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What every employer needs to know about stress-related illness


It is essential that employers support employees in recognising if they are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and that they understand the difference between this level of stress-related illness and other forms of work-related stress or fatigue.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (COIDA) both recognise the impact of PTSD on employee and employer. It is a potentially debilitating condition which affects performance and personality and there are a number of symptoms which can be attributed to it.

“PTSD is not the same as normal workplace stress,” says Cathie Webb, Director at the South African Payroll Association (SAPA). “Difficulty with another employee, extended working hours or a toxic working environment – these are factors which impact individuals on a different level from PTSD. There should be processes in place to resolve these challenges internally already, but for an employee to benefit from an employer’s contribution to the Compensation Fund, they would have to suffer from symptoms that are far more severe.”

The Compensation Fund is a mandatory fund to which all employers must contribute. From the moment a business hires its first employee, the organisation has seven days in which to register with COIDA. Employers have to detail the type of work undertaken by the business, and pay towards the fund on an annual basis.

The impact of stress
“The outline of the Act is simple – keep track of incidents while performing agreed work which result in physical injury or mental illness and follow the guidelines,” says Webb. “It is designed to protect the employer from having to deal with litigation for each employee and give the employee financial support as they recover. Any injury or illness covered by the Act has to be medically approved.”

The employee has to see a medical professional who will confirm that they are unable to function in their role. Some of the symptoms of PTSD which would be immediately visible to the employer would include constant hyperventilation when facing the situation which caused the problem, crippling levels of anxiety or fear, and excessive sweating.

“Whether or not a person would qualify for the support of the fund depends on a number of factors,” says Webb. “They would need to see a psychiatrist who would confirm they have PTSD and they need a certificate which verifies the diagnosis. Employers should also remember that they have to apply for the fund within six months of the incident taking place in order to ensure their employee is given the support and time off that they need.”

In addition to the above parameters, the employee will also have to go to a panel to confirm whether or not they need to be booked off or if they are eligible for the compensation fund.

It is the employer that needs to submit the claim and employees’ money will be send to their employer’s address. If employers do not send in the forms or the claims takes too long, the employee must contact the nearest labour centre and report it.

The ideal employer
“PTSD is a delayed or protracted response to an exceptional catastrophic event which causes distress and can have a long-term impact on an employee,” says Webb. “The employer has to recognise the symptoms within the person, but also be aware of the events themselves.”

The employer needs to assess the situation and note if someone is always battling to cope with their role after an incident. For example, this could be a member of the military forces that experienced a violent incident. They need to be aware of the symptoms of PTSD and have a workplace ethic which supports staff when it comes to stress or trauma.

Although the act caters for employees that are faced with PTSD, it remains the employer’s responsibility to ensure that other layers of work-related stress are catered for, creating a positive working environment throughout the business.