Is the Employer Liable for Stress at Work?

Employees can become ill because of stress at work. Can they hold their employer liable for this?

Stress can be an emotional and mental/physical reaction to unfavorable or harmful aspects of work. It occurs when a person is asked to do more than he or she can handle.

Stress typically occurs when there is too much work, pressure to meet deadlines and perform, or interpersonal conflict in the workplace. Stress is strainful and associated with the feeling that one cannot cope with the situation.

Stress that Causes Illness Must Be Avoided

Article 328 of the Code of Obligations requires employers to give due consideration to the health of employees. They must take necessary, appropriate and reasonable measures to protect the health of their employees in order to avoid stress in the workplace.

Accordingly, employers may not tolerate stress that experience has shown to have physical and/or mental consequences that are hazardous to health.

"Stress Liability" of the Employer

If an employer fails to prevent stress in the workplace that causes illness, employees who have been harmed can under certain circumstances go to civil court to claim damages and satisfaction. This is referred to as "stress liability" on the part of the employer.

In a stress liability lawsuit, the following issues must be resolved:

  • Is there undue stress?
  • Was the excessive stress recognizable to the employer?
  • Does the employee bear contributory negligence?
  • Is the illness due to the stress at work or are there other or further causes?
  • Would the illness not have ocurred if the employer had taken the necessary measures?

High Risk of Litigation in Stress Liability Cases

As a rule, employees bear the burden of proof in stress liability cases. Therefore, the risk of litigation is usually quite high. This means that if employees do not succeed in proving their case, they lose the case and have to bear the costs. It is therefore hardly surprising that only a few stress liability cases have been decided by the courts in Switzerland to date.

Nevertheless, it is worth checking in each individual case whether a case of stress liability exists and whether a claim for damages and satisfaction can be enforced in court. We recommend that you first have this clarified by the legal service of Employees Switzerland.


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