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Occupational stress - a serious issue.

View profile for Kim Daniells
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Stress undoubtedly enters most people’s professional lives at some time or another.  The extent to which stress is an issue is not determined by the type of profession in which you work or the salary you earn.  Occupational stress can affect employees across all sectors, levels and all grades of pay.  Whilst working under pressure and to deadlines can motivate and encourage employees, undue stress can result in severe psychological illness and consequential financial hardship. 

The Health and Safety Executive booklet Working together to reduce stress at work (2008) explains the difference between stress and pressure:

“We all experience pressure on a daily basis, and need it to motivate us and enable us to perform at our best. It’s when we experience too much pressure without the opportunity to recover that we start to experience stress…..We can all feel stressed at times when we feel as though everything becomes too much, when things get on top of us, or when we feel as though we are unable to cope. It affects us in different ways at different times and is often the result of a combination of factors in our personal and working lives.”

A recent survey conducted by the charity Mind and reported by the BBC, found that 32% of men who considered themselves to have poor mental health felt that work was responsible for their illness.  The traditional “macho” working environment still prevalent in many sectors is likely to contribute to the poor mental health in particular of men.  With pressure to work unreasonably hard and long hours, it is often difficult for employees to have a conversation with their manager when they feel their mental health is suffering for fear of reprisal and judgement.

An employer is under a duty to take reasonable care of their employees’ mental health in the course of their employment.  Whilst talking to your employer may feel awkward, it is an important step in seeking assistance.  By advising your employer that you are suffering from mental health problems, they will be required to make reasonable adjustments to assist you and provide help to reduce the risk of you sustaining any further damage to your mental health.  If an employer subsequently fails to make reasonable adjustments for an employee that they know is experiencing occupational related stress, they will be deemed to have breached their duty of care to that employee.

Such a breach of duty of care may give rise to a potential claim for personal injury against the employer, if the employee can show that they have suffered a significant psychiatric injury as a result of the stress at work.  In such circumstances and where an employee is unable to resolve the situation through open discussions with their employer, it may appropriate to seek assistance from a solicitor to explore the possibility of making a claim for compensation against the employer. 

The CNCI team have experience is providing legal assistance to employees who have sustained psychiatric injuries as a result of unreasonable occupational stress. If you feel you would like to explore making such a claim, we would be happy to discuss the matter with you.