What the Law Says


Legislation covering stress at work is surprisingly fragmented . There is not one piece of law that covers it, instead protection comes from a wide range of regulations outlined in this section.

Stress should be seen as a hazard to everyday work life just like any other aspect of health and safety. When addressing the stress, the main objective should be to minimise the risk of stress-related illness or injury to employees. This means being proactive – raising awareness and making provisions against stress-related illness and injury at all levels of an organisation.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) makes suggestions on the things that need to be considered at different levels of the organisation (see http://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/furtheradvice/legalresponsibility.htm).

From a managements perspective, legal responsibility rests primarily with the ‘employer’ who is responsible not only for action or lack of action at board level but also for all those employed by the company. The HSE has also developed Management Standards (http://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/standards/) which detail good practice in addressing work related stress.

Employees also have a duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and of others who may be affected by their actions.

Employees should:

  • Inform their employer if they feel the pressure of the job is putting them or anyone else at risk of ill health

  • Suggest ways in which the work might be organised to alleviate the stress

  • Inform their employer if they are suffering from a medical condition that appears to be long-term and is affecting their ability to carry out day to day tasks, including memory and learning

  • Discuss any reasonable adjustments that could be made to assist them in performing their job.

The Equality Act 2010

The law protects you against discrimination at work, including:

  • employment terms and conditions

  • pay and benefits

  • promotion and transfer opportunities

  • dismissal

  • training

  • recruitment

  • redundancy

Some forms of discrimination are only allowed if they are needed for the way the organisation works, for example:

  • a Roman Catholic school restricting applications for admission of pupils to Catholics only

  • employing only women in a health centre for Muslim women


If you are disabled you have the same rights as other workers. Employers should also make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to help disabled employees and job applicants with:

  • application forms, for example providing forms in Braille or audio formats

  • aptitude tests, for example giving extra time to complete the tests

  • dismissal or redundancy

  • discipline and grievances

  • interview arrangements, such as providing wheelchair access, communicator support

  • making sure the workplace has the right facilities and equipment for disabled workers or someone offered a job

  • promotion, transfer and training opportunities

  • terms of employment, including pay

  • work-related benefits like access to recreation or refreshment facilities

Health and Safety Executive Video

Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is the primary piece of legislation covering occupational health and safety in Great Britain. Part 2 of the Act places a general duty upon all employers to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees .

Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

Part 3 of the Regulations places a duty on all employers to make (and record if they have more than 5 employees) a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the health and safety of their employees, to which they are exposed at work. Employers must ensure that there are proper control measures in place to avoid these risks wherever possible. Where it is not possible to avoid risk, steps must be taken to reduce them so far, as is reasonably practicable.

The Working Time Regulations 1998

Long hours and shift work can be clearly linked to stress. The Working Time Regulations 1998 provide an entitlement of:

  • A maximum of 8 hours of work for night shifts

  • A maximum working week of not more than 48 hours, including overtime (averaged out over a period of 17 weeks), although employees may opt out of this

  • A daily rest period of 11 hours

  • A day off every week

  • A rest break of 20 minutes if the working day is more than 6 hours

  • Paid annual leave of 4 weeks.

Safety representatives & Safety Committees Regulations 1977 (SRSCR 1977)

This set of regulations along with the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 gives safety representatives strong legal rights. All employers must consult any such safety reps to make and maintain arrangements so that employees can co-operate effectively to promote health and safety measures in the workplace and check the effectiveness of those measures.

Safety reps are entitled to:

  • Investigate potential hazards and dangerous occurrences and examine the causes of accidents at the workplace

  • Carry out inspections as part of an active approach to identifying and preventing potential danger and harm in the workplace

  • Consultation with members (there are also rights to facilities, a private room to talk to members, internal and external mail and telephone systems)

  • Consult with management in good time, well in advance of changes taking place.

  • Request information about any changes planned which may affect the future health and safety of those represented.

  • Information and knowledge over and above employees generally where it is necessary to allow them to play an informed part in health and safety issues in the workplace; anonymous stress surveys, consultants reports, sickness records.

Sex Discrimination Act 1975 & Race Relations Act 1976

Under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 & Race Relations Act 1976, where stress is being caused because of behaviour with an underlying sexual or racial nature, the employer could be held vicariously liable for the actions of a harassing or bullying employee, even where the employer was unaware of the situation.

How to challenge discrimination at work

There are three things you can do:

  1. Complain informally to your employer (visit our page 'Raising Issues').

  2. Raise a grievance using your employer's grievance procedures.

  3. Make a claim to the Employment Tribunal.

You do not have to choose only one of these, instead, you could try them in turn. If you cannot get your employer to put things right, then you can make a claim to the Employment Tribunal. There are no fees for making an employment tribunal claim now.

Important Time Limit

If you do decide to make a claim to the Employment Tribunal, you need to tell them about your claim (by filling in a form) within three months (less one day) of what happened.

Even if you try to sort the matter out with your employer first, formally or informally, you must keep to the Tribunal time limits if you want to bring an Employment Tribunal case. In order to keep within the time limit, you may have to start a case before you have finished discussing the matter internally with your employer.

Reasons to raise with your employer first

You do not have to go to your employer before making a claim to the Employment Tribunal, but there are two important reasons for doing this:

  • Because making a claim may be demanding on your time and emotions, before starting the process you might want to look at whether or not you have a good chance of success. You might also want to see if there are better ways of sorting out your complaint. You should think carefully about whether making a claim to the Employment Tribunal is the right thing for you personally.

  • If you do not use your employer's grievance procedures to solve a problem before you make a claim to the Employment Tribunal, and you win your case, the Tribunal can reduce the amount of money it instructs your employer to pay you by up to a quarter if it thinks you acted unreasonably.

You may be entitled to Legal Aid is some cases - check eligibility for Civil Legal Aid.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

If you or your employer want to get help in sorting out a complaint about discrimination, you can agree to what is usually called ‘alternative dispute resolution’ or ADR. ADR involves finding a way of sorting out the complaint without a formal Tribunal hearing. ADR techniques include mediation and conciliation.

In complaints relating to work situations, this can happen:

  • as part of an informal process

  • when formal grievance procedures are being used, or

  • before an Employment Tribunal claim has been brought or finally decided.

There are different organisations who may be able to help with this, such as:


In addition to the organisations below, please visit our 'Support Services' page.


T: 0300 123 1100

Textphone: 18001 0300 123 1100

Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm



Advice Services Alliance (ADR)

Tavis House (Floor 7)

1 – 6 Tavistock Square

London WC1H 9NA

T: 02080164123

Email: info@asauk.org.uk


Ministry of Justice Civil Mediation Search


Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS)





T: 0808 800 0082

Textphone: 0808 800 0084

Contact form

Open Hours:Monday - Friday: 9am - 7pm

Saturday: 10am - 2pm


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