Many thanks for your patience. Stress is an ever-increasing problem in today’s busy workplaces and is defined by the Health & Safety Executive as the "adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them".
From a legal perspective employers have a duty under The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees. This includes a duty to undertake risk assessments and manage activities to reduce the incidence of stress at work. In addition, under common law an employer owes a duty of care towards its employees, the breach of which can amount to negligence.
As no standalone claim exists for being exposed to unreasonable levels of stress, the affected employee has the following options open to them if they were going to take this matter further:
1. Grievance - this is a formal internal complaint, following which the employer is obliged to investigate the issues and deal with them in an appropriate manner. It should always be the first step in trying to bring the problem to the employer's attention and to try and reach a resolution.
2. Constructive dismissal - this occurs where the employee resigns because they feel they were left with no other option in the circumstances. Further considerations include:
· It must be shown that the employer had acted in breach of the implied terms to provide a safe system of work or through their actions (or inactions) had broken the mutual trust and confidence
· The breach relied on must be sufficiently serious to justify instant resignation
· The employee must accept that breach and resign in response to it
· This claim is only available to employees with at least 2 years' continuous service with their employer and must be made within 3 months of resigning.
3. Personal Injury - this is a claim for negligence against the employer. Further considerations include:
· Some recognised illness must have been suffered. This could include clinical depression, specific trauma stress, a physical injury (e.g. stroke), etc.
· The illness must have been caused directly by the employer's negligence, such as persisting with heavy workload despite complaints it was unreasonable
· The illness must have been reasonably foreseeable - for example if the employee experienced one breakdown, it would have indicated to the employer that there is a problem and that further issues could arise if things were not dealt with appropriately.
· The time limit to claim is 3 years from the time the injury was suffered.
In the first instance, I would advise going down the grievance route first and only considering formal legal action as a last resort, if it is evident that the matter cannot be resolved in any other way.
You would still be able to pursue this with ACAS if you were to resign and claim constructive dismissal as the time only starts to run from the date your employment terminates.
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