Can Stress at Work Amount to a Disability?

31 January 2017

If you are experiencing stress at work and this is having a negative and substantial impact on your day-to-day life, you could be considered to have a disability.

What is a Disability?

In order to qualify as a disabled person under the Equality Act, you must have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial long term adverse effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. ‘Long term’ usually means 12 months or more.

For the purposes of this definition, any medication you take is disregarded, and very few conditions are deemed to be disabilities. It would also be the Employment Tribunal, rather than medical experts, who would ultimately decide if you have a disability.

Can Long Term Stress Amount to a Disability?

Most employees will experience stress in their job roles at some point in their lives. However, at what point can this amount to a disability?

Recently the case of Herry v Dudley MBC provided some useful guidance. In this case the employee had claimed he had two disabilities: dyslexia and stress. One of the points the Employment Appeals Tribunal had to consider was whether stress was a mental illness and therefore potentially a disability.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal considered the differences between stress and mental illness and made the decision that the employee had failed to establish a mental impairment or to show substantial impact, presenting little or no evidence that his stress had any impact on normal day-to-day activities.

It was noted that bringing a legal claim and having to give witness evidence at a Tribunal are not normal day-to-day activities because they do not affect an employee’s normal day-to-day life. On this basis the employee was not successful in his appeal.

A useful quote from the Judgement is, "unhappiness with a decision or a colleague, or a tendency to nurse grievances or a refusal to compromise are not of themselves mental impairments”.

When considering if the stress you are experiencing at work could amount to a disability, it is worth considering if it affects your general, day-to-day activities such as shopping, reading and writing, having a conversation or using the telephone, watching television, getting washed and dressed, preparing and eating food, carrying out household tasks and taking part in social activities.

Normal day-to-day activities can also include general work-related activities, and study and education-related activities, such as interacting with colleagues, following instructions, using a computer, driving, preparing written documents, and keeping to a timetable or shift work.

If you have been absent from work due to long term stress or are managing to attend work but are experiencing stress, there are legal and practical steps you can take to try and improve your situation. For example, requesting a referral to occupational health.

Our Employment Law Solicitors can provide legal and practical advice based on your situation and answer any questions you may have. Our Employment Solicitors are experts in dealing with mental health disability claims and can help you understand what your options are.

See Disability Discrimination Unfair Dismissal Case Study.

Please note claims for discrimination must be issued within 3 months less one day of the discriminatory act taking place. If there have been a series of discriminatory acts a claim must be issued within 3 months less one day of the last act in the series.

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