Stress is a short-term reaction to adverse circumstances which doesn’t ordinarily attract the protection of legislation.  Where somebody is suffering from symptoms of low mood and anxiety referred to by Clinicians as ‘Clinical Depression’ then, if it is sufficiently long-term (meaning lasting 12 months or more), and provided that condition is having an adverse effect on normal day-to-day activities the depression can become a disability for the purposes of the legislation.  The Judge in J v DLA Piper UK 2010 said the borderline between these two states of affairs can be very blurred in practice, the suggestion in that case was to make findings about whether somebody’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities is adversely affected on a long-term basis.

In a recent case involving a Design & Technology Teacher the Tribunal had found that he was not disabled because he provided little or no evidence that his stress had any effect on his ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, other than occasionally exacerbating his Dyslexia. It had found that his stress was largely due to his unhappiness about his perceived unfair treatment at work.  The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) upheld the initial tribunal’s decision that Mr Herry, the teacher, was not disabled because he had failed to establish a substantial and long-term adverse effect on normal day-to-day activities.

The EAT referred to “a class of case where a reaction to circumstances perceived as adverse can become entrenched; where the person concerned will not give way or compromise over an issue at work, and refuses to return to work, yet in other respects suffers with no or little apparent adverse effect on normal day-to-day activities”.  This scenario may be one you are familiar with?  These characteristics are not themselves mental impairments as highlighted by the EAT.  Whilst its undoubtedly helpful that the courts are recognising individuals who have a sense of grievance, which leaves them incapable of coming into work but is not a disability, there have been cases where GPs advice to refrain from work due to anxiety and depression is capable of being a substantial effect on day-to-day activities (Rayner v Turning Point) so care needs to be exercised.

Where you receive a note stating “work-related stress” there is a need for clarification from both the individual and their medical practitioner as to whether there is a specific situation at work, which, once its dealt with, will enable the individual’s health to improve or whether there is an underlying condition such as an anxiety disorder, which is going to hinder that individuals full participation in work activities in the absence of reasonable adjustments.

Where you have got somebody who is currently unable to attend work due to a dispute or issue, is exploring mediation a possibility before parties become entrenched?  That is something that we can help with.