Stress at work is a major issue and something that should be taken seriously by employers and employees. Job-related stress is defined as "The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work," according to the Health and Safety Executive. If your health is affected by stress on the job there are a number of steps you can take, including going on medical or sick leave until you recover.
If you can identify the cause of stress in the workplace you may be able to make changes, alongside your employer, that remove the need for, or shorten the length of, medical leave. Stress on the job is caused by many different factors, according to the UK National Work-stress Network. Causes include excessive pressure that is beyond your control, a lack of control over your work environment, the casualisation of work, workplace bullying, and post traumatic stress experienced while at work .
Before taking medical leave for stress, be aware that employers have certain legal obligations regarding managing stress in the workplace which are set out in statutory law and common law. Employees also have a duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and you should inform your employer if you feel the stress caused by your job is putting your health at risk. You can also suggest ways in which you can lessen the stress or discuss adjustments that could be made to your job.
You can self-certify your absence for seven days (including weekends and leave days) if you are too ill to work due to stress in your job. Following seven days you need a fit note (formerly called a sick note) from your doctor to give to your employer. The fit note says if you are “not fit for work” or “may be fit for work.” If you are deemed “may be fit for work” your employer should discuss changes that manage stress and could help you return to work.
If you are off work for over four weeks you are termed long-term sick. Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is an amount paid by your employer for a period of time up to 28 weeks if you are too ill to work -- SSP also applies to medical leave due to stress. Some companies also have a sick pay scheme, which would cover stress-related illness, and pays the employee’s salary in whole or part while they are on long-term medical leave. An employer can dismiss you if you are long-term sick but only after consulting you and considering whether you can return to a less stressful position or through working part time or flexibly. You can go to an employment tribunal if you feel you have been dismissed unfairly due to stress-related illness.
Returning to work
Following medical leave for stress you may have a return-to-work meeting with your manager to find out why you have been absent. Employers should discuss your situation in confidence and look for ways in which they can support you in your job. Possible solutions for effective stress management at work include flexible working arrangements, clarification of your job description and responsibilities, extra training or support, and grievances brought against bullying colleagues or managers who have not acted responsibly.
- Health and Safety Executive: What is stress?
- The UK National Work-stress Network: Work stress
- Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development: Work-related stress: What the law says
- Health and Safety Executive: Legal requirement
- GOV.UK: Taking sick leave
- GOV.UK: Statutory sick pay
- Guardian Careers: Dealing with workplace stress - your legal rights