Commenting on the statistics, which highlight that 6,550 claims for disability discrimination were made in 2018, Fox & Partners outlines that this shows employees are becoming more willing to make claims related to mental health. Although stress is not technically a disability under the Equality Act 2010, it can be a significant factor that causes mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, to develop. As employee absence through stress often results in disciplinary action or dismissal, this may be increasingly leading to a higher number of disability discrimination claims.
Stress levels can be exacerbated by long working hours, tight deadlines and poor management and is often linked to workplace disability discrimination. For example, if an employee is absent because of stress, and are dismissed or part dismissed through another form of disciplinary procedure, they may be able to bring a claim for disability discrimination if this stress has resulted in the development of a mental illness. This can be especially concerning to organisations, with Health and Safety Executive figures showing that 26.8 million working days were lost through work-related ill health in 2017-18.
Organisations should be prepared to fully respond to issues of stress as they arise and explore ways that an employee’s role can be altered to improve their working conditions. For example, it may be that their workload is becoming too big, or the employee feels there is poor communication from management. Organisations should also be mindful of any signs that an employee is suffering from stress, such as a sudden change in their behaviour or performance. If there are indications of stress, steps should be taken to establish what the issue is and work to change it.