Experiencing a certain amount of stress at work is inevitable. Managing competing priorities, dealing with difficult personalities, or simply disliking your work can all lead to varying degrees of stress.
And that’s not always a bad thing. Acute, or short term, stress, can actually improve mental acuity and performance when you recognize it and respond appropriately. It’s all part of the design of the human nervous system; when faced with a stressor, whether it is a hungry lion or a screaming boss, our bodies naturally respond with a surge of hormones to provide the energy necessary for a response.
Of course, not everyone knows how to respond to stressors, and when we don’t recognize that stress is not only natural, but can be helpful, and develop strategies for harnessing the power of stress, it often turns into a chronic stress, which is detrimental to one’s health. That being said, the blame for chronic stress isn’t always on you — and if you are under consistent, extreme stress at work, you could have grounds for a personal injury claim against your employer.
Work and Stress: Not Always Inevitable
The first thing to consider when exploring the legality of stress at work is that there is a difference between stress and pressure. Pressure is inevitable at work, and can be a powerful motivator. A personal injury claim based on the fact that your boss asked you to meet deadlines, or demanded excellence in your work is not going to be successful, as those are reasonable expectations.
However, when your boss continually sets unreasonable deadlines, or you are experiencing bullying or abuse from your co-workers or clients that goes unaddressed, you could have a legitimate claim. According to occupational safety laws, employers have a legal responsibility to not only take action at a management level to keep employee stress in check, but also to proactively address stress-related issues in order to prevent employee illness.
This falls under the umbrella of an employer’s general duty of care for employees, which dictates that employers are responsible for preventing foreseeable injuries or harm to their employees. In other word, if an employer does not take steps to minimize or prevent stress among employees, or take action to reduce or eliminate stressful situations, that employer could be held liable for injury claims made by the employee.
Employers do have some leeway in how they respond to stress in the workplace. It’s not always possible to remove the primary stressors, but it’s usually possible to make accommodations or adjustments to the workload. Training and counseling are also options for helping employees cope with stress, and the availability of these programs does limit an employer’s liability for stress-related claims to an extent.
The Employee’s Responsibilities
While employers do bear some responsibility for reducing stress in the workplace, it also falls to the employee to stay in control of his or her own health and safety. That means developing effective strategies for managing stress, and reaching out to managers early on for help with the stressful situation. Seeking help early serves two purposes: First, there is always the possibility that your employer will take steps to mitigate the problem, saving you from the physical and psychological effects of stress.
Just as important, though, is the second benefit of reaching out. When you ask for help managing work stress, your employer has a legal responsibility to take action. If your manager does not do so, or makes ineffective changes or recommendations, you have a better chance of making a successful personal injury claim. If you notify your employer that your work or working environment is putting your health at risk, and make suggestions or requests for improvements or accommodations that go unheeded, your employer could be in violation of the law.
However, if you do talk with your employer about stress, it’s important that you follow through with any action plans developed on your behalf. If your employer provides training or counseling, for example, and you opt not to take advantage of those services, you may not have a successful stress-related injury claim in the future. Again, an employer’s responsibility is to prevent foreseeable injuries and harm to employees, so making a claim and then not following through on the solution does nothing to help your case.
Stress-related personal injury claims are among the most difficult to prove, since stress itself is not an illness, but a state, and often relies on subjective proof. If you think you have an injury claim, it’s best to work with an experienced claims assessor or legal representation on such cases, to ensure your case is handled appropriately and you receive adequate compensation.