Who is responsible for stress in the workplace

The issue of stress management in the workplace is a growing one, and as it grows, one important question naturally arises: who’s responsible for mental health, the employer or the employee?

A recent court case has allayed some of the fears that employers will now be fending of claims from employees left and right, blaming poor mental health on their bosses and claiming for it.

The idea of a psychological injury is rising. Just as a person may claim against the company they work for as the result of a physical injury (we’ve all seen the adverts about slipping on wet floors or falling off the wrong type of ladder), and now it is a rising possibility that claims can and will be made for psychological damages, such as depression or anxiety.

However, can an employer, who is unlikely to be qualified to diagnose any form of mental health issue, be held responsible for a worker’s mental health, especially if the stigma surrounding poor mental health prevents the employee from coming forward about their stress levels.

There has been a precedent from past court cases as to whom is at fault when a worker suffers a psychological injury, a precedent which has now been upheld, as the case of Easton v B&Q PLC has been decided.

Mr Easton fell ill with depression after having managed a B&Q store which was undergoing refurbishment. He felt that the company was to blame for putting too much pressure on him during the time leading up to his illness. However, the court ruled in his favour, on the grounds that, despite him having spoken to the company about the pressure he was under, he didn’t give enough explicit warnings about his mental health for the company to have purposefully overlooked the issue.

This shows that there is a stigma still very much present in the workplace (and in society in general) about mental health. Had Mr Easton been more explicit that he was not dealing well and it would affect his health, he may have won the case. As it is, it is possible that his words were cautious because of the possibility of being demoted or being seen as not up to the task, or possibly even simple embarrassment.

With a more open workplace, one which is more accepting of the trials that people undergo and may suffer as a result of, an employee would be more comfortable approaching their employer and saying that they have a problem. If this were the case, help could be given to prevent the health of the worker deteriorating, and the interests of the business would also be protected.

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