Under English law there is currently no right to claim compensation for stress. It is an unfortunate fact that most of us will suffer from stress during our working lives at one time or another and this can commonly take the form of tension, anxiety and / or insomnia.
To successfully make a claim for compensation, one must demonstrate that you suffer from a recognised psychiatric illness, such as clinical depression, and that this was caused by stress at work. Further, you must also show that your employer negligently exposed you to such stress and that they knew, or ought reasonably to have known, that such stress would lead to the psychiatric illness.
Factors at work which may contribute to a stress related disease
Harassment, impossible deadlines and an overload of work, job insecurity or high uncertainties of priorities and targets, poor working conditions such as noise, overcrowding and inadequate breaks can all be factors which contribute to stress at work.
When stress reaches a certain level it can then lead to both physical and mental symptoms and sometimes result in a recognised psychiatric illness.
As with all compensation claims, to succeed, the individual must be able to show that their employer has been negligent or is in breach of a statutory duty. There are no specific statutory obligations at present which deal with the question of stress at work and so the principles of negligence remain the same as for any other assessment of liability on the part of the employer.
The individual must be able to establish that their employer knew or should have known of the individual’s problem. This test is particularly difficult as each person’s stress levels are subjective as everyone has a different tolerance level. For example, some people thrive on working 70-80 hours per week, whereas others will start to struggle if they are given any extra responsibilities above and beyond their job description.
A claim will therefore only succeed if an individual can show that their employer was specifically made aware of the existence of a problem at work (whether it be the volume or nature of the work, harassment or bullying), that the problem was damaging to the individual’s health and that the employer then failed to address the problem.
Supporting evidence is crucial to any claim for compensation, preferably in writing. The key evidence in a compensation claim for work related stress induced psychiatric illness is the evidence which puts the employer on notice that the individual is suffering from stress due to a problem at work and that this stress is causing the individual’s health to suffer. This can take the form of a written complaint, or a doctor’s note issued if the individual has had to take time of work because of ‘stress at work’.
There must also be evidence that once the employer has been made aware of the problem and had the opportunity to address it, that they have failed to do so.
The future of stress induced psychiatric illness claims
It is clear that the Judiciary and employers’ insurers are reluctant to allow ‘stress at work’ claims to escalate and many out of court settlements contain confidentiality clauses. Cases which do not have these clauses often receive grossly inaccurate media attention which results in individuals being led to believe that if they suffer from stress at work then they can make a claim for compensation.
Making a compensation claim for work related stress induced psychiatric illness is a difficult process and is likely to remain so or the foreseeable future.
If you have suffered from a stress at work which has induced a psychiatric illness such as clinical depression which you believe to have been caused as a direct result of your employer’s negligence, speak to our solicitors today on 033 3344 9602 for further advice in making a claim for compensation or complete our online claim form.