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14. As an employee, am I entitled to compensation for work-related stress?

Due to long working hours and stressful working environment, it is not uncommon for an employee to develop work-related stress during the courses of employment. Questions often arise as to whether an employee is entitled to compensation for such stress and any subsequent mental illnesses that may develop as a result. 


Under statute, section 5 of the Employees’ Compensation Ordinance made it clear that “if in any employment, personal injury by accident arising out of and in the course of the employment is caused to an employee, his employer shall be liable to pay compensation in accordance with this Ordinance”. Therefore, employees should bear in mind that the ECO only applies to injuries caused by accident and does not cover psychiatric/mental illnesses due to a process of work. For instance, in the case Wong Chick v Swire Pacific Ltd, the employee who suffered from loss of hearing was unable to recover compensation under the ECO as it was caused by repeated and prolonged exposure to hazardous noise levels as opposed to an accident. Hence, psychiatric illnesses developed by accumulation of work-related stress are not covered by the Ordinance unless it can be proved that they have been caused as a result of an accident. Further, mental illnesses at present do not fall within the scope of “occupational diseases” under Second Schedule 2 of the ECO. 


However, an employee may claim against his employer for such loss and damage suffered under the common law. As we will look at in the later sections, an employer has an implied duty to provide a safe system of work and working environment to his employees which includes the duty to maintain a work environment that is safe and without risk to the employees’ health. The breach of such a duty can make the employer potentially liable for the mental illnesses suffered by the employees.