Excessive Workplace Stress

What Workplace Stress Can Do To You:

As employers minimize payroll costs and maximize productivity, management responsibilities get pushed further down the chain of command. Everyone has to do more and more with less help and less resources. This translates into stress, which is defined as a reaction to a stimulus that disturbs our physical or mental equilibrium.  Research shows that workplace stress can contribute to the development of major illnesses, such as heart disease, depression and obesity. Yet, despite its connection to illness, most people never think of mentioning workplace stress to their healthcare providers.

What You Can Do About Workplace Stress:

Chronic Workplace Stress commonly manifests itself as anxiety, depression or panic attacks, which can be diagnosed and treated by a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a social worker or counselor. As another alternative, you can talk to your doctor about how workplace stress is making you feel. While workplace stress is not a medical diagnosis, it affects different people in many different ways that your doctor can diagnose or measure. Common examples are high blood pressure, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, nervous ticks, skin rashes, fatigue, dry mouth, increased or decreased appetite, and many others.   If you have already been diagnosed with any significant illness, workplace stress might very well be making it worse or preventing it from improving, but if you never discuss this with your doctor, there will be no medical documentation that workplace stress is affecting your health.

Why Some Employees are Protected, and Others are Not:  

Most employers can fire anyone for any reason at all, including their reaction to workplace stress. On the other hand, they cannot discriminate against a member of a “protected class”. If someone has a documented disability and his/her employer is made aware of it, that employee becomes a member of a “protected class”. Any adverse job action taken against that employee for this reason is disability discrimination, which is against the law. A very wide range of psychiatric and physical diagnoses can be disabilities, as that term is defined in the New York City Human Rights Law. The disability does not have to be completely disabling.

The Benefits of Being a Member of a Protected Class:

Reasonable Accomodation – As a member of a “protected class”, an employee with a disability is entitled to ask for and receive reasonable accommodation to enable him/her do the job. For someone who has a psychiatric disability, a reasonable accommodation might mean more unpaid time off, a less stressful situation or position, having more reasonable productivity goals, or one of numerous other possibilities depending upon the particular business structure, the particular individual, and the particular disability. While the accommodation sought cannot cause undue hardship in the conduct of the business, some flexibility on the part of the employer is usually required.

FMLA Retaliation – If an employee who has any psychiatric disability (or any physical disability) needs some time off for medical reasons according to their doctor’s advice, the employer has to respect this within certain limits. If the employer retaliates against the employee for requesting or taking time like this, FMLA retaliation is also illegal. Adverse job action taken against someone as a result of requesting or taking FMLA time is a violation of federal law, which extends certain protections to the employee.

Hostile Work Environment – Once the employer is aware of a psychiatric disability, regularly shouting or behaving abusively toward that employee can definitely constitute a Hostile Work Environment under the New York City Human Rights Law. On the other hand, for an employee with no such documented disability, or if the disability is not made known to the employer, the boss is legally allowed to behave very rudely and abusively, as long the abuse is not directed at someone because they are a member of a “protected class”.

Why You Might Want to Seek Guidance in This Area:

At the Law Offices of William Cafaro, we regularly deal with disability discrimination, and we can advise you how to proceed in this area of law. We understand that no two people have the same psychological or physical makeup, and no two workplaces are exactly alike.  There are no “one size fits all” rules or solutions in this area, and we cannot help you if you do not call us.

Law Offices of William Cafaro


108 West 39th Street
Suite 602
New York, NY, 10018


Fax: (212) 583-7401

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