Employee does not handle stress very well 

I have an employee who despite her best efforts does not tackle her adverse reaction to stress very well. What can I do to assist her and if no improvement is shown what are my options?

It is perfectly acceptable to subject employees with stress to disciplinary/capability procedures in place that help staff with stress-related issues but where you are aware that the job you pay your staff to do can be particularly stressful, it will work in everyone’s favour invest a little thought, time and money into carving out some processes that will proactively assist staff and prevent issues happening. Where this does not happen, there are also retrospective measures that will attempt to put things right.

Although not required by law, case law has shown that it will support an employer’s case when defending a stress-related claim by an employee that they had measures in place that were aimed at dealing with an employee’s stress; that they had faced the fact that it can happen and had not ignored it. Even small, cost-free measures can begin to help pass the test of a caring employer.

One option is giving the employee access to an employee assistance programme. These usually take the form of a confidential telephone service where the employee can speak to someone about what is bothering them and get some advice on how best to deal with it.

In terms of your management of the employee, you need to be aware of your position within discrimination legislation. Stress can manifest itself in physical conditions and if these conditions meet the definition of a disability in the Equality Act 2010, extra obligations are placed on you.

In order to ensure you are acting in the fullest knowledge, medical advice should be sought. An occupational health report on the employee’s condition is advisable to inform you on whether the employee’s reaction to stress has long-term substantial effects on her normal day-to-day activities. 

A formal capability procedure is likely to be the most appropriate for an employee who is unable to perform to the required standards. Although the reason for the poor performance is sensitive, the same procedure should be applied as with other capability procedures but the steps taken may vary. You should ensure that you make your decisions as to appropriate sanctions with all the relevant information including medical reports, and giving the employee time to improve.

Ultimately, a dismissal for poor performance due to an adverse reaction to stress can be a fair dismissal but you must be able to show that you followed a fair procedure, communicated with the employee along the way and considered all options, especially where it is identified that the employee is protected by disability legislation.

Further reading on stress in the workplace

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Peter Done

Peter is the founder and group managing director of Peninsula Business Services, established in 1983.

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