Preventing claims of stress at work

Employee stress levels are rising in line with the demands of the twenty-first century workplace. More and more people are suffering from an adverse reaction to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them by their job.  As an employer, you owe your employees a duty to take reasonable care for the health, safety and welfare of your employees.

‘In determining whether an employer is responsible for stress in the workplace and therefore liable to pay compensation, the court will determine whether an employee’s work-related stress was ‘reasonably foreseeable’ by the employer,’ explains Elizabeth Bartle, employment law specialist at Ingram Winter Green in London.  ‘In other words, could you have predicted the work-related psychological harm and should you have prevented it from occurring?’

Could you have predicted the work-related psychological harm and should you have prevented it from occurring?

Common causes of work-related stress include:

  • unmanageable deadlines;
  • an excessive workload, possibly linked to staff cuts;
  • bullying by colleagues or managers;
  • inadequate training for a job;
  • inadequate equipment and resources (including IT) which makes it difficult to perform work to a high standard;
  • inadequate management support; or
  • the nature of the work itself – this is often forgotten due to the sheer familiarity.

To ensure that none of your employees have cause to make a claim of stress at work, there are a number of steps that you should take.

  • It is important to ensure that each employee’s workload is adequate, manageable and within their capability. 
  • You should undertake a workplace risk assessment and ensure that management is trained in identifying psychological hazards arising in the workplace.
  • Once a hazard is identified, a plan of action needs to be put in place, in line with your employment procedures and policies, to prevent any psychological harm to your employees in accordance with the current employment law legislation.
  • To prevent any workplace bullying, you should include policies and a code of conduct on appropriate behaviour in the workplace in your employee handbook.

The need for an adequate policy relating to stress at work is of vital importance.  This should explain to employees what their duties are in terms of reporting stress and what you will do as their employer to help deal with any stress that occurs in the workplace. You must ensure that this policy is made available to employees and that it is read and understood by them.

The need for an adequate policy relating to stress at work is of vital importance.

It is also important to look beyond stress as a risk management problem to manage.  Many employers now take a holistic approach to the wellbeing of their employees, with a wide range of support and employee benefits.  Not only does this make somewhere a nicer place to work, it can help with recruitment and retention.

We can help you to ensure that you have the right policies and procedures in place.  If one of your employees does make a stress at work claim against your organisation, we can also help you carry out an investigation and help you deal with any claim that may be made.

If you are concerned about stress related claims or such a claim has been made against your organisation, please contact Elizabeth Bartle on 020 7845 7443 or email

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.