Human Law Ezine - July 2010
Prevent increasing pressure at work resulting in Employment Tribunal cases
With unemployment on the increase and the recent government announcements of public sector funding cuts it’s no surprise that work related stress is on the increase. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) spring Employee Outlook survey, the proportion of people saying that they're under excessive pressure either every day, or once or twice a week, has increased to 44% from 38% a year ago.
Workplace stress in the UK has established itself as one of the key issues for employers and their advisers with a number of high-profile cases in recent years. Employers need to take positive action to prevent it. Recent research has shown that teachers, nurses, professional and managerial staff, particularly those in the public sector, medical practitioners, police officers, prison officers and UK armed forces personnel may be particularly susceptible to work-related stress.
Employers have a duty to ensure the safety of employees, and this includes their mental well-being. If workers are put under unnecessary or inappropriate pressure at work they may suffer from stress, resulting in them seeking medical treatment, taking time off work and impact on their home and social life. Not only is this disruptive for a business it can have more serious consequences if the employee believes they have a case for making a claim in the Employment Tribunal or County Court.
For business owners, HR professionals, supervisors and managers the ability to minimise stress and manage the side effects amongst workers is very important. As lawyers we often come across cases of discrimination, bullying, harassment and unfair dismissal which have their routes in a poor handling of stress at work.
For employers and managers dealing with employee disputes with their routes in work place stress these tips will help:
- Train line managers to recognise stress. Line managers are the front line in identifying, preventing and managing stress within an organisation. They see the problems causing the stress and should notice changes in staff behaviour that reveal a stress-related problem.
- If there are disputes and problems try to elicit the facts. One of the key features of stress cases is that both employer and employees can be emotional and not objective in dealing with the circumstances. Once the facts are established and dealt with in a matter of fact way both parties can start seeing their way to a potential solution.
- Investigation skills are key to solving stress cases. In dealing with allegations of stress one has to consider if the organisation is at fault or whether the employee is being a malingerer.
- Act quickly and carefully. Stress cases are time consuming and expensive. Out of all the types of works we do as lawyers these are some of the most involved and time consuming and thus expensive for all parties. Therefore your emphasis should be on trying to settle the case quickly to avoid the matter being long and drawn out and costing more in management time and potential compensation claims.
- Recognise the legal complications and get professional advice. Another reason to settle cases sooner is the law is complex. Not only are cases difficult to investigate but some of the law is complicated. Taking professional advice at an early stage could prevent an employee taking their case further.
- Consider mediation. Mediation works well in stress cases. The mediation environment is a non- threatening, neutral space in which the parties, with the help of an independent person can determine if a stressed employee is ready and able to return to work or continue to work in the same environment. If it’s agreed that the employee will leave the company mediation is also a good way to agree the terms of a settlement in the form of a Compromise Agreement. In these circumstances a mediator is useful as he or she can re-introduce the trust which has been broken.
- Be proactive in recognising and preventing workplace stress. Everyone in your organisation has a responsibility to prevent and manage work related stress, recognising the different responsibilities (as described on the HSE website) will help.
- Provide ongoing support. Just because you have settled a legal case is not the end of the matter. A stress case is often a wake-up call for a flaw in the way the organisation is managed. Ongoing training of supervisors and managers and a coaching, rather than a command and control culture, can be very effective as preventative measures.
To discuss any stress related disputes or find out how to use mediation skills in an increasingly pressured work environment call Human Law Mediation on 0844 800 3249 or email Justin Patten here.