers responsible for employee stress?

Employers may be responsible for their employee’s stress. This could be associated with several factors such as the increased workload, extended working hours, a hostile environment or hostile interaction with a colleague, bullying or harassment, etc. However, sometimes, an employee can be stressed due to personal situations at home, with a family member or a partner, financial problems, among others. 

Can I sue my employer for stress?

Yes, you can sue your employer due to stress related to the workplace and under certain circumstances where there is evidence that you have made formal complaints and there hasn’t been any adjustment or change to ensure your safety, health, and wellbeing. Following this, you can sue your employer for being negligent and failing to comply with the health and safety regulations. 


Recommended reading

References

Warners-solicitors.co.uk

Managers.org.uk

Dwf.law/Legal-Insights

Baileywright.com

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