Time off work for stress

Here’s why you should let employees take a mental health leave from work

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Monday, Jan 29, 2024

Stress and its effect on mental health is part of many people's lives. Your employees most likely deal with different stresses daily, some of which may be work-related and for many workers, managing workplace mental health challenges can be difficult.

For some people, stress is often overwhelming and affects their productivity and physical health. This may lead them to take stress leave from work.

As a business owner, your employees’ wellbeing should be among your top priorities. When your employees' mental health suffers, it not only affects them but can also have consequences for your business.

That's why we've put together this guide to explain some reasons for stress, your employees’ entitlements, and the different stress leave legislations around Canada.

Is stress leave sick leave?

Stress leave is a kind of leave where employees take an extended period off work to recover from stress. This stress could either come from their personal life or be work-related stress.

Some people also refer to this kind of leave of absence as a mental health leave.

In Canada, stress leave falls under the same umbrella as sick leave. There aren’t any mandatory policies that include stress-related leave, nor is it a job-protected leave. Most employees use their other unpaid leave entitlements when they need time off work instead of specific mental health leaves.

Many businesses also create their own company policy around stress leave included in their employee handbooks and contracts. Having business-specific policies on mental health issues, including mental health leave, helps you show your employees you care about their mental wellbeing and allows you to set the tone for how they take time off to manage stress.

Although it isn't mandatory, you shouldn't take mental stress leave of absence lightly. There is no maximum time off for stress, and terminating an employee for taking too much time off work for stress can result in legal action.

A person with their head in their hands due to being stressed in the workplace

Why is taking time off work for stress important?

Your employees need to take a break from work when they're feeling stressed to help redirect their attention and improve their focus. It's no use having your staff at work when they are burned out, experiencing chronic stress, anxious or unable to complete their tasks.

A break from the workplace environment can help your staff reduce their stress levels, rest and refocus and come back refreshed and ready to do their job.

Left untreated, workplace mental health struggles can lead to a health condition, which could result in even more expenses for your business.

Causes of work-related stress

Your employee's mental health, wellbeing, productivity, attendance, or performance may be affected by various things. They may feel overwhelmed by their job duties or their personal lives.

Some of the causes of work-related stress include

  • Concern over job security
  • Difficult family situations
  • Money problems
  • High workload and job duties
  • Difficult relationships with colleagues

A worker stressed due to working late and extra demands

Signs your employee may need stress leave

Here are some common symptoms of stress you can use to determine whether your employee is suffering from work-related stress.

If you can identify most of these signs of stress in any of your employees, it may be time to recommend a mental health check or stress leave to the affected employee

Signs of stress leave include:

  • Irritability
  • Reduced motivation
  • Restlessness and anxiety
  • Frequent headaches
  • Nausea
  • Trouble sleeping

Why do employees apply for stress leave?

Most employees are either very stressed or moderately stressed by their jobs by some of the causes of stress, as mentioned above.

Some employees take this time away from work for medical reasons. A doctor may recommend close monitoring and frequent medical appointments or therapy sessions.

They may also need more time to rest or do extensive work on themselves to figure out the root cause of their stress to help them recover and return to work as soon as possible.

Some employees may also apply for stress leave to give them time to disconnect from work and focus on getting better.

A fellow co worker causing stress at work

Is stress leave paid?

Stress leave is not paid sick leave. Due to stress leave and sick leave being the same in legislation, there is no mandatory pay for stress. However, you can include a paid stress leave policy in your company.

What compensation and benefits are employees entitled to while on stress leave?

Since stress leave is a time of sick leave and sick days are unpaid in most Canadian jurisdictions, you won't have to pay your employees for their time off work for stress.

But, if they are concerned about going on extended leave without pay, you can extend their benefits during this period, such as continuing to cover their healthcare costs.

Your employees may also be eligible for employment insurance (EI). You can support their EI application by providing them with an employment record and sharing any resources on accessing EI.

Alternatively, employees who choose to use their vacation days to destress would be entitled to their vacation pay. You can also offer your staff paid sick days, which they can use as mental health leave.

How much does employment insurance (EI) pay for stress leave?

If you have a staff member who can't work and requires medical leave of absence for stress, they may be eligible for EI stress leave financial support.

EI can provide up to 15 weeks of financial assistance. They could receive up to 55% of their earnings – a maximum of $650 weekly. For more information, visit the Federal Government of Canada website.

A person visible stressed whilst sitting in the office

How can employees apply for stress leave?

If an employee feels overwhelmed due to stress and approaches you to discuss the matter, encourage them to consult their doctor.

Don't give your employees the impression that you don't value their mental health and wouldn't support their efforts at managing stress. Let your staff know you're open to discussing ways they can reduce stress as long as it's not to the point of undue hardship.

Your stress leave policy, which is usually contained in your employee handbook, should make it clear whether employees need to provide a doctor’s note before taking the leave or once they return to work. It should also outline the return-to-work interview process.

Depending on the severity of the stress disorder, you could also allow for a gradual return to work – a couple of days a week.

Stress-related sick leave entitlements throughout Canada

Sick leave legislation differs across provinces. When dealing with stress leave in your company, stick by the rules of your province.

Failure to do so may be a breach of contract, and you may end up before an employment tribunal.

  • Alberta: Employees are entitled to ten days of unpaid sick leave in any one year.
  • British Columbia: Employees are entitled to three days of unpaid job-protected leave if they have worked for the company for 90 days.
  • Ontario: Under the Employment Standards Act (ESA), employees are entitled to three days of unpaid leave a year. Only eligible if they have worked for the company for at least two weeks.

The role of HR software in requesting stress leave at work

You don't need a human resources department to manage stress in your business effectively. Working with a comprehensive people management software like BrightHR, you can simplify and easily manage all kinds of leave.

Our absence management tools make managing the process of requesting time off easy. You don't need to fill out dozens or thousands of paperwork to apply online or by phone.

It’s important that you get your stress and sick leave right. Staff have a statutory right to time off, and not managing it well may lead to unhappy employees, legal action, or a breach of employment contract.

Our library of documents, checklists and templates BrightBase offers templates for stress leave must-haves like the employee handbook, sick days policy and other important documentation you need to manage stress leave effectively.

All our templates are drafted by experts using specific guidelines according to industry standards, so you can rest assured knowing they'll withstand scrutiny from experienced employment lawyers.

Though comprehensive, the information in this article does not constitute legal advice; that's why you should rely on BrightAdvice - our team of experienced employment relations experts who are available 24 hours a day to answer your questions on stress leave and other related topics.

Interested in how we can help your business? Contact us at 18882204924 or book a demo today.

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