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Stress at Work

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What is Work-related Stress?

Stress at Work or Work-related stress is defined by the HSE as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other demands placed on them.’

When we feel stressed, a hormone called Cortisol is released by the body. If this happens too often, the body can no longer respond to stress and we start to feel enormously fatigued. It can exacerbate heart problems, respiratory conditions and digestive issues to name just a few, and can even cause ongoing muscle tension.

In its manifestation, stress is not an illness – it is a natural human reaction, but if this reaction is prolonged over a long period of time it can lead to physical and/or mental ill-health.



Stress is normally included in a group of conditions, along with depression and anxiety – referred to as common mental health conditions. Depression and anxiety are recognised medical conditions with clearly defined diagnostic criteria, whereas stress is not. However, there is a large overlap between the causal factors and symptoms of these conditions which is why they are normally grouped together.

According to statisticians, there were 1.4 million cases of work-related ill health between 2017/18 – almost 550,000 of these cases were new or long-standing cases of work-related stress, anxiety or depression, or, 43.8 percent of all workplace illness. A grand total of 26.8 million (yes, million!) working days were lost between 2017/2018.

If our calculations are correct, this means that 57.3 percent (or 15.4 million days of the grand total of 26.8 million work days) were lost as a result work-related stress, anxiety and depression.

These figures were released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in 2018. 

What are the Symptoms?

Stress can affect all aspects of your life and as such, the symptoms can often be multi-dimensional. Stress can affect your emotional, behavioural and physical health, and may include the below symptoms.

Emotional symptoms of stress include:

  • Easily agitated or annoyed.
  • Feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control or need to take control.
  • Having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind.
  • Low mood, which can be categorised by low self-esteem, and/or feeling lonely, worthless, and/or depressed.
  • Avoidance of activities you once enjoyed, such as socialising with others.

Physical symptoms of stress include:


Cognitive symptoms of stress include:

  • Constant worrying
  • Racing thoughts
  • Forgetfulness and disorganisation
  • Inability to focus
  • Poor judgement
  • Being pessimistic or seeing only the negative side
  • Lack of motivation and driveTears


Stress at work can be caused by many different issues, and no individual cause of stress or reaction to it is ever the same. Suffering from stress in the workplace is generally understood to be ‘a reaction to an overload of pressure or demand in the workplace.’ However, this pressure is not always simply overwork, and can manifest itself as many other issues.

In fact, stress at work can be caused by circumstances such as:

  • Bullying
  • Being overworked
  • Having a lack of support from management or team
  • Sexual harassment
  • Having mental health issues ignored




There is no specific test to diagnose stress. Typically, your healthcare professional conducts a variety of tests (which may include a personal and family health history, blood and urine tests and other assessments) to rule out various medical conditions.

Symptoms of stress are often similar to those of depression and/or anxiety disorders. However, the symptoms associated with stress typically subside when the stressor – such as a toxic working environment – is reduced. When these same symptoms are caused by depression or another mood disorder, however, they may not go away without medication or therapy.


According to Karl Albrecht (the German entrepreneur who founded Aldi with his brother Theo), there are four different types of stress:

  1. The first is time stress where an individual may worry about time, or a lack thereof.
  2. The second is anticipatory stress, which describes stress caused by future concerns. For example, anticipatory stress may be caused by an important upcoming meeting which causes an individual to feel worried and can have negative effects on performance even though they have control over the situation.
  3. Conversely, stress caused by a situation that you have no control over is called situational stress. This third type of stress is often triggered by conflict or a loss of acceptance/status in the eyes of your peers and is common in workplaces.
  4. The fourth and final type of stress is encounter stress and this stems from worrying about interactions with a certain person or group. Encounter stress often occurs in the workplace due to high levels of personal interaction with peers or clients. This is further associated with those who work with distressed individuals, such as social workers.


Treatments for stress vary depending on the symptoms an individual suffers from and may vary on a case by case basis. For instance, some medications like Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) may be prescribed if an individual is particularly suffering from emotional anxiety, whereas sleeping pills or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) tablets may be prescribed for insomnia or stomach issues respectively.

Alternatively, some individuals may choose the holistic approach where acupuncture or aromatherapy can help to relieve feelings of tension. Talking therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapies (CBT) may also be beneficial to some individuals.

Long-Term Complications and Prognosis

A little stress is seen to be normal every now and then, and is seen to be advantageous in certain situations. However, in the long term, stress can exacerbate many serious physical and mental health problems, including:

  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Skin problems
  • Anxiety disorders

Who is Affected?

Stress can affect anyone at any age throughout different walks of life, yet some people are more prone to suffer than others. In the young and middle-aged population, one of the most common sources of stress is a person’s workplace.

For instance, medical staff who work in high-pressure situations with critically ill patients are more likely to suffer from encounter stress if they are not offered the supported needed.

Furthermore, stress at work can rise from an unpleasant situation such as degrading comments being made in front of co-workers, to excessive pressures from management staff.



What Do I Do if I’m Suffering From Stress at Work?

The most important thing above any claim you may have is in maintaining your own health – this must be the priority.

