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Why workplace stress is an employment law issue

Why workplace stress is an employment law issues bridge law blog banner

Everyone faces stresses in daily life, but continued periods of high stress have been found to be detrimental to both mental and physical health. As it is Stress Awareness Month, which runs every April through the Stress Management Society, we have decided to highlight how stresses in the workplace are an employment law issue and how employers can make simple changes to create a supportive and thriving culture. This in turn helps employees become happier, healthier, more fulfilled and ultimately, more productive.

Why are employees stress levels an employers problem? 

When we’re completely stressed out, whether for personal or professional reasons we’re usually unable to think clearly and get on with our day with ease. For most people, whatever the cause of stress – it will impact their ability to carry out daily tasks and maintain productivity levels.

What’s worse, continued stresses upon an employee can cause significant issues upon their wellbeing and their professional ability. For example, their productivity levels may drop, they may make mistakes and take prolonged or regular absences from work, affecting their professional development and impacting the company negatively. One person’s stress in the workplace can often have a rippling effect across an organisation, especially in unsupportive cultures where office politics are rife, so it’s important to tackle stress in your company before it becomes a problem.

Why is stress an employment law issue? 

HSE states that “employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work”. 

There are also certain other employment laws that relate to stress, for example, The Working Times Regulations (1998) states that employees cannot work over 48 hours per week on average, and must take at least a 20-minute break if working more than 6 hours. If your employees are regularly working long hours and not taking the appropriate breaks, their stress levels are likely to rise and you could find yourself with an employment claim being made against you.

Employment claims are often made against employers under The Equality Act (2010). These cases are sometimes due to discrimination at work causing stress, especially in cases where the discrimination or harassment has been related to one of the protected characteristics within the act. Other cases include where an employer has caused unnecessary stress by not providing reasonable adjustments to those who have a disability. 

What employers can do to tackle workplace stress

Companies should introduce policies that deal with stress and mental health at work. Such policies should include:

  • Risk assessments to understand any potential health and safety issues, which includes assessing stresses employees are under and may face and how to support them
  • How to appropriately monitor and manage workloads so employees are not overloaded
  • Management and monitoring working hours, over-time and holidays to ensure employees aren’t overworked and are taking appropriate breaks
  • No tolerance against bullying and harassment 
  • Training, especially for management and supervisors on mental health first aid, stress and how to spot the signs of stress 
  • Appointed team members who employees can go to should they need additional support to cope with stress 
  • Encourage an open and supportive culture.  

With the impact of the pandemic, on top of the usual stresses of modern-day life, stress levels for many have reached an all-time high in the past year. This is why it is more important than ever for employers and employees alike to understand the serious consequences of stress on mental and physical wellbeing; to take steps to lower stress levels at work and support one another. 

If you require advice on a stress-related employment law matter or help with creating an effective stress policy for your company, call our employment team on 0161 427 0084 or email us at

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