We all experience stress in our lives. And whether we like it or not, not dealing with stress when it starts to build up can lead to mental and physical illnesses that can cause severe damage and have a far greater impact on our lives than speaking up and seeking advice or help.
Even if you can ask for stress leave and feel supported, there is still a stigma around mental health issues, and often, we prevent ourselves from admitting that we need help. Another barrier, however, is having the time to treat stress properly, especially with full-time family and work commitments.
Luckily, we do have employment laws that protect our right to take time off work to deal with physical and mental illness. There isn’t a leave specifically for stress, but stress leave is considered a part of your right to sick leave.
How to Know Which Stress Leave Law Applies to You
Unless you work in a federally-regulated industry (in which case, you must refer to the Canada Labour Code), your employment rights, including your rights to sick and stress leave, are outlined in the Employment Standards Act. There are professions and industries, however, that are exempted from the minimum rights afforded by the ESA. Healthcare and hospitality workers, for example, have their own specific rules and rights. You can check to see if you fall under any of the exemptions on this page.
Currently, the ESA minimum entitlement to sick and stress leave is three unpaid, non-transferable days off