The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) define work-related stress as: ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other demands placed on them’. ‘Adverse reaction’ are probably the two key works in that definition, as stress at work will affect different people in different ways and is essentially a subjective phenomenon. A stress at work compensation claim is therefore probably one of the most potentially nuanced and complex claims that can be litigated and negotiated involving as it invariably does the relationship between the pre-existing physical and psychological profile of the claimant, i.e. the extent of their abilities to cope with the demands of their employment and the employer’s awareness of the difference between normal work-related stress and excessive levels of potentially injurious work-related stress and their competence in and/or commitment to identifying and remedying the latter.
The Labour Force Survey for 2010-11 reported that 400,000 out of a total of 1,522,000 combined work-related illnesses fell into the work-related stress category. Stress at work is therefore no small problem and with the UK government’s conciliation service ACAS reporting an ongoing trend for companies to incline more towards factoring in the inevitability of stress at work compensation claims than to addressing the internal micro and macro structural and cultural issues that give rise to them, it is a problem that doesn’t look as if it will be diminishing any time soon.
If it can demonstrated that the employer was aware or should have been aware that an employee was experiencing health deleterious levels of stress as a result of their work, perhaps evidenced by previous bouts of stress related time off work or requests for assistance with their workload or asking for additional training, and that employer then failed to take all reasonable steps to prevent their employee being exposed to psychiatric injury as a result of this work related stress, i.e. .failed in their duty of care to avoid a ‘foreseeable injury’ to their employee, then it might be possible to make a stress at work compensation claim. This might not be as easy as it sounds – read on.
Due to the potential complexity of such claims the services of a specialist legal professional will be indispensable for ensuring the most successful outcome possible for the claimant. Our enormously experienced personal injury solicitors specialise in stress at work compensation claims and will ensure that all the evidence necessary to assess and negotiate the claim is rapidly gathered. This will include information about the environment their client works in and details pertaining to the stressors present in that environment that contributed to the client’s illness. They might have to take witness statements from their client’s work colleagues and will always obtain medical reports from medical specialists that will include a diagnosis of and prognosis for their client’s psychiatric illness and future physical and mental health. Our compensation claims solicitors will above all seek to prove that their client’s employer failed to discharge their duty of care to their employee in that the employer knew or should have known that their employee was being exposed to conditions likely to cause their injury, in this case work- related stress, but failed to take all reasonable steps to prevent this continuing to happen.
The victim’s anguish due to suffering from stress at work might unfortunately prove to be the precursor to further health issues related to that stress. In 2010 the European Heart Journal reported that there was evidence of a link between a culture of long working hours, currently prevalent in the UK, and an increased probability of developing or exacerbating stress, depression and heart disease. This supported a body of previous research stretching back fifty years indicating that harmful levels of stress can lead to an impaired functioning of the gut, sleep disturbance, emotional problems and heart disease. There are therefore manifold health benefits from reversing the current tide of work-related stress, but until the necessary reforms to our working culture evolve, it is only fair that those badly affected by such stress.