As a result of a recent case relating to workplace stress or depression being seen as a disability, it may be useful to look at the law relating to disability. The law says that if an employee has a disability and is thereby put at a disadvantage compared with non-disabled employees, then the employer has a duty to take such steps as are reasonable to avoid the disadvantage. A disability is legally defined as a physical or mental medical impairment that has a substantial effect on the ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities and is “long-term”, meaning it has lasted or is likely to last more than 12 months.
Normally these aspects of disability go together so if an impairment lasts more than 12 months it’s probably a medical condition and probably has a substantial effect on that person’s day-to-day activities. But that’s not always the case. Recently the EAT accepted that clinical depression is a medical condition and it also accepted that it will often be difficult to distinguish clearly between stress and depression. However, the EAT also accepts that these two conditions are different; stress is a reaction to adverse life events so if those events disappear, the stress should resolve itself.
So what should employers do? Well, in practice most employers will be unable to distinguish between stress and depression, but they have a duty of care to take reasonable measures to reduce or avoid stress in the workplace. If as an employer, you can reduce stress as much as possible it will inevitably lead to a nicer place to work and probably also to greater productivity. There are limits of course, work can be stressful. But often there are things managers can do, like improving workflow systems in order to reduce the need for stressful deadlines. Change how you allocate work, not every job is time critical or vitally important so assess each job or task and allocate accordingly; this will significantly reduce pressure on your employees as they will be able to pace themselves.
Remember employee stress and clinical depression can be used in unfair dismissal cases, so it’s always best to minimise the likelihood that these reasons can be used against you, and as always if you need help or advice, give us a call.