OT poses a monthly scenario from a practitioner. This month, we look at stress in the workplace with head of employment in the AOP's the legal and regulatory team, Debbie Nathan
Louise, AOP member
“I started a new job six months ago, moving to a practice with slightly shorter testing times than I am used to. At times I have struggled to catch up and find myself getting increasingly and more frequently stressed by the workload, and have found myself needing to take time off as a result. How should I raise this with my employer and are there any processes or requirements that they should follow?”
Debbie Nathan, AOP head of employment
All employers should have a grievance procedure that allows employees to raise concerns or complaints and you can raise a grievance about the difficulties you are facing at work. Grievance procedure documents may be attached to your employment contract or available in a separate document, such as an employee handbook.
You can raise an informal grievance with your manager at first. When doing so, it can be helpful to have some suggestions of changes that could be made in order to help you. Suggestions could include a review of pre-screening processes, new equipment or breaks. It is advisable to ask your manager to respond to your concerns by a certain date.
You can also ask your manager to conduct a health and safety risk assessment to review stress at work.
If you do not receive a response or you find that you are continuing to face high levels of stress at work, you can raise a formal grievance.
Generally, under a grievance procedure, an appropriate manager should be appointed to consider your grievance and they should then hold a meeting with you. You should be given the right to be accompanied by a colleague or a trade union representative for this meeting, a service that the AOP offers to its members.*
It can be helpful to have some suggestions of changes that could be made in order to help you
The manager should carry out an investigation into your concerns and provide you with a written decision. If you are unhappy with the decision, you should be given a right of appeal and, wherever possible, the appeal should be heard by a senior manager who was not previously involved in the grievance procedure. You will also have the right to be accompanied at an appeal meeting.
Employees with at least two years of continuous service with their employer have the right to bring claims for unfair dismissal and constructive unfair dismissal. If your employer persistently fails to deal with your grievance and high levels of stress in the workplace, and you resign as a result of this, you may have grounds for a claim for constructive unfair dismissal, on the basis that the stressful working conditions and the failure to deal with your grievance amounts to a fundamental breach of your employment contract.
Employers have a general duty to ensure that they provide employees with a safe place of work and a safe system of working.
If you develop a stress-related health condition that has a substantial and long-term adverse impact on your day to day activities, this may amount to a disability in law and your employer may have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments to allow you to return to work. Examples of reasonable adjustments that may be appropriate include the provision of training and support, additional breaks or part-time hours.
If your employer is concerned about your level of absence, they may wish to carry out a sickness absence or capability management process in relation to this. You can ask your employer to consider the impact of your work-related stress and that they should reduce this before taking any action in relation to your absences. If your employer dismisses you for sickness absences without first considering if work-related stress can be reduced or adjustments can be implemented, that dismissal may be unfair or may amount to disability discrimination.
*The AOP is able to arrange for our members to be accompanied by a trade union representative at meetings with their employer through a companion service, which we operate with the assistance of an external trade union.
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