What are your legal obligations in respect of stress?

This is an overview of the legal responsibilities within a business for the management of stress in the workplace. Expert legal advice should always be sought to deal with specific circumstances if they arise.

The relevant acts which provide the law are the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

Everyone in a business has some responsibility for managing stress in the workplace. The following summary goes through each level within the business separately:-

Senior Management and Board Level

This level of management has the ultimate responsibility for putting in place the structure to ensure the welfare of the workforce. They must make sure that the policies are in place and adhered to, and that sufficient resources are available to achieve this.

Their responsibilities are to:-

  • Monitor indicators that may show stress is a potential problem, for example high levels or an increase in sick days and long term absence (even if not specifically identified as stress), increase in staff turnover, decrease in productivity, feedback from appraisals and return to work interviews
  • Carry out regular risk assessments on stress in the workplace, and act on any recommendations, particularly during times of change within the business
  • Ensure that stress is specifically dealt with in the business’s health and safety policy

Managers  in Human Resources and/or Health and Safety

Human Resources and Health and Safety Managers have the specific responsibility to implement the policies outlined above. They need to put in place and manage the policies, procedures and monitoring mechanisms.

Their responsibilities are to:-

  • Carry out risk assessments regularly. Review, identify and minimise risks
  • Keep employees informed about the business’s policy regarding stress
  • Inform employees that they have an obligation to tell their manager or other person (identified in the policy, usually in HR or H&S), if there are risks of stress to themselves or others
  • Follow-up on indicators which show that an individual may be suffering from stress, ie appraisal feedback, return to work interviews, and take appropriate action
  • Regularly feedback on the stress indicators to the Senior Management and Board Level, and any concerns about stress in specific areas of the business
  • Keep up to date with best practice relating to work related stress
  • Maintain confidentiality as required

Line managers

Line managers have the closest contact with the employees on a regular basis. They therefore have the responsibility to be aware of stress in the workplace, report any concerns to HR, H&S or senior management and take appropriate action

Their responsibilities are to:

  • Be aware of the business’s stress policy and their role within it
  • Know how they are required to monitor and deal with potential stress amongst their staff
  • Identify where stress may be a factor in respect of frequent or long term sickness for a specific individual
  • Know who they can speak to report concerns and find support in taking action
  • Maintain confidentiality as required


Employees themselves have a responsibility to their colleagues who they interact with and also to look after themselves

Their responsibilities are to:

  • Inform their manager or other identified person if they are feeling under stress and their health may be at risk
  • Inform their manager or other identified person if they feel that a colleague is under stress and their health may be at risk
  • Suggest and discuss ways in which the stress may be reduced, including a change to their job
  • Inform their manager if they are suffering from a condition which may prevent them from carrying out their regular duties

This post was written by Charlie Damonsing of CLAssociates. CLAssociates specialises in helping businesses manage stress in the workplace, providing consultancy, training and 1-2-1 support. For further details please contact Charlie on 0771 559 6487.