HR PEER GROUP MEETING 31/10/2013
As usual we had some interesting and lively debate surrounding stress in the workplace and when it becomes considered a disability. Many thanks to James Humphrey from Trethowans Solicitors and Karen Bristow from Phillips Solicitors for providing us with the legal framework, and some excellent handouts.
I have summarised the information below, and included some other information of interest.
Legal liability is triggered by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Health and Safety at work Regulations 1999 and Common Law. Many employers are scared by legal liability, but it is very difficult to establish, and courts don’t like it. It can really only be proven if an employee goes off work with a nervous breakdown and then returns to work but there is no phased return or adjustments made.
The Department of Work and Pensions estimates that each stress illness results in an average of 31 days absence. There tends to be a pattern of an initial sick note for 10 days and then a second one for a fortnight. If the employee does not return after this period then it is likely that they will be absent for 3 – 6 months.
HSE (Health and Safety Executive)estimate that work-related stress costs £3.7 billion a year.
DEFINITION OF STRESS: The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand on them.
Pressure is a good thing to provide motivation. It is when pressure reaches the point of no return that it becomes stress.
Employers have a legal duty to assess the risk of work-related stress and to take measures to control these risks.
Stress can affect people in the following ways:
Mentally – Anxiety
Physically – Alcohol and Drug Abuse
Team – Low Morale
Pressure on Colleagues
Stress has taken over from back pain as the most prevalent issue in absence
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT STRESS?
There is lots of scope for a simple stress issue to blow up. If the employer does not engage with them and explore the reasons, then the employee is likely to be off for longer and we could be looking at is as a disability issue. The worst thing that an employer can do is leave the employee alone in this situation. An offer should be made to meet, whether in the office or on neutral ground to explore the reasons for the stress.
Stress is not an illness and so is not a disability. However if it is not taken seriously and its causes are not considered then it can develop into an illness or exacerbate an existing condition.
The Equality Act 2010 defines a disabled person as a person who has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term effect on their ability to carry out normal day to day activities.
For a person to be protected by disability discrimination, the employer must know or could reasonably be expected to know that a person has a disability and is likely to be placed at a substantial disadvantage by one of the employer’s practices of a physical feature of its premises.
There are some useful resources on this and I have included some links as follows:
1. ACAS booklet ‘Stress At Work’ http://www.acas.org.uk/media/pdf/0/9/Acas_Stress_at_work_(APRIL_2009)-accessible-version-July-2011.pdf
2. HSE ‘How to tackle work related stress’ http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg430.pdf
3. EqA ‘Guidance on matters to be taken into account in determining questions relating to the definition of disability’ http://odi.dwp.gov.uk/docs/wor/new/ea-guide.pdf
4. Equality and Human Rights Commission Statutory Code of Practice on Employment http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/uploaded_files/EqualityAct/employercode.pdf
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