Can you sue for Stress at Work?

can you sue for stress at work'

Yes, you can sue for stress at work in the UK if an organisation fails to accommodate your problems or doesn’t take your claims seriously. Both employers and employees have legal duties in this area.

Stress at work is “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them”.[1]

Health and safety laws that cover the workplace historically only described physical health problems. However, stress and mental health awareness is rising to the fore. According to the Health and Safety Executive, around one in four people in the UK suffer from mental health problems at some point in their life.[2] This is a really serious issue, and organisations should be prepared to deal with them properly.

What are an Employer’s Rights?

As an organisation, you have a duty of care to all employees under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASAWA). The Equality Act 2010 also states that employers cannot discriminate against people with certain characteristics, including mental health problems like stress.

Where an employee provides sufficient proof of a mental health problem, like anxiety or depression because of stress at work, an organisation must be flexible. They should act appropriately and “make reasonable adjustments to accommodate that condition”.[3]

Examples may include a later start to the day, shortened hours or longer breaks. Policies need to be informed by a stress risk assessment that identifies potential areas of distress.

So, as an employer, you have a duty to accommodate and reduce stress and mental health problems. This is especially the case when stress leads to physical problems. However, “common mental health problems and stress can exist independently”[4], so what do you do in this case? Well, duties don’t really change here. Because the law is broad, you have a duty to help with any health problems that were a result of work regardless of cause. As a result, if a problem didn’t occur at work, the organisation is not liable.

In addition, employers must protect people in their jobs from the effects of being emotionally overwhelmed. As such, an “employer can be held legally responsible for an employee’s actions when the conduct that caused the… distress is within the scope of the employee’s job”.[5]

What are an Employee’s Rights?

Because of these legal duties, if an organisation overlooks them, you can sue for stress at work. If an employer fails to accommodate stress and ignores all of your approaches, you can file a stress claim. If you win, you may gain compensation.

Put simply, the employee has a right to a safe working environment. If organisations fail to take stress seriously, then workers have every right to file a legal claim. This is because their health is in danger. Stress can develop into a number of physical or behavioural changes, including high blood pressure, fatigue, headaches, burnout and self-harm.

It is important to remember these rights, as stress claims are not easy to make. Symptoms of stress may include low self-esteem and confidence, meaning reaching-out is hard. Before making a claim, always try to approach your employer to solve the issue informally. Organisations want to help, as it is in their best interests to keep employees healthy.

Ultimately, dealing properly with stress satisfies an employee’s need for a safe working environment, and an organisation’s desire for a productive workplace. Although you can sue for stress at work, it should be a last resort.

Organisations can prepare themselves for dealing with stress by completing a stress at work online training course.

You can view our online stress at work courses here.


[1] https://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/what-to-do.htm

[2] https://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/mental-health.htm

[3] https://www.slatergordon.co.uk/employment-law-solicitors/workplace-stress-compensation/

[4] https://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/mental-health.htm

[5] https://injury.findlaw.com/torts-and-personal-injuries/suing-for-emotional-distress-at-work.html