If you are concerned about how you are coping with stress at work, we would encourage you to speak to your GP and seek specialist advice. They have a wealth of experience and knowledge surrounding the issues of mental ill-health.

At your workplace and before any issues escalate, do try to speak to someone who may be able to help you and who you feel able to confide in. It’s important to remember that it’s not an employer or a line manager’s job to diagnose or treat stress, but they will be able to signpost you to any internal support programs available and/or advise how they can best support you in the workplace from a practical point of view.

If you have been battling these issues quietly, highlight the problems you are facing at work in a calm and professional manner to your employers. Managers are not mind readers. If you do later consider making a claim, having a paper trail of your raising the issues with your employer can be useful.

Here is some guidance from HSE, which employers are encouraged to familiarise themselves with and follow in appropriate situations:

Employers have duties under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to assess the risk of stress-related ill health arising from work activities; and under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, to take measures to control that risk. Whether an employer is a small business or a large corporation, the law requires all employers to assess the risk of work-related stress and to put steps in place to tackle those risks.

This is another government resource aimed to help employers understand their obligations, and how they can best help their employees when a work-related stress issue arises: http://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/what-to-do.htm

Do I have a claim?

Work-related stress is complex. In summary, however, the employee needs to prove:

  • That their employer has acted in breach of their duty of care/negligently. This means that an employee must prove that their employer has acted wrongly in the eyes of the law.
  • That the employee has suffered an injury by reason of the stress, i.e. the stress symptoms must meet a clinical diagnosis of a recognised psychiatric condition, such as depression or anxiety.
  • That the injury was caused directly as a result of the employer’s breach of duty.
  • That it was reasonably foreseeable that the employee would suffer psychiatric injury as a result of that breach of duty.

In cases of this nature, the highest hurdle to overcome is often whether or not the employer had foresight of the impending injury, i.e. what red flags were known to the employer before the employee suffered a breakdown.

Each case is specific, but usually, previous periods of time off work with work-related stress are clear signs to an employer that an employee is struggling to cope in the workplace and that they may need to intervene and/or monitor the situation to avoid matters worsening.

How Do I Make a Claim?

Before deciding on whether making a claim is the best option for you, it’s important to seek some initial legal advice. Here at Oakwood Solicitors, we offer a free assessment and would be happy to look over any documents you have and discuss with you whether we thought there were merits to a possible action.

If you find a Solicitor who is of the view that your claim does have merits, then it is important to also consider the impact to your health that taking a claim forward may have.

Litigation can be a stressful process and may have an adverse impact on your health. We are not doctors, so we cannot give you medical advice, but are under a duty to advise you that pursuing a claim will be a reminder of the stress that led to your psychiatric condition whilst the claim is ongoing.

Please also note that the only outcome to a successful claim is financial compensation. You may see the litigation as a mechanism for obtaining answers but the majority of cases settle out of Court, which may result in many of your questions remaining unanswered.

You may be advised by your doctors that you will only be able to make a good recovery from your illness once you are able to move on from the issues in question. The litigation may, therefore, delay your recovery. The decision to proceed must be your own, in conjunction with your medical advisors.

If you agree to proceed forward with a claim, then our team will be happy to explain the process in further detail with you.



How long do I have to make a claim?

Claims for psychiatric injury are subject to strict time limits and you must have commenced proceedings within 3 years of your date of knowledge that you have suffered an injury as a result of the work-related stress.

There may also be separate allegations that can be made under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and such allegations would be subject to a 6 year limitation period.

It would always be our advice however to ensure that proceedings are issued within 3 years of your date of knowledge that you have suffered psychiatric illness so that you may raise both common law allegations of negligence (breaches of duty of care) and allegations under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

In cases of this nature, the exact date of limitation is often difficult to determine as there is no ‘accident date’ and psychiatric illness is usually caused by a prolonged exposure to stress. Usually, we advise that the time limit runs from the first time you seek medical advice from your GP but limitation is assessed on a case by case basis.

If you are unsure about your own time limit then we would be happy to help advise you if we’re able to support you with a claim.

How Long Will My Case Take to Run?

In theory, the case could settle any day from day one, but on average, cases are usually resolved within twenty-four months from when we are first instructed.

Would I Have to Go to Court?

If the case did not settle, then ultimately the matter would proceed to Court where a Judge would make a determination. Most cases, however, do settle out of Court, so although this is an unlikely eventuality, we cannot rule it out as an impossibility.

If you do have any concerns about this during the process of your claim, then we would be happy to discuss this with you and address any concerns you may have.



How Much is My Claim Worth?

As detailed above, one of the legal requirements is evidencing that not only have you suffered workplace stress, but that stress has met the clinical criteria for a recognised psychiatric condition. If so, you would be able to claim compensation known as general damages – this is an award of money for the pain and suffering you have endured as a result of the negligence.

Assuming that the symptoms do meet the necessary criteria, then the Court uses guidance called the Judicial Studies Board Guidelines (JCG) as a starting point, which takes into account the following:

  • The injured person’s ability to cope with life and work.
  • The effect on the injured person’s relationships with family, friends and those with whom he or she comes into contact.
  • The extent to which treatment would be successful.
  • Future vulnerability.
  • Prognosis.
  • Whether medical help has been sought.

