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The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 dictates that employers must provide a safe working environment for employees. Employers are required to assess the risk to health in the workplace and act appropriately to minimise it. To decrease the risk of a particular member of staff suffering from stress at work, an employer should minimise the problem and thereafter devolve some responsibilities to others or ensure that highly stressful work is undertaken by a variety of appropriately qualified people instead of just one individual. Employers should ensure that exposure to stressful work is confined to short periods and they should install mechanisms to enable them to understand employees’ grievances about positions associated with work related stress. Psychological injury caused by failure to comply with the legislation gives grounds for work stress solicitors to take legal action in a court of law for paymnent of compensation.

Work stress, depression and anxiety (including PTSD) are a considerable medical problem and research funded by the Health and Safety Executive suggests that 1 in 5 employees consider themselves to be suffering from stress as a result of occupational factors. A high proportion of those employees go on to suffer from a debilitating psychological illness caused as a result of their employer's negligence. If an employer has failed to take adequate care for the psychological welfare and health of employees then the employer can be held liable in negligence and be ordered to pay damages followng legal action by work stress solicitors.

Stress at Work

Most of us at some point in our career must deal with stress at work however prolonged exposure to psychological pressure can cause a detrimental effect on health. The workplace has increasingly become a more stressful place with tight deadlines, harsh workloads, demanding pace of work and increased expectations on employees. The result is that across a wide range of industries work related stress has become a common phenomenon in the United Kingdom. Employers are keen to point out that pressure helps performance by motivating employees however there is an important difference between occasional incidences of pressure and chronic, detrimental pressure that causes stress related illness. All employers want their employees to perform well however employers are legally obliged to assess the emotional pressure their employees face and in unacceptable situations to take remedial action.

Risk Assessments

Employers are required to provide a safe place of work, safe plant and equipment, a safe system of work and reasonably competent co-workers and failure to do so may mean that the employer is negligent. An employer is also required to carry out a detailed risk assessment to identify anything with the potential to cause work stress, work depression or work anxiety.

Employer Negligence

It is an employers legal duty to make sure that employees do not suffer from unacceptable stress at work and are not made ill by the work that they do. Employers who do not take this problem seriously may leave themselves open to stress at work compensation claims from employees who have suffered ill health. Under health and safety law a risk assessment for stress at work must be carried out which involves looking for psychological pressures that could cause unacceptable health problems, identifying who might be harmed and deciding whether enough is being done to prevent that harm. If necessary an employer must then take reasonable steps to alleviate the problem and the risk assessment must be reviewed when ever it may no longer be valid. Employees including Trade Union safety representatives should be involved at every stage of the assessment process for stress at work.

Employers will be liable to pay damages for personal injury in stress at work compensation claims if it can shown :-

  • that the employee has suffered a recognisable psychiatric illness caused by the employer's negligence
  • that the employer failed do all he reasonably could to resolve the problem
  • that the employer has failed to provide a safe place of work and failed to keep the employee safe from psychological harm.
  • that the stress to which the employee was exposed was sufficient to create a reasonably foreseeable risk of injury

Work Induced Depression Anxiety & PTSD

Stress can cause a number of very unpleasant psychological illnesses including anxiety, clinical depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and damages payable by negligent employers can be substantial with a number of recent awards exceeding £200,000. Employers will be liable to pay compensation if an employee can show :-

  • that the employer has failed to provide a safe place of work and failed to keep the employee safe from psychological harm
  • that the employee has suffered a recognisable psychiatric illness caused by the employer's negligence
  • that the stress to which the employee was exposed was sufficient to create a reasonably foreseeable risk of injury
  • that the employer failed do all he reasonably could to resolve the problem


The usual definition of stress is "the reaction people have to excessive demands or pressures, arising when people try to cope with tasks, responsibilities or other types of pressure connected with their jobs, but find difficulty, strain or worry in doing so." Stress can affect both our bodies and our minds and affects everyone differently. The main symptoms of stress are depression, anxiety, insomnia and tiredness. Often people suffering from stress will complain of headaches, backaches, skin rashes and ulcers.


Some of the most common causes of stress are :-

  • dealing with clients or the public
  • reorganisations and lack of job security
  • poor working conditions
  • threats of violence, harassment and bullying
  • lack of childcare or flexibility
  • lack of control over the work
  • excessively demanding a job or too high a workload
  • monotonous or boring work
  • lack of training
  • excessive hours and shift work
  • frustration with inadequate managers

Compensation for Psychological Illness

Work related stress contributes to psychological illnesses including depression and anxiety. Stress at work inevitably affects an employees family who often bear the brunt of the problem. Work related stress can cause social problems including divorce and arguments with spouses and children. Perhaps the most dangerous effect of stress at work is post traumatic stress disorder (a nervous breakdown) when an individual feels unable to cope which often results in doctors signing workers off work for long periods. Workplace stress can contribute to high blood pressure and has been linked to heart disease. Work related stress also contributes indirectly to alcoholism and nicotine addiction which have clear detrimental effects on individuals health.

Compensation that can be claimed may include :-

  • damages for pain and suffering
  • actual past wages losses and estimated future losses
  • care costs
  • medical expenses and prescriptions
  • payment for free help
  • loss of life's amenities
  • legal costs
  • reduced employment prospects
  • interest

Work Stress Solicitors

If you believe your stress related illness is due to conditions in the workplace and that your employer failed to provide a safe work environment, then contact our work stress solicitors and we can offer legal advice on whether you could claim compensation for stress at work. Our solicitors are personal injury specialists who handle compensation claims for work stress, work depression and work anxiety. Your legal claim will be dealt with using the no win no fee* scheme otherwise known as a conditional fee agreement. No legal charge is payable unless the legal case is won and the client obtains an award of compensation. In the event that the legal claim is lost there is no charge made to the client. If you are suffering from anxiety or depression caused by stress at work and would like to discuss your compensation claim with a member of the Law Society panel of personal injury experts then just use the helpline or complete the contact form and a work stress solicitor will speak to you on the telephone with no further obligation.

