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A Guide to Employee Rights on Workplace Stress

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What You Need to Know

  1. Around one in five people suffer from workplace stress in the UK, with half a million reporting illness as a result of job-related pressures.
  2. There is no specific law relating to stress in the workplace, though a range of laws and regulations can be used to deal with its causes.
  3. Employers should be able to tackle issues such as long working hours, excessive workloads and even bullying in the workplace, for example.
  4. Under the Working Time Directive, which applies to the majority of adult workers, staff have the right to a 20-minute break for work shifts longer than six hours. Employers have a duty of care to ensure these are taken.
  5. Employees also have the right to request flexible working, provided they have been in the job for 26 continuous weeks at the time of the application.
  6. As a last resort, an employee may turn to a union for help tackling the causes of work-related stress.
  7. Workers may be able to claim for constructive unfair dismissal if they have to leave their job as a result of an unresolved dispute, including cases of harassment, bullying and workplace stress.

Stress in the Workplace

According to Gov.uk, one in five people suffer from workplace stress, and half a million report illness as a result of job-related pressures. At time the responsibilities of a job can become too much, taking an adverse toll on health – but employees to have rights to help them tackle any ill-effects.

Successful careers bring with them a certain number of challenges, which can result in significant levels of pressure. When the strain becomes excessive, resulting in an adverse reaction, it has become stress and threatens not just an employees' productivity, but also their physical and mental wellbeing, both at work and at home.

Your Right to a Healthy Workplace

While there is no specific law that relates to workplace stress, employers are nevertheless obliged by law to be responsible for employee health and safety in the workplace – and managing workplace stress is considered an area of that responsibility.

As such, employers are obliged to do what they can to tackle what might be causing stress. While factors such as family worries or even money problems may be outside their scope, employers should be able to tackle issues such as long working hours, excessive workloads and even bullying in the workplace. Indeed, a good employer will work proactively to ensure their places of work are free from stress as a happy and healthy workforce is a productive and profitable workforce.

Easing your Workload

The first port of call for employees who think they may be suffering from work-related stress is to speak to their employer.

If workloads have become too much to handle, or long working hours are affecting the health of staff, they are entitled to give notice to work no more than 48 hours per week, and insist on the minimum breaks guaranteed by law.

Under the Working Time Directive, which applies to the majority of adult workers, staff have the right to a 20-minute break for work shifts longer than six hours.

Employees also have the right to request flexible working, provided they have been in the job for 26 continuous weeks at the time of the application. Flexible working could involve working slightly different hours to accommodate childcare or other commitments, or working from home.

Tackling Bullying and Harassment

Stress can also be caused by bullying or harassment in the workplace. Employees have rights under various legislation which tackle incidents of bullying considered sexual, religious, racial, or linked to disability.

Should an employer be unable or unwilling to remove the cause of job-related stress, workers are advised to follow the grievance procedure detailed in their employment contract. In addition, company health and safety representatives (if applicable) can accompany staff to any meeting with employers to discuss the issue.

Who Else Can Help?

Sadly, not all disputes are solved through company grievance procedures, which could lead to employees taking further action to enable them to do their job properly.

Workers may be able to claim for constructive unfair dismissal if they have to leave their job as a result of an unresolved dispute, including cases of harassment, bullying and workplace stress.

For additional support and advice, employees could benefit from joining a trade union, who aim to protect and advance the interests of their members in their jobs, independent of employers.

Union representatives can help employees negotiate pay and conditions with employers, and can accompany members to disciplinary and grievance meetings.

Legal and financial advice is also provided by trade unions, which could be useful when claiming for constructive unfair dismissal claims.

A certain amount of stress could be considered part of the responsibility of a well-paid, successful job – however when stress levels take their toll on employee health, there are legal rights to ensure staff receive the support they need.

Further Reading

  1. For more about bullying in the workplace, click here.
  2. About to enter the world of work for the first time? Read our guide to employment rights for young people.
  3. If you’re feeling the strain, these tips on dealing with stress should prove helpful.
 

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