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Stress is one of the biggest problems facing UK workers right now.  In a YouGov survey last year, over half of workers said that they felt “fairly” or “very” stressed, four in ten respondents said they felt stressed when they thought about work outside of work hours, and 88% thought about work outside of working hours. Compounding these stats, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics showed that in 2021/22, 914,000 workers were suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety, with over 17m working days lost to these illnesses in the same year.

Employers cannot afford to avoid this issue, and during International Stress Awareness Month, Michael Jenkins, Head of Legal Advice, highlights business’s responsibilities to their workers, not just this month, but every month of the year.

Assessing the risk

Though there is no one piece of legislation that covers stress in the workplace, there are some clearly relevant areas that employers should be aware of.

Section 3 of The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, compels employers to conduct a suitable assessment of the risks to the health and safety of their employees, this includes preventing employees from suffering from excessive stress. Any company with more than five employees is required to carry out a risk assessment to mitigate the problem to the best of their ability.

This could involve signposting services that support people suffering from stress, providing information about how to prevent or manage stress and supplying counselling services, or Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) for their teams.

The Working Time Regulations 1998 is also important. Long hours and shift work can be major factors in stress, so companies must ensure that they are providing employees with their correct working time entitlements including a daily rest period of eleven hours, a rest break of twenty minutes if the working day is more than six hours, and a maximum working week of no more than forty-eight hours (it’s possible for employees to agree to opt-out of the maximum weekly working hours).

Taking the problem home

Stress doesn’t just impact those working in the office, home-workers often suffer more from their home becoming their workplace.  Additional factors such as loneliness, dependents, communications barriers and a lack of distinction between home and personal life can be significant contributors to the typical stress that accompanies day-to-day work.

It’s important to note that stress which could lead to anxiety and depression, could be classed as a disability under the Equality Act 2010.

Under the Act, and as is the case with office-based team members, staff with a disability can ask for reasonable adjustments to be made including requests for more flexible working, or more one-to-one support from a coach or manager.

Talking therapies

Though discussing stress can be hard for some, it’s important to engage in conversation early, particularly if an employee feels that their workplace is significantly contributing to or causing their stress.

Depending on the circumstances, it’s possible for an employee to bring a claim against their employer if they either facilitate a poor work environment or fail to acknowledge or act on any problems arising. By having that conversation early, employees can prove that they have flagged a problem and sought help.

We know that suffering from stress in the workplace is mentally and physically exhausting, and that sometimes fighting the causes can make the problem worse. Our Family, Commercial and Affinity Group Legal Expenses Insurance includes a 24/7, 365 day Legal Assistance Helpline that can help guide policyholders through their rights at work, along with support on any personal or commercial legal problems, depending on the scheme access.

Michael Jenkins, Head of Legal Advice, Arc Legal Group

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