Should There Be Stress At Work Legislation?

Should There Be Stress At Work Legislation?

Should There Be Stress at Work Legislation?
Over the last 20 years there has been significant improvement in the UK’s Health and Safety legislation. Today most areas of work are covered by some form of legislation whether it relates to personal protective equipment or the use of computer screens.
However there is no legislation which deals specifically with prevention and management of stress in the workplace. This is especially surprising as stress at work is the 2nd most common cause of absence from work in the UK and costs the UK economy in excess of £5billion a year.
All reports further indicate that this is on the rise particularly in the public sector. Britons work longer hours than anywhere in Europe. Recent reports suggest that 90% of employees interviewed at the Care Quality Commission are suffering with work related stress and further a recent blogger has enlightened the public on the significant work related stress problems within local government.
Why then have the Government not sought to legislate on this issue? Certainly the approach taken by employers differs greatly when dealing with an employee suffering with stress.
The underlying problem has always been that there is a certain degree of stigma attached to psychological injuries. It is very difficult for individuals who have not suffered with psychological illness to understand how debilitating such an illness can be. Public awareness has improved in recent years but it remains very difficult for individuals particularly those who have stressful jobs to understand how they can cope with the pressures of work.
Another factor is that legislation often follows litigation in the Court. However it is extremely difficult for employees to successful bring actions against there employers for injuries caused as a result of stress at work.
It is clear however that this cannot continue and that the Government should intervene and provide legislation giving clear and unequivocal guidance on how employers should manage stress in the workplace.
The Health and Safety Executive already provides extensive guidance on their website as to the management of stress in the workplace. The difficulty is that there is no consistency in the approach taken by employers.
Formal legislation however could provide a basic framework for managing these problems in a consistent manner and in accordance with recommendations made by the Health and Safety Executive.
Some of the procedures which ought to be adopted could include:
Compulsory system of referral of employees to Occupational Health after absence exceeding a certain period of time for example 6 weeks;
Compulsory system of return to work interviews for any absence spanning more than 1 week to be conducted in a prescribed format in order to give guidance to employers on the types of questions and alterations which should be asked;
Compulsory system of annual appraisals to include a discussion and record of the impact work may be having on an employees health
Allowing an employee to have a grievance appeal handled and investigated by an external body
Compulsory implementation of a Stress Management Policy
Compulsory implementation of a Bullying and Harassment Policy
Any legislation would require consultation with relevant health professionals as to appropriate preventive measures or methods to manage stress in the workplace.
Further the measures could be tailored to exclude small business with less than a prescribed number of employees so as to avoid a position whereby any legislation is too burdensome to employers.
In the absence of much needed change the problem of stress in the workplace will only continue to rise and not only impact on the individuals concerned but also impact upon the economy.
Richard Coulthard
Head of The Stress at Work Department
Michael Lewin Solicitors Limited

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