Q: My workload has increased massively since the company I work for closed down several offices last year. As a direct result of this I have been off work for two months with stress, but one of my colleagues overheard our line manager saying my illness was more likely to be caused by personal problems. This isn’t the case but what if the company tries to use my long-term absence as an excuse to get rid of me?
A: All employers have a duty of care to provide a safe system of work - and this includes taking reasonable steps to ensure staff do not suffer stress related illnesses as a result of their work. If your employer has breached that duty then you could possibly bring a claim against them for causing injury due to negligence. Suffering from stress is not an injury in itself. You would have to prove that it amounted to active psychiatric harm and you would need to supply medical evidence to that effect.
Most stress related cases are decided on the basis of whether or not the employee’s injury was reasonably foreseeable. Whether work-related or not, if you have provided your employer with medical evidence to prove you are suffering from a stress related illness it will be easier to show that the risk of harm was foreseeable – a key factor in any successful claim.
If your employer is found in a Court to be in breach of their duty of care, it is worth bearing in mind that they may only be liable for that proportion of injury caused by their negligence. So if you have had personal problems which have added to your stress, be prepared to be questioned about them at a hearing.