At PJH Law we usually only practice employment law, however, it seems yesterday we temporarily branched out into the most common kind of law, sod’s law. Just six hours after publishing our monthly newsletter about topical employment law and HR issues, Zayn Malik, a member of one of the world’s most hyper exposed celebrity products, One Direction, quit the band due to work related stress. Whilst we don’t intend to permanently expand our area of practice into sod’s law we thought it may be worth writing an article about work related stress.

In 2014 nearly 40% of work related illnesses were due to stress or anxiety, accounting for over 11 million days’ worth of absences nationwide. In short, work related stress is both a common and widespread issue affecting many people and industries.

To many, being a pop star isn’t a career you’d usually associate with being stressful. However, pop stars, particularly boy bands have notoriously short shelf lives (anyone remember NSYNC, 5ive, East 17 or the Backstreet Boys?). Thus, they have to endlessly record albums, embark on long tours and, in One Direction’s case, promote a seemingly endless supply of merchandise in order to stay at the forefront of the market.

Hectic work schedules and long hours are also one of the main causes of stress nationwide. The average working week in the UK is roughly 43 hours, the average for the E.U is 40 hours, whilst in the Netherlands the average week is 27 hours (Guess where we’re moving?). Additionally, bullying, working conditions and quality of support are also common causes of work related stress.

So, what are the legal obligations for employers when it comes to stress? Whilst there are no specific laws, employers do have a duty of care under the Health and Safety at Work Act to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their staff. Employees could potentially bring constructive dismissal and/or disability discrimination claims if their work related stress issues are not handled properly.

Moreover, if an employee is dismissed for absence or performance in relation to their stress they could bring an unfair dismissal claim. Furthermore, they could bring a personal injury claim for work related stress if they become unable to work for a period of time. Walker v Northumberland County Council ( ) is a leading case on an employer’s duty of care towards an employee who is vulnerable to stress.

Tribunal claim’s aren’t the only adverse impact of work related stress; productivity, morale and staff turnover are all common impacts of stress at work, making it imperative for employers to reduce both the risk and impacts of stress wherever possible. There are a few easy steps employers can take;

– Ensure that you have appropriate health and safety policies in place. Each working environment will have different types of stress so it is imperative your policies and procedures reflect this.

– Carry out risk assessments to identify factors that could cause stress.

– Train management to identify early signs of stress.  High levels of absence, incidents of bullying or conflict, low productivity and high staff turnover are all tell-tale signs of stress and spotting them could nip the problem in the bud.

– Make reasonable adjustments. If an employee complains about, or is signed off with work stress, then see whether circumstances can be improved. For example, a temporary reduction in hours or adjustment to job description.