A Plain English Guide To British Employment Law


One in five people suffers from workplace stress, with half a million people reporting they have become ill as a result of workplace stress. This page looks at the causes and remedies of workplace stress and explains your employment law rights.

What is workplace stress?

If you have a job that challenges you, you should expect to feel some pressure at work. However, when that pressure is excessive and you suffer an adverse reaction to it, then it has become stress.

Stress is not a disease, but it can be a threat to your health and safety at work. Your employer has employment law duties to take care of your health and safety when you are at work.

Typical causes of work-related stress include poor communication, a bad working environment and skills not matching those that are needed for the job.

Stress can also be triggered by events away from work, such as bereavement, money worries and illness.

What to do if you are suffering from work related stress – employment law rights

If you think you are suffering from work-related stress you should speak to your employer about it. The way you tackle it depends on the kind of stress you are suffering from. For instance:

  • you can request flexible working
  • if you don’t have enough control over your work, you should ask for more decision-making rights
  • if you don’t get enough support from your employer, ask for better communication
  • if enough staff want one, it might be possible to make your employer set up a consultative committee (known as a works council)
  • if poor relationships are affecting how you do your work, check your employer’s policy on bullying and harassment
  • if you are not sure of your role at work, ask your employer to make clear what is expected of you
  • if you are finding changes at work stressful, ask for more talks about them with your employer

You should also speak to your employer if you are suffering from non work-related stress. They may be able to offer assistance while you sort out whatever it is in your personal life that is causing you stress.

Stress may be caused, deliberately or accidentally, by bullying in the workplace. If the bullying is linked to certain forms of discrimination, you’ll have have rights under discrimination law.

Also, if you have a disability which makes it harder for you to deal with, or more prone to suffering stress (eg workplace depression), your employer has a duty to make certain adjustments to help you.

Resolving a workplace stress dispute before resorting to employment law

If your employer is unable or unwilling to remove the cause of your stress, you should consider writing a formal letter of grievance.

If an employer does offer to take steps to help you (eg referring you to an occupational health specialist), you should accept their offer, unless there is good reason not to.

If you can’t sort out a dispute through the grievance procedure and you can’t carry out your job in the way your employer needs you to, you may have a claim for constructive unfair dismissal if you consequently leave your job. However, constructive dismissal can be difficult to prove, so it’s important to get advice from a specialist lawyer or other professional.