The total number of fit notes, which state an individual is not fit to work, issued by doctors increased just 4% between 2017 to 2018 to 9.7 million up from 9.3 million.
According to employment law firm GQ|Littler finding ways to effectively deal with work-related stress has become increasingly important for employers.
This is particularly true for financial and professional services as stress-related disorders appeared to be on the rise in these sectors.
The average cost per employee in financial services and insurance is the highest of all sectors at £3,353.
Sophie Vanhegan, a partner at GQ|Littler, said: “Employers need to have adequate policies and practices in place for supporting employees returning to work after a period of leave due to stress.
“If someone returning from a stress-related absence has been stripped of their previous responsibilities, or is otherwise treated less favourably than before, then they may have grounds for a disability discrimination claim.”
The number of fit notes where doctors have advised that an individual ‘may’ be fit to work, dependant on changes being made to workplace conditions, also increased last year to 668,720, up from 629,440 in 2017/18.
Nearly 90,000 notes advised that workspaces should be adapted, 200,100 notes recommended that working hours be altered in some way, and 203,440 notes advised that the reintroduction to the workplace be done in phases.
Vanhegan suggested if companies fail to make reasonable adjustments for those returning from stress-related absences, it could leave employers exposed to claims.
She said: “It may be reasonable for an employer to allow a phased return to work or offer them greater support with their workload.
“Supporting mental health in the workplace has become a hot topic for many employers in the past couple of years, and many are trying to encourage open discussion with their workforces to destigmatise this issue and tackle stress-related absences.”
GQ|Littler's research echoed a Deloitte study that found poor mental health among employees costs UK employers £42 billion to £45 billion each year.