What is stress leave and when are your employees entitled to it?

stress leave

Do employees have the right to take a leave of absence related to workplace stress? The simple answer is yes. Work-related stress can have a significant impact on an employee’s mental health. If workplace stress has become overwhelming and incapacitating, the employee may be eligible for stress leave.

What counts as stress leave?

While workplace stress is not an official category for leave from ones’ employment, it is widely accepted that workplace stress is considered a form of illness or personal injury and is therefore captured within the mandated 10 sick days a year. Hence all employees do have access to paid time off for mental health days. But what about when an employee wants to take stress leave for an extended period?

If an employee suffers harm due to work-related stress, they can secure assistance from a health care professional and seek an opinion as to the types of available treatment, including an estimate on a reasonable amount of time to take away from work.

Once an employee has done this, it is imperative that they inform you of their condition and request the necessary time off. At this point, you can grant the employee personal time to allow for treatment and rest.

What about worker’s compensation?

It is also possible for an employee to make a Workers’ Compensation claim for stress. However, this can be a more difficult way to go. An employee who claims that their stress is work-related must be able to prove that the workplace is the only genesis of the condition. If you believe there are other personal circumstances that are causing or contributing to an employee’s mental health issues, these contributing factors can be used to mitigate a claim that the stress is solely work-related.

When an employee makes a successful claim via the Workers’ Compensation Law, the rate at which their compensation will be paid is dependent upon the level of their disability and its permanence or lack thereof. In addition, if a claim is successful, the worker will also be entitled to medical costs, including treatment and medication.

Prevention is better than a cure

So how does one prevent succumbing to workplace stress? First, it is important to recognise how workplace stress can come about. Some of the circumstances that can cause work-related stress include:

  • Lack of proper staffing.
  • Reduced support from supervisors.
  • Overload of projects with similar due dates.
  • Inability to rely upon those to whom tasks are delegated to.
  • Ongoing technical difficulties that prevent a job from running smoothly.
  • Constant criticism from co-workers and/or superiors.
  • An inability to organise the workload.

As an employer, if you can recognise any red flags early on, employee stress may be able to be alleviated at a much earlier stage, preventing people from needing to take an extended break from their jobs to recover.

Rolf Howard, Managing Partner, Owen Hodge Lawyers