Occupational Stress Overview

Compensation claims dealt with by work stess solicitors cover a broad range of issues but in the simplest terms relate to any claim where an employee has suffered a recognised psychiatric injury as a consequence of the actions of their employers.

There can be a range of injuries including post traumatic stress disorder, depression, adjustment disorders or in some cases merely hurt feelings.

The employer can be legally liable to pay compensation for these injuries, together with all loses flowing from these injuries, if the injuries and losses are caused by an array of legal wrongs including:

  • Negligence – this can include excessive workload claims, failing to follow Occupational Health recommendations, failing to risk assess or comply with statutory duties under the various Health and Safety regulations.
  • Breach of Contract – this can include failing to act in accordance with policies or procedures dictated in the contract, failing to investigate grievances adequately or incorrectly conducted disciplinary procedures.
  • Common law bullying and harassment – this can include acts from both managers and colleagues. This may include ‘name calling’, exclusion or being undermined. 
  • Harassment contrary to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 – this includes harassment which is more significant than ‘Common Law Bullying’. This may for instance include sexual harassment, assaults or a sustained course of conduct which is ‘oppressive and unacceptable’

Stress at Work Claims are widely misunderstood and are often overlooked by both the public and even solicitors, who will only focus on the potential causes of action arising in the Employment Tribunal. In many circumstances individuals may have valid claims in the civil courts for stress at work in circumstances where a claim in the Employment Tribunal is not possible.

The cost of workplace stress to the UK economy is in excess of £5 billion with approximately 40% of all work place illness being due to Stress at Work. Stress is now the number one cause of long term absence from work. Indeed according to a study by the Health and Safety Executive in 2005, an individual was off work for an average of 30.6 days per absence of work related stress and work related stress accounted for over a third of all absences from work.

Damages that can be claimed by work stress solicitors can be substantial with compensation often being awarded for:

  • Personal Injuries
  • Injury to Feelings
  • Past and Future Loss of Earnings
  • Loss of opportunity on the open labour market (a Smith v Manchester award)
  • Treatment Costs
  • Loss of Pension
  • Loss of Bonus
  • Travel and other associated expenses

Solicitors claims for Stress at Work are complex, the basic principles however are:

  1. The Claimants work stress solicitor must prove that the Employer has committed a legal wrong. This is ordinarily that they acted negligently or in breach of a statutory duty;
  2. The Claimants solicitor must prove that the Claimant has suffered injury, loss or damage as a consequence of the Employer’s legal wrong;
  3. In most cases, except cases under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, it is necessary to prove that it was reasonably foreseeable that the Claimant was likely to suffer psychiatric injury as a consequence of the Employers legal wrong.

The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 is incredibly useful for Claimant as the Act covers a wide range of acts and additionally if you can establish liability under the Act then there is no need to prove foreseeability of injury. In addition, the limitation period under the Act is 6 years. For this reason claims under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 can often provide a useful alternative to claims under the Equality Act 2010 for discrimination.

There is no absolute definition for what constitutes harassment under the legislation but case law has suggested that the conduct must be sufficiently serious whereby the Court may impose criminal sanctions against the individual harassing the Claimant.

The correct test is most appropriate summarised in the case of Thomas v Newsgroup Newspapers (2001) EWCA 1233 in which it was stated that for the conduct to amount to harassment the conduct must;

  • Have occurred on at least two occasions;
  • Be targeted at the Claimant;
  • Be calculated in an objective sense to cause alarm or distress;
  • Be conduct which in all the circumstances is oppressive and unacceptable

Claims based in negligence are often determined by reference to the guidance in Hatton v Sutherland (2002) ICR 613 which provides a framework for assessment for claims for Occupational Stress. However the law and guidance have moved on somewhat since this judgement but Hatton remains the starting point for assessing any stress at work claim.

Additionally the HSE have published guidance on managing stress in the workplace and it is arguable that failure to adhere to the guidance or at least have reference to the guidance when assessing stress in the workplace can be considered negligent.

In summary, the guidance identified 6 risk factors which an Employer should consider when assessing the risk of stress sin the workplace occurring:

  • Demands on the individual – such as workload for example regularly being given an excessive and/or unreasonable workload;
  • Control – lack of control over their work;
  • Relationships – such as bullying and harassment at work;
  • Change – how this is managed and communicated at work;
  • Role – whether the employee understands their role at work and particularly that the employee does not have conflicting roles;
  • Support – from colleagues and managers;
  • Training – for the employee to be able to undertake the core functions of their job;
  • Factors - unique to the individual employee.

Claims for Stress at Work are complex and it is necessary to instruct a firm of Solicitors with genuine experience in this area of law so to ensure maximum recovery both in terms of damages and treatment.

Furthermore there is a substantial overlap with Employment law and claims in the Employment Tribunal. For this reason it is often necessary to assess both the potential civil and employment claims simultaneously as in some cases it may only be possible to pursue either a civil claim or in the alternative an employment tribunal. It may often be considered an abuse of process to pursue multiple claims (in both the Employment Tribunal and Civil Courts) arising out of the same facts. It is therefore important that all angles are considered at the outset to avoid complications arising. In some scenarios it is possible to pursue both a civil claim and employment claim but expert advice is required in order to ensure that this is pursued correctly.



*Legal Information

The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here