Q: We have increasing numbers of employees being signed off sick for ‘stress’ or ‘work-related stress’ whilst working from home during lockdown. What should we do?
The fear of the virus, home working, social distancing, furlough, home schooling and job uncertainty all make claims for stress more likely.
While stress will not normally amount to an illness itself, it may result in or be a trigger for illness. The effects of stress may manifest themselves in both mental conditions and physical health problems which could amount to a disability under the Equality Act 2010. By taking steps to manage stress and mental wellbeing at work, an employer may be able to avoid an employee developing an impairment or, where an employee has or develops an impairment, the employer can ensure it meets its legal obligations, for example, the duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees.
Both the Health and Safety Executive and ACAS provide useful information for employers seeking to reduce or prevent stress in the workplace. Key points include:
- Promoting a culture of open communication where employees have ways to discuss stress, raise issues and seek help
- Training managers to effectively identify the possible signs of stress, recognise the impact that stress may have on performance or behaviour and manage stress in their teams
- Monitoring workloads, working hours and overtime
- Facilitating requests for flexible working
- Providing support services such as occupational health, a mental health champion or an employee assistance programme
- Completing a stress risk assessment (https://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/risk-assessment.htm) and acting on it (risk assessments should be reviewed periodically, particularly if an employee is showing signs of stress, or straightaway following a case of stress related ill health or if there are any significant changes in the workplace)
Employers should put in place measures to reduce or prevent stress, watch out for any signs of stress, take early action and meet its legal obligations, otherwise they could face claims of breach of contract, unfair dismissal (including constructive dismissal), disability discrimination, harassment and personal injury.
If you have similar issues in your business and would like further advice, please contact Emma Collins
or by phone on 01293 558545.