A guide to compensation claims for depression or anxiety at work
This article takes you through what you need to know about making a claim for workplace depression or anxiety compensation claim.
The Office of National Statistics (ONS) have found that around 1 in 6 workers are dealing with a mental health issue such as anxiety or depression. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) report that in 2015/16 almost half a million cases of work-related depression, anxiety and stress were recorded.
1 in 6 workers are dealing with a mental health issue
The ONS's Labour Force Survey data suggests that excessive workloads, tight deadlines and a lack of support from management all contributed to worker's ill health.
If you have developed depression or anxiety as the result of your job, you may be entitled to make a claim for compensation.
Depression at work
People often don't realise they are suffering with depression. Protracted periods of feeling at a "low ebb" are often mistaken for just that.
If you have been feeling sad or low for 2 weeks or more, you may be suffering from depression.
Psychological symptoms can include:
- Problems with concentration
- Fuzzy thinking
- Difficulties with decision making
- Constant pessimistic outlook
- Loss of interest in socialising and previous interests
- Overwhelming sense of guilt
- Suicidal thoughts
You may also have physical symptoms which can include:
- Loss of energy
- loss of appetite or sex drive
- Physical cramps and aches and pains
Clinical depression, also referred to as Major Depression, is when the person suffers from any of the symptoms listed above as well as much more pronounced and debilitating symptoms. These can include:
- Weight loss or gain
- Serious insomnia or hypersomnia
If you have suffered from a depressed mood or profound loss of interest for 2 or more weeks, you may be suffering from clinical depression. Clinical or Major depression can worsen if left untreated so seeking medical attention as soon as possible is important.
Anxiety at work
Although there is not usually an underlying physical illness with anxiety, the symptoms are real, physical and potentially serious.
Anxiety is a result of a response to adrenalin, the hormone released by the body when a threat or danger is perceived. The production of adrenalin occurs to ready the body to either fight or run as fast as possible. Historically this would have been a useful process, however for most people in most jobs it is counter-productive.
If you have experienced any of the following symptoms, particularly when at work or when thinking about work, you may be suffering from anxiety:
- Panic attacks or heart palpitations
- Hyperventilation or breathing difficulties
- Irrational fears
- Chest and/or stomach pains
- Tense or aching muscles
If you think you may be suffering from prolonged anxiety you should see your GP.
If you are, or suspect that you may be suffering from anxiety or depression, you should:
- Bring it to your employer's attention - speak to your line manager, HR Officer or trade union representative. You should outline what you feel the underlying reasons may be and suggest ways in which your working environment might be altered to address the problem.
- Summarise in writing - Send a written summary of your discussion to your employer. This is critical as if you decide to pursue a legal claim at a later date, your employer may argue that they were unaware of your situation.
- Engage with your employer's attempts to resolve the situation - Your employer should take suitable steps to address the causes of your depression. This might include a change to working hours or job description, or more training.
- Raise a grievance - if your employer takes no effective steps to address the situation, you can raise a formal grievance.
- Seek medical assistance - You may have already visited your GP and are probably best doing this at the earliest signs of symptoms. In any event, if the you feel you cannot cope or if the symptoms are too great you should visit your GP. Your GP can sign you off work until you are better. During this period you will be able to claim Statutory Sick Pay, at least, for up to 28 weeks.
- Consider making a compensation claim - If your employer has failed, or not done enough to address your situation, the employer may be considered liable for your stress related illness. If your employer is liable then it may be possible to make a no win no fee compensation claim.
I have a strong claim - why won't a solicitor take it on?
By law, a company owes employees a duty of care to protect against the risk of injury and illness. In addition the Equality Act 2010 outlines an employer's duty to make
reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities. The Act extends to mental health risks which includes stress, depression and anxiety.
Once you have brought your situation to your employer's attention, they must make best endeavours to reduce or remove the source of the stress, wherever practicable.
These measures may be large changes or small adjustments. The employer should work with you on a plan to meet your specific needs. Common measure taken include:
- Changes to working hours, reduced number of days and/or flexi-time
- Change of workplace environment
- Home working
- Separation from specific colleagues where friction or personality clashes exist
- Period of leave
- More training and support
- Improved tools
- Reduction of workload
Returning to work
Action must be taken to remove the causes or triggers of an affected worker's condition, and to improve their working environment.
Respecting an affected employee's wishes, it may also be appropriate to provide additional training to management or ADDs. This training could be given in a general, standardised way so as not to single out an affected worker and to protect their privacy.
Supporting an ongoing mental health issue
Employers must also ensure the wellbeing and support of staff who are coping with an ongoing issue, including depression and anxiety. This is the case even if the cause of the mental health issue is not directly related to a worker's employment.
Employers must take all reasonable steps to accommodate an affected worker and to ensure that their condition does not deteriorate. These steps could include:
- Changing working hours or shift patterns or reducing workload
- Setting more manageable or flexible targets
- Providing more training or management support
- Regular catch-ups with an HR representative, to give an employee a chance to voice any issues and to notify the company if extra support is needed
What can managers and ADDs do?
If you are concerned that a colleague may be affected by depression or stress, the key thing to remember is to respect your colleague's wishes and to handle the matter sensitively. A colleague may not even realise that they are showing signs of depression or anxiety.
Should I say something about a colleague's anxiety or depression?
Whether or not your co-worker is aware of their health issues, it may be better to offer them an informal chance to talk, rather than immediately reporting your concerns to HR or management. You could consider the following:
- Talk informally - It can be difficult for people to discuss mental health at the best of times, let alone when work-related pressures are involved. The affected worker may even be afraid for their job if they are “found out”. By focusing on the person rather than the problem, and in an informal setting like a cafe at lunch or after work, you have an opportunity to help them discuss their concerns and to offer support.
- Don't make assumptions - It is not your job to diagnose a colleague or to fix their problems. Many people affected by mental health conditions are very able to do their job to a high standard.
- Be understanding, patient and flexible - Remember that everyone experiences these issues differently. You may even have experienced something similar yourself, but that does not necessarily mean that what worked for you will help them. The support you give, and that which is given by your company's HR, will need to be adapted to best match the needs of the affected person.
- Above all, respect their privacy - Mental health information is highly confidential and sensitive. Discussing what you know with others, even with the best intentions, has the potential to cause an employee further harm.
If a colleague appears to be in acute distress or you are otherwise very concerned for their welfare, it may be appropriate to report your concerns.
Every case is different and every workplace will have its own HR procedures. Whether you are a manager or a co-worker, you could approach HR on a general basis and ask for general advice on how to approach a potential issue, rather than naming names.
If you have been diagnosed with depression or with anxiety and believe that your job may be the cause, you may have grounds to claim compensation.
A specialist no win no fee solicitor will be able to help you explore your options, and will answer any questions you have on a confidential basis. There is no obligation to proceed with a claim if you do not wish to.
Your solicitor will need to establish that the mental health issues you are experiencing were caused by a breach of duty on the part of your employer. Examples of where an employer may have been negligent or otherwise caused the harm include:
- Failing to act on reports of bullying or harassment in the workplace
- Mishandling of a complaint or grievance
- Insisting that you return to work after a bout of illness (mental health-related or otherwise) before you are sufficiently recovered
- Repeatedly assigning excessive workloads or unreasonable targets
An employer may also be negligent if they:
- Have inadequate processes in place and fail to recognise clear signs of depression or anxiety
- Fail to make reasonable changes when made aware of an employee's mental health condition
- Fail to adequately support an affected worker's recovery
It can sometimes be difficult to draw a link between a mental health diagnosis and your job. Evidence in support of a claim for work-related mental health issues could include:
- Emails and text messages you have sent or received
- Formal notices and letters from your employer
- A journal or diary recording your workday and how it has made you feel
- Medical records (Your solicitor will assist you with requesting these. Quittance will arrange a medical with a doctor local to where you live)
- Supporting statements from witnesses, such as co-workers, confirming the pressure or other work issues you experienced
How long do I have to make a claim?
For physical injuries, employees have three years following an accident at work to claim compensation. For cases of depression, anxiety and stress, however, workers may have more time to claim, generally up to six years.
The Courts allow for more time in these cases because it can often be difficult for people to come forward about their mental health, or even to recognise that their health is being affected.
For a free, confidential consultation with a specialist solicitor, call Quittance on 0800 612 7456. Alternatively, you can request a callback here. All calls are handled in strict confidence.
There are two main routes to taking legal action in respect of a case of work-related anxiety or depression; an employment tribunal and a personal injury claim.
If your depression or anxiety has arisen as the result of harassment, discrimination or other harm that relates to specific legislation, an employment tribunal may be the better option.
For example, the Equality Act 2010 requires that employers do not discriminate against workers on the grounds of depression. An employer cannot fire or make redundant staff because they are diagnosed with depression, and they must not discriminate against applicants with the condition. By law, you cannot be required to disclose your depression to an employer or at a job interview.
By law, you cannot be required to disclose your depression to an employer or at a job interview.
A tribunal may also be the preferred option in cases where an employer has disregarded an employee's rights, but the resulting anxiety or depression has not been clinically diagnosed.
Personal injury claim
If a worker has been medically diagnosed with depression or another recognised condition, it may be possible to claim personal injury compensation for that harm.
In addition to “special damages” in respect of lost wages and the other financial losses that an employee has endured as a result of their condition, the Courts will also award “general damages”. These general damages are calculated based on the nature and severity of the mental health injury and the likely prognosis.
For example, a psychiatric injury that is likely to recover within a few months could be worth up to £4,450.
Severe harm, with poor prospects for recovery and that has had a lasting impact on a person's life and ability to work could be worth up to £88,000.
A solicitor will confirm which is the better option for you, based on the facts of your case. They will also be able to answer any questions you have about the process.
Most law firms will not take on cases of work-related stress, anxiety or depression. These cases can require specialist expertise in order for them to be successful.
Quittance, however, are here to help. Our specialist team of solicitors assist people who have developed a mental health condition as the result of their job find support and compensation.
For a free, sensitive and confidential consultation, call Quittance on call 0800 612 7456. Alternatively, you can request a callback here. All calls are handled in the strictest confidence.
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Quittance Legal Services' national network of solicitors handle all types of road accident claims and have a wealth of experience in short-term, serious and life-changing injury claims. Our solicitors are chosen for their track record in winning cases and their specialist knowledge.
About the author
With over 20 years' experience in the law, Jenny has spent the last decade specialising in personal injury, with a particular focus on industrial disease cases.
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