Compensation for stress at work


Under UK health and safety regulations, employers have a duty of care towards their employees.

This includes protection of their health, safety, and welfare. Work-related stress is a common consequence of unhealthy work practices, and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published guidelines to help companies manage the risks of work-related stress.

What is the law on stress at work?

There is no specific UK law dealing with workplace stress. However, civil law courts considering stress compensation claims use health and safety regulations and previous case law to decide whether employers should be liable to pay compensation for stress.

Stress at work is commonly seen as a by-product of the modern work environment. Employers in the UK have been finding new ways of dealing with stressed employees, but in spite of a much increased awareness of the subject, the level of stress reported by employees seems to be rising. There are possible reasons for this:

  • Increased awareness of the subject on behalf of employers also increases employees’ awareness, and more workers are now simply more likely to take note of their stress levels than in previous times
  • Increased stress in the economic uncertainty puts pressure on companies to ensure that they are operating efficiently, which in turn puts pressure on employees to perform

Employment law has also been developing in the UK to deal with stress in the workplace. Although there is no statute that specifically covers stress at work, employers are under a legal obligation to provide a safe and healthy work environment for their employees. The same laws that apply to physical injuries at work also apply to stress.

What are the causes of stress?

Causes of stress can include:

  • Lack of job security
  • Excessive workload and/or long hours
  • Excessive stringent supervision and discipline
  • Lack of control over individual work patterns
  • Lack of training or opportunity for career development
  • Boring and repetitive work

Stress can have a number of causes at its origin, but the end result tends to be manifested in the form of physical illness, or an employee feeling unable to carry on working effectively for psychological reasons. Where stress levels among employees are high, the performance of the business itself can suffer as a result.

Can I receive compensation?

An employee who has suffered a loss or injury as a result of stress may be able to bring a successful lawsuit against the employer if it can be proven that the employer breached their duty of care with regards to the employee’s work environment. The employee’s employment solicitor is likely to advise them:

  • To seek compensation for the injury itself
  • To seek additional compensation for time off work
  • To seek reimbursement for the cost of bringing the claim

The cost of a successful law suit could be extremely high for the employers, especially in matters of stress or psychological harm. This is because psychological experts are usually quite expensive to instruct, and the employer could be liable for paying the legal costs of the employee, such as their employment solicitor’s fees, in addition to the compensation awarded.

It is therefore advisable for employers who consider their employees to be vulnerable to stress to contact an employment solicitor or a personal injury solicitor. These legal professionals are in a good position to advise the employers of their obligations under employment law, as well as on how to prevent becoming a defendant in an action for injury at work caused by stress.

If it is determined that an employer should be liable, stress compensation is usually payable from an employer’s liability insurance. Whatever your circumstances, you should always seek legal advice from a specialist employment solicitor.

Lost your job as a result of stress? See our information page on unfair dismissal.

Are you experiencing stress at work that has reached a level you cannot cope with? Contact Law can put you in touch with specialist employment solicitors who can try to negotiate the best way forward with your employer. Please call us on 0800 1777 162 or complete the web-form above.

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