Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Stress or Depression?

Stress and Disability Discrimination

Employers tend to get very nervous when an employee goes off sick with stress - particularly if the note from the GP states "work-related stress".  And quite rightly so, as this could indicate that there is a poor culture, maybe even a bullying culture, within the workplace. 

But sometimes employees will suffer stress in reaction to something at work that they are just unhappy about but which most people would consider quite reasonable.  It could be that they face disciplinary proceedings for misconduct or are being tackled over their under-performance.  It is also true to say that some employees will "swing the lead" and get themselves signed off with stress, because its symptoms are well reported and it is easy to persuade some GPs to sign them off on that basis.

It is unlikely, however, that any employee who suffers stress will be considered to be disabled in legal terms.  Unlike depression, which is a clear clinical condition which can be long term and can impact massively on someone's ability to carry out normal day to day activities, stress is normally of short-term duration and is a reaction to a specific event or set of circumstances.  In Herry v Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council, the Employment Appeal Tribunal considers this question and provides a very clear and in-depth analysis of the difference between the two conditions in the context of disability discrimination.  It also points out that confusion can arise when some doctors talk about employees suffering from "depression", when they actually mean "stress" or "anxiety", and the difficulty in establishing clearly whether a diagnosis of depression has actually been made.

Some employers and employees are reluctant to talk about stress, but it's normally best to treat it as you would any other illness, and try to talk openly to employees who disclose that they are suffering.  With support and the right treatment its effects can be well managed and any impact on work is often short-lived.

If you need any help with this aspect of people management, please contact us.

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