The relevant section of the JCG which covers claims for psychiatric injuries has four brackets of compensation as follows:

  1. Less severe – Usually where the duration of symptoms are usually less than twelve months, and the extent to which the symptoms have affected someone’s daily activities and sleep is low level (£1,440.00 – £5,500.00).
  2. Moderate – Usually where the symptoms have affected someone’s daily activities, life, work and relationships but where the medical evidence opines that good progress towards recovery will be made by the time of Trial. The extent to which treatment will assist in the recovery of symptoms, together with someone’s future vulnerability to relapse is also considered in this bracket 5,500.00 – £17,900.00).
  3. Moderately severe – Usually where the symptoms amount to a disability affecting someone’s life in a permanent or long-standing basis, preventing a return to comparable employment 17,900.00 – £51,460.00).
  4. Severe – The most extreme of cases, where the outlook for someone’s recovery is extremely poor 51,460.00 – £108,620.00).

Although every claim is different, most cases of this nature fall within either the moderate or moderately severe categories.

The Court also takes into account similar cases that have been to a Trial in order to determine where within the above brackets of compensation a case, in particular, may fall.

Separately to the above, if a diagnosis of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is made, then the Court has additional guidance.

Secondly and in addition to general damages, you can pursue compensation known as special damages – this is an award of money for all of your out of pocket expenses such as loss of earnings, travel expenses, medication costs, treatment costs, etc.

You can make a claim for both past losses and any anticipated future losses. This list is not exhaustive and is very case specific.

Frequently-Asked Questions

“I have just been diagnosed with Stress at Work but I stopped working at the company a while ago. Can I still make a claim?”

Yes. It is not a requirement for someone making a claim to still work for the intended Defendant company. Likewise, it is not a requirement for the employee to have to leave in order to make a claim.

“Will I lose my job if I make a claim against my employer?”

It is unlawful for an employer to dismiss an employee just because they are either considering legal action or taking any legal actions against them.


Oakwood Solicitors Ltd


Why Use Oakwood Solicitors to Make Your Stress at Work Case?

Claims for Psychiatric Injury arising from work-related stress is a very complex area of law. At Oakwood Solicitors, we have a dedicated and specialised team here to help.

With the majority of the team having a qualification in mental health (a TQUK Level 2 Certificate in Awareness of Mental Health Problems), we fully appreciate the difficulties those suffering with a mental health condition at work may face, particularly in the case of workplace stress.

Whether it’s an ongoing issue or a historic issue, we are here to help and will carry out a free assessment with no obligation to take forward a claim.

How is my case funded?

There can be a number of ways to fund your legal fees. Subject to individual assessment, the most common method to fund a claim of this nature is by way of a Conditional Fee Agreement, which is often referred to as a ‘No-Win, No-Fee’ Agreement.

This means that if the claim is unsuccessful, you will not have to pay us anything towards our costs, subject to compliance with the terms and conditions of the agreement in place.

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If you believe that workplace stress is the root of your current ill-health and your workplace isn’t listening, get in touch today for a free initial consultation. Choose one of the methods on the right-hand side of this page, or call us on 0113 200 9787 to find out how we can help you.

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Work Related Stress Questionnaire

Find out if you may be eligible to make a claim for stress at work by completing our Claim Questionnaire. Our specialist team will review every enquiry made and let you know how we may be able to hel…

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Bullying and Harassment at Work

Many employees experience unpleasant treatment at work at the hands of their managers and fellow colleagues at some time during their working career. Sometimes this activity deeply affects individuals and it can become a huge problem for their health. If you have suffered a recognised psychiatric injury as a result of bullying and harassment at…

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Chronic Pain

Chronic Pain is a term used in personal injury law to describe an injured person’s symptoms of physical pain, often caused by damage to their nervous system which controls that person’s pain. From a medical perspective, sometimes doctors are unable to diagnose with certainty from where Chronic Pain is being triggered. Only recently have some…

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Excessive Workload

Do you feel like you don’t have enough hours in the day, you are working long hours to get everything done, or your task list never seems to decrease? If so, you may be eligible for an excessive workload compensation claim. To succeed with an excessive workload compensation claim, you must prove that your employer…

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HSE Management Standards

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is a UK government agency responsible for the encouragement, regulation and enforcement of workplace health, safety and welfare, and for research into occupational risks. Matters of stress at work fall with the HSE’s remit and they set down a set of best practice conditions for employers. If present in…

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Mishandled Disciplinary

No-Win, No-Fee

What does ‘No-Win, No-Fee’ mean? There can be a number of ways to fund your legal fees. Following a provisional assessment of your potential claim, we may be able to offer you something called a Conditional Fee Agreement which is often referred to as a No-Win, No-Fee Agreement. Where we are able to provisionally assess…

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The Hatton Guidance

The law governing claims for Psychiatric Injury arising from workplace stress is determined by previous cases which have been decided at a Trial. The leading case in this area of law is called Hatton v Sutherland. In this case, the Judge set down a checklist of 16 factors for other Judges to consider when faced…

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