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Does stress qualify as a disability under the Equality Act 2010?

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Can I make a claim for work-related psychological injuries and stress?

Stress can have a significant impact on our mental health, whether it is in regard to work, or difficult situations in our home lives. It is important to know your rights as an individual, and obligations as an employer or service provider, with regard to managing and addressing stress.

Is stress classed as a disability?

Section 6(1) of the Equality Act 2010 provides the legal definition for the protected characteristic of disability. The act informs that a person has a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment which has, or may have, a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Stress, as defined by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is 'the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them'. However, whilst stress is not considered as a mental illness in its own right, it can be considered a common symptom of many underlying mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, and also physical health conditions, such as high blood pressure. Long or frequent exposure to stress, which is left unmanaged, could develop into ‘burnout’ or a more serious decline into your physical and mental health.

What steps can I take?

Whilst not considered a qualifying disability under the Equality Act 2010, it is essential that any signs of stress are reported, especially if it is having a detrimental impact on health, study, or your employment. Whether you are an employer, or a service provider, it is important that stress is not ignored or overlooked, and steps can be taken to offer support in order to provide help, which could be something as simple as an informal chat, in the hope that this prevents more serious health issues.

If you are an employer, service provider, or small business owner and you are unsure with regard to your responsibilities for accommodating disability, or if you are concerned about whether your health condition would qualify as a disability, please do not hesitate to contact our specialist employment and discrimination law teams on 01616 966 229.

By Thomas Yates, employment & discrimination team