Health and Safety Services for SMEs in Hampshire.
Safety Nudges

Guide to Stress

Published by Safety Net Team

February 14, 2022

Everyone is subject to pressure at work and in their personal life. Pressure in itself is not always negative — many employees are most productive when they have deadlines to meet. However, sometimes an individual is subjected to a degree of pressure, from whatever source, that exhausts their capacity to cope and starts threatening their well-being and work performance. When the pressure becomes intolerable to this degree, stress becomes a management issue.

You should take a sympathetic and positive approach to employees who show signs of stress and work with them to identify the factors contributing to their stress and ways in which stress levels can be reduced.

There are also obvious benefits in preventing work-related stress from occurring in the first place, including greater productivity, improved absence levels, higher retention rates, few accidents and customer complaints, as well as a reduced risk of tribunal complaints.

This guide will help you to deal with issues relating to stress. It covers the following topics.

  • What are my legal obligations in relation to stress?
  • How can the Human Resources (HR) department help?
  • What are the symptoms of stress?
  • What are the causes of stress?
  • How do I deal with stress-related issues?
  • What should I do if an employee is off with a stress-related illness?
  • How can I reduce the risk of work-related stress for my employees?

Answer to what are my legal obligations in relation to stress?

The organisation has a duty to:

  • provide its employees with a safe system of work and to take steps to protect them from risks that are reasonably foreseeable; this general duty includes taking steps to ensure that employees do not suffer stress-related illnesses as a result of their work (employees who suffer psychiatric injury as a result of the organisation’s failure to take reasonable care to provide a safe system of work can bring negligence claims against the organisation)

ensure that staff are taking adequate rest breaks under the Working Time Regulations

Employees who are suffering from stress may also be able to claim that the implied contractual duty of mutual trust and confidence — automatically incorporated into all contracts of employment — has been breached by the employer, entitling them to resign and claim unfair constructive dismissal before an employment tribunal.

Circumstances that could give rise to claims that the employer has failed to behave in a way that maintains the trust and confidence of employees include, for example:

  • persistent unreasonable demands for employees to work excessively long hours or to meet unrealistic targets
  • a failure to deal adequately with an employee’s complaints about such excessive workloads or long hours that are causing stress
  • work-related bullying or harassment, and a failure to deal with such complaints
  • Note:
  • There are also specific prohibitions against harassment under anti-discrimination legislation .
  • behaviour that causes stress-related symptoms or has an adverse effect on an employee’s morale, self-esteem or confidence.

When an employee is incapable of fulfilling their contract because of ill-health related to stress, you must act “reasonably” in the way you deal with the issue.

You also need to identify any instances where the nature of the illness means that the employee has a disability. This includes any mental impairment, whether clinically well-recognised or not, which has a substantial long-term adverse effect. You have additional responsibilities towards disabled employees. In particular you are required to make “reasonable adjustments” to enable them to continue working.

You are expected to take particular care where you know (or ought reasonably to know) that an individual is more vulnerable to suffering ill-health due to work-related stress.



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