There is no specific piece of law that deals with stress at work. However, this does not mean that employers need not act in circumstances where it is clear that employees are being subject to excessive stress and its ill effects. In many ways, stress is viewed as a Health & Safety issue.
The law and standards
All workers have the right to expect a healthy and safe working environment and it is the employer's duty in law to provide such. If an employee is being put under excess pressure and suffering stress as a result, it may be that Health & Safety law can be used to challenge the employer. This is covered by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
Similarly, workers have the right not to be bullied or treated in a manner which can be defined as discriminated against at work. Someone who feels they are being bullied or discriminated against at work is likely to feel stressed as a result of such treatment. If this is the case, an employer’s failure to prevent and deal with discrimination is covered under the Sex Discrimination, Race Relations and Disability Discrimination Acts.
HSE guidance on workplace stress
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has issued guidance on preventing workplace stress:
'Ill health resulting from stress caused at work has to be treated the same as ill health due to other physical causes present in the workplace. This means that employers do have a legal duty to take reasonable care to ensure that health is not placed at risk through excessive and sustained levels of stress arising from the way work is organised, the way people deal with each other at their work or from the day-to-day demands placed on their workforce.'
Union Safety Representatives can use their extensive rights, under the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations (SRSCR) 1977, to investigate and take up problems of work-related stress in the same way they investigate any other workplace hazard. Under these Regulations, Union Safety Representatives are also entitled to be consulted on health and safety matters and the introduction of changes to the workplace which may have an impact on their members' health, safety and welfare.
Stress and Risk Assessment
Creating safe systems of work and preventing accidents and ill health are the cornerstones of Health & Safety law in the UK. It is the employer's legal duty to ensure that employees are not subject to conditions at work which have a detrimental impact on their health and well-being. This includes work-related stress. The requirement to carry out a Risk Assessment and repeat the process in the event of any workplace changes has been in force since 1993.
Useful tips for coping with stress
- Working off stress with physical activity enables you to vent pent-up feelings
- Discuss your problem with others as confiding in another person gives some relief and puts the problem in perspective
- Learn to accept what you are unable to change
- Do not drown your sorrows with alcohol or other drugs
- Make sure that you always get enough rest/sleep — do not let the rest of your work/home life suffer
- Ensure that you allow yourself leisure activities
- Do something positive for someone else. This is an effective method of taking your thoughts off yourself and your problems
- Do not overwhelm yourself. Establish your priorities and take one step at a time
- Try to agree with someone. Get away from battles and hostility
- Manage your time more effectively by working out a system
- Plan ahead when you know that a stressful time is approaching
- If you are sick, seek appropriate attention and make sure that you rest until you really are better
- Develop new interests. It is healthy to have a different focus for your attention
- Believe that the answer lies in yourself
- Eat sensibly and exercise to promote good health
- Accept when you are tired and, at that point, stop work
- Do not put off relaxing, make it a priority
- Do not take too much on. Never be afraid to say no
- Delegate responsibility. Do not be afraid to ask for help
- Be realistic about perfection