Can you sue your employer for workplace stress?

Now that lockdown is coming to an end, many of us are expected to come back into the office, at least as part of a hybrid work-from-home/in-office arrangement. The last official statistics have revealed that 595,000 people have suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety, resulting in 15.4 million working days lost due to illness. So can you sue your employer for emotional distress? 

If you want to claim against your employer for emotional distress, the determining factor is whether or not the emotional distress actually is work-related.

Work-related emotional distress can include:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 

Each of these illnesses can come with physical elements such as indigestion, nausea, headaches, changes in appetite, and more – which can also affect your day-to-day life. Emotional distress can also prompt the start of negative self-medication techniques such as alcoholism and drug addiction, leading to further physical and emotional distress. 

What was the cause of the stress, anxiety or depression? 

According to the latest available data from the HSE’s research paper called Work-related stress, depression or anxiety in Great Britain, the most common cause of work-related emotional distress is specifically “workload.” 

If we take a closer look at the causes of work-related stress, depression or anxiety, we can see exactly whether or not the work culture or the work itself is to blame for your condition:

Workload: You’re only human and there’s only so much work you can take on without feeling the strain. If you’re pressured into working long hours or have been made to feel guilty about not taking on extra work, then you’re at a much higher risk of work-related stress. 

Violence, threats and bullying: If anyone has done or said anything that has made you feel threatened or intimidated, including unfair treatment, being ignored for a promotion, being picked on and so on. This can be via any form of communication such as email, letter, phone or face-to-face.   

Lack of basic employee rights: If you’re ever made to feel guilty for taking pre-booked annual leave or even just your right to regular breaks, then this can count towards emotional distress, as it can greatly affect your day-to-day life. 

There are other reasons you may develop work-related stress disorders, such as a toxic work culture, weak management, physically uncomfortable work environment and micromanagement.

What proof do I need for stress at work? 

Of course, there are a few things you’ll need to show that your emotional distress was caused by a factor in your workplace. This includes, but isn’t limited to:

  • Psychiatric injury diagnosis
  • The employer breached its duty
  • The working environment posed a real risk of causing the illness and that the employer knew or ought to have known that the employee was exposed to that risk

If you suspect your stress disorder is work-related then please contact our Serious Injury team. If your emotional wellbeing and mental health is affecting your day-to-day life, then it is serious.

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  1. HSE, 2017/2018