In 2019 it was estimated that around the world, 70 million working days were lost due to work related anxiety, depression and stress and the US economy lost up to $1 trillion through these employee absences.

Signing employees off with stress is a sensitive issue that more and more employers are facing on a daily basis.

Stress impacts employee productivity, which in turn lessens overall business performance, output and profitability. To reduce the potential risk of employees being stressed, employers are encouraged to better manage workloads and expectations, and to provide mental health training courses for staff.

Stress can be a major factor in potential accidents, so it’s important to consider the safety aspects, as well. It’s therefore imperative to complete the osha 10 certification, especially if the workplace contains any hazards.

However, even with these procedures in place, stress related sign offs could still occur so for employers, here’s a guide to the rights and next steps.

Steps to take when an employee is signed off with stress:

Employees are less likely to return to the workplace until the source of their stress has either been alleviated or removed, so it’s crucial to identify what that is and work collaboratively to resolve that as soon as possible.

Employee off Work With Stress

Below is a framework to follow.

1. Talk, or meet, with the employee.

Any meetings should take place in a neutral location, like a park or cafe, so that the employee is not exposed to the source of their stress. This also helps to keep the atmosphere informal, which should lead to more open communication.

2. Empathetically enquire as to the source of their stress.

The way you ask about the source of their stress will determine how honest and open they are in response. Framing a question as accusatory or disbelieving will shut down any possibility of getting to the root of the issue. Be open, encouraging and sensitive.

3. Avoid in-depth conversations regarding the source of their stress.

For example, if an employee is struggling with an overwhelming workload, avoid talking about the workload in-depth. This will only exacerbate the issue. Instead, keep the focus on the joint resolution so that they can return to work.

4. Make and enact a stress risk assessment.

Once you have identified the source of the stress, focus on finding adjustments and compromises that can lessen and resolve the issue.

5. Make an action plan with the employee.

Make this a numbered, actionable plan that both you and the employee can hold one another accountable for. For example, “Employer will avoid adding to workload until the employee completes X amount of work.”

6. Make a communication plan with the employee.

Once a risk assessment has been undertaken, and an action plan created, the next thing to do is agree a communication plan. Having a risk assessment and action plan in place will not automatically remove the employee’s stress, and they will have to take the prescribed amount of time away from the office as agreed with a doctor.

Agreeing a communication plan is a fine balance as too little communication could enhance the employee’s stress about going back to work, or they could feel forgotten about or awkward upon returning, whereas too much communication could overwhelm them. Collaboratively decide when would be ok to check in with the employee throughout their time off.

7. Upon their return, hold a welcome back meeting with the employee.

Returning to the workplace is bound to be a stressful time after a period of absence through mental health, so ensure to welcome the employee warmly.

Update them on all necessary changes and information so that they have all the information they need to return to work.

8. Arrange catch-ups with the employee.

The employer and employee will need to work through their agreed action plan, so arrange check-ins to do so, and to measure whether the procedures that have been put in place are working.

Employer rights and requirements when employees are signed off with stress:

Whilst there are no laws that deal with this issue directly, employers do have rights regarding the health and wellbeing of their employees which falls under the Health & Safety at Work Act.

Regularly having employees signed off with stress or other mental health concerns reflects negatively on the business. Not only will the business be running reduced efficiency and production, it shows a lack of care and consideration for the workforce which could lead to higher staff turnover and negative external opinions.

Legal Duties:

Employers have a legal duty to take steps that promote employee wellbeing. Some of these steps can include:

  • Managing overwhelming workloads and unreasonable expectations
  • Encouraging employees to have a balance between their work and personal life
  • Allowing for flexible or home working opportunities wherever possible
  • Promoting team building activities to forge bonds between staff members
  • Identifying potential causes of mental health
  • Undertaking mental health first aid in the workplace
  • Supporting employees with mental health issues

In addition, employers must prevent work related stresses and anxieties by ensuring to minimize:

  • Overwhelming and unachievable workloads
  • Workplace bullying or office politics
  • Exposures to dangers in the workplace
  • Lack of support for employees who may be suffering

Compensation:

Another legal requirement for employers in the face of having employees signed off with stress is to ensure there is adequate compensation paid.

The pay depends on circumstances such as:

  • Any effects the treatment has had on an employee
  • A future medical prognosis
  • Whether the workplace environment and employer is found responsible

If psychological or psychiatric effects are discovered, compensation payouts can range from:

  • In severe psychological cases with very poor future prognosis, payouts begin at around $56,349 or £43,710 and climb to $118,912 or £92,40
  • In mild to moderate psychological cases with poor, but recoverable prognosis, compensation begins at around $19,595 or £15,200 and reaches $56,349 or £43,710
  • In mild psychological cases with an optimistic prognosis, payouts begin at $6020 or £4670 and rise to $19,595 or £15,200
  • In much less severe cases with a good prognosis, compensation is fixed between $1572 or £1220 and $6020 or £4670

Due to the detrimental effects stress can have on both employees and the workforce, employers should actively work to manage and alleviate potential stresses wherever possible.

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