Off work with stress: Employee rights

09 July 2019

Workplace stress is common, particularly in the modern era of 24/7 business. Many employees feel they need to work longer and harder hours to ensure they meet their KPIs and secure their employment. But this can lead to issues such as presenteeism. The knock-on effect of this is too much pressure, which can be so severe that a staff member may need to take time off. But what’s their, and your, legal standing on this matter? Our guide explains everything you need to know.

Work-related stress rights

First off, can your employees be off sick with stress? Yes. And, remember, if signed off work due to this, employee rights are there for your business to consider. But what should an employee do to be signed off work with this issue? Well, there’s no law dealing with this expressly—but you have duties to consider under the Health & Safety at Work Act. As such, you should endeavour to limit stress at work claims by looking after the welfare of your staff. As an employer, it’s your legal duty to take reasonable steps that promote well-being for your employees. This includes actions that stop work-related aggravation such as:

  • Excessively high workloads.
  • Bullying.
  • Dangerous working environment.
  • Supporting employees through difficulties (such as bereavement).

You must also make sure you identify significant risks to your staff’s health, as well as act to prevent any foreseeable issues. Additionally, you should consider any disabilities your employees have and accommodate for those. Despite this, it’s up to the employee to bring their stress issues to your attention. If they don’t, you can state that you had no idea of their issues (in the event of an employment tribunal).

Work-related stress tests

If you’re concerned about any of your staff members, then you can ask them to take a free online test. This can help to determine if they’re feeling stressed at work—or to what extent. You can use’s Individual Stress Test to get an understanding of how your respective employees are feeling. Such a survey can also go towards a process of managing stress better in your workplace. It’s, after all, essential for the health and success of your business. As such, be on the lookout for signs of anxiety and depression. These include:

  • Headaches.
  • Heart palpitations.
  • Insomnia.
  • Irritability.
  • Lowering quality of work.
  • Isolation from colleagues.
  • Depression.
  • Lack of creativity.
  • Increased absenteeism.

How to handle employee off with work-related stress

The issue is the feeling of being under too much mental (or emotional) pressure, so time away from what’s causing that is often the best solution. The reality is occupational health should be at the forefront of your business plan. And you can have an employee assistance programme (EAP) to support that. But if it comes to it, then an occupational health referral for is an option. The main reason you may want to do this is to help your managers resolve their team member’s issues. It provides the manager with a chance to seek employment law advice and potentially reach a conclusion where time off work for stress helps them to recover. With a referral, it's manageable through supportive measures. It’s not always necessary to take this option, but it’s a good idea if:

  • The manager’s relationship with the employee is difficult and requires a new avenue to solve.
  • The employee is struggling with absenteeism for long periods of time.
  • There are health problems that need addressing, such as anxiety or depression.

Another common issue is the outcome of work stress and pregnancy—impending mothers can find managing their jobs with upcoming motherhood to be difficult. Remember, being signed off work with stress and anxiety may be exactly what your staff members needs to make a full recovery.

Common employee questions

As a business, you may wonder what some of your employees make of all this. Well, here are some of the regular questions we receive from staff members here in the UK:

  • “Can work contact me when off sick with stress?”: Legally, there’s nothing from stopping you as a business from contacting your employee. It’s advisable to provide the time off, but you can still check in once in a while—just don’t place them under pressure to return.
  • “How long can you be signed off work with stress?”: As an employer, you’ll need to know how many sick days the employee has had. But they’ll have to be diagnosed before you can act. A GP will provide a note advising on the length of time they could take off.
  • “I’m off work with stress, where do I stand?”: If they’re worried they may lose their job, remember that you should allow the employee adequate time off to rest and recover. As an employer, you don’t have to keep their role available for them—you can dismiss them for long-term sickness absence. But you must follow a fair process.

Providing stress at work compensation payouts

Along with taking time off work for stress, can your staff member expect any pay during that time? Yes, in the right circumstances. It depends on various factors. These can include:

  • The effects any treatment has had on an employee.
  • Future prognosis.
  • Whether your workplace is responsible.

If there are psychological or psychiatric issues involved, which led to work-related stress leave, then payouts could include:

  • Severe issues causing a very poor future prognosis can result in payouts of £43,710 to £92,240.
  • Moderate issues with a poor—but more optimistic—prognosis can lead to £15,200 to £43,710.
  • Moderate cases with some problems but a good outlook can result in £4,670 to £15,200.
  • Less severe cases can lead to £1,220 to £4,670 in compensation.

Obviously, due to the wide range of potential amounts, it’s difficult to say what the average payout is. As such, it’s important to get a consultation with an industry expert to understand what the amount could be based on your circumstances.

Need more help?

Should an employee be off work with stress? We can help you make the right decision. Get in touch with us today: 0800 028 2420.

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