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Understanding the Law in Relation to Workplace PTSD

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Man with head in hands behind shattered glass, representing workplace PTSD

Workplace PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a psychological condition that can develop in individuals who have experienced or witnessed traumatic events in the workplace. While PTSD is often associated with combat veterans, it can also affect individuals in various occupational settings where they are exposed to distressing or life-threatening situations.

Symptoms of workplace PTSD may include intrusive memories of the traumatic event, flashbacks, nightmares, intense anxiety or distress when reminded of the event, avoidance of triggers associated with the trauma, negative changes in mood or cognition, and heightened arousal or reactivity. These symptoms can significantly impair an individual’s ability to function in their job and personal life.

If you have developed PTSD because of your workplace activities, or you have been treated unfairly by an employer following a diagnosis of PTSD, you may be wondering what your rights are in terms of the law in Ireland. Here we look at some of the key legislation and how it might be applied.

What are the key pieces of legislation that cover PTSD?

Whilst legislation in Ireland generally doesn’t refer to specific mental health conditions such as PTSD, there are various laws that can be interpreted to cover it. This includes The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, The Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015, and the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003.

The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005

This act obligates employers to ensure that the work environment does not pose risks to the health and safety of employees, which would include managing risks that might exacerbate conditions like PTSD. Employers are required to:

  • Implement risk assessment and prevention plans – Considering factors that could pose a threat to employees’ psychological well-being.
  • Provide training and information – The Act requires that all employees receive adequate training and information about the health and safety risks associated with their jobs. This includes understanding and managing risks that could lead to psychological stress.
  • Provide employee support and consultation – Employers must consult with employees on matters of health and safety. This includes discussions around mental health support to aid employees who might be experiencing stress or other psychological difficulties​.
  • Provide health surveillance – Particularly when employees are performing risky activities as part of their duties. Health measures can help in early detection and intervention for employees showing signs of stress or trauma, thereby preventing the development or exacerbation of PTSD​.
  • Emergency planning and response – Employers must have plans in place for emergencies and serious and imminent dangers, which should also consider psychological first aid and support for employees who might witness or experience traumatic events at work.
  • Assure protection against penalisation – The Act protects employees from being penalised for reporting health and safety concerns, including those related to mental health.

If it can be proven that an employer contravened this Act, causing an employee to sustain PTSD, there may be grounds to bring a personal injury claim to seek compensation for the ongoing effects and costs of the psychological injury. However, proving liability can be highly challenging, particularly in certain industries where exposure to some level of danger is part of the job description. In most scenarios, you will need to speak to an experienced injury solicitor for guidance specific to the details of your case.

The Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015

Whilst the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 sets out how employers must protect their employees’ well-being (including psychological well-being), the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 set out how they must not discriminate against employees for disabilities and health issues (including mental health conditions). Under this Act:

  • Disability is broadly defined to include mental health – Including conditions such as PTSD. This means that PTSD is recognised as a disability, and thus, individuals with PTSD are protected against discrimination in the workplace​.
  • Employers must not discriminate on the grounds of disability – This includes all aspects of employment, such as hiring, promotion, training, pay, and conditions of employment. For someone with PTSD, this means they cannot be denied a job or promotion or subjected to less favourable treatment because of their condition.
  • Employers must provide reasonable accommodation to employees with disabilities –including those with PTSD, unless such accommodations would impose a disproportionate burden on the employer. This could involve adjusting work schedules, providing access to support services, modifying job duties, or implementing technologies to assist them in performing their tasks.
  • Employers must provide protection against harassment – ​legally defined as unwanted conduct related to any of the discriminatory grounds which has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment for the person. This includes protection for individuals with PTSD from harassment that could exacerbate their condition​.

In scenarios where it can be shown that an employer contravened this Act, a complaint can be filed with the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) which decides on compensation in discrimination cases.

Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003 (and the General Data Protection Regulation)

Protections in the workplace for people with mental health conditions such as PTSD doesn’t just stop at safeguarding and discrimination. There are also laws protecting employees in terms of the collection, processing, and storage of personal data, including their health-related information. Employers must handle employees’ health information, including information about PTSD, in compliance with data protection laws and respect individuals’ right to privacy. Employers face penalties for breaching these laws including administrative fines, enforcement notices, criminal prosecution, and compensation claims by affected individuals for damages.

Assistance in bringing workplace PTSD claims

If you developed PTSD during your employment and you believe it to have been avoidable and due to employer negligence, you may have the grounds to bring a compensation claim. The personal injury team at McCarthy + Co Solicitors LLP will be glad to listen to your case and advise on the recommended next steps. Complete our confidential contact form and a member of the team will get back to you to arrange an appointment.

Liam Crowley

Liam, with his expertise in litigation and court work, primarily supports John in handling personal injury and medical negligence claims. His passion for criminal law stems from his initial years in a bustling Dublin city centre criminal law practice, where he gained ample experience appearing before the District and Circuit Courts in the Criminal Courts of Justice and Clover Hill, in Blanchardstown and Tallaght District Courts and in High Court bail and judicial review matters.

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