Whilst stress in the workplace is not exactly an illness, it can lead to an array of physical and mental health conditions. In fact, stress causes up to 40 percent of all work-related health conditions including anxiety, depression, and heart disease.
Having said that, there are a number of factors that can cause stress at a workplace like overwork, bullying, bad working environment, or lack of support from colleagues.
Studies show that long-term stress, not only proves detrimental to an individual’s performance but can also have significant moral and monetary consequences for businesses like higher staff turnover.
As an employee, therefore, if you feel stressed at your workplace for extended periods, you must ask your employer to make adequate adjustments to your role and workplace.
What should I do if I am experiencing stress at work?
If you feel stressed at work, the first thing that you should do is bring up your issues informally with an HR personnel or your line manager. Even though this interaction might be informal, you must confirm your discussion in writing, so that your employer cannot deny later, about being aware of the issue.
Subsequently, you can ask your employer to take steps like reviewing your job responsibilities and possibly allowing flexible working arrangements. If you still feel that these steps or more, are inadequate, you may proceed to raise a formal grievance (as depicted in your organisation’s policies), which will make your employer take notice of the problem.
Additionally, if stress is adversely affecting your health, you should visit your general practitioner, who can get you a leave of absence from work.
According to the employment law, if you are too ill to attend work, you are entitled for a Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for up to 7 months. Your employer may also offer an Occupational Scheme to you, whereby you will receive more than the minimum statutory amount.
You may also consider whether flexible working conditions could help reduce work-related stress and improve your health.
Lastly, you may also consider the possibility of a negotiated exit with your line manager.
Can I be sacked for stress-related absence?
If you are experiencing significant stress at work, your general practitioner can sign your off work. Your employer, however, is not exactly obliged to keep your job available on an open-ended basis.
Your employer could dismiss you ultimately, for taking a prolonged sickness absence, but they can only do this after carrying out a fair process. This means that the employer must first investigate the reasons for your absence, and if there are signs of any stress-related health concern, they must seek expert medical advice.
Having said that, if such an investigation does not reveal any good reason for the absence, your employer might consider your leave as gross misconduct and dismiss you from work.
Similarly, if it turns out that you are experiencing stress and it is affecting your health and productivity, then your employer must make reasonable adjustments to help you return to work.
When should I consider taking a negotiated exit?
Sometimes, you can feel so much stress at work that you cannot see a long-term prospect of working with your employer. In such circumstances, it may be possible for you to reach an agreement with your employer regarding a mutual termination of employment.
Subsequently, you could receive a lump sum financial package along with a job reference from your employer.
In return, you would have to agree not to make any employment tribunal claim against your employer in future. Going for a negotiated exit, however, requires some tactical and legal know-how. Therefore, you must consider hiring an employment solicitor, especially, if your stress is due to your employer’s actions.
With an employment solicitor in your corner, you can properly put forward your position and negotiate appropriate incentive from your employer. Additionally, if the negotiation goes well, it would mean that there will be settlement agreements in the picture, for which you will need expert employment law advice.
What if my stress is not due to my work?
In some cases, stress can also be due to reasons like bereavement, relationship issues, or physical disabilities. If the stress is adversely affecting your productivity, you must bring this to the attention of your HR partner or line manager.
This will help you get classified as having a “disability” and seek protection under the Equality Act. While you can ask for flexible working conditions under such circumstances, you can also wish to keep the reasons causing stress as confidential.
Should my employer keep in contact with me if I am signed off work due to stress?
Maintaining contact with your employer when you are signed off work, is both appropriate and fair. Such contact, however, should be made only to facilitate any logistics and aid for you to return to work, and not to address any performance or disciplinary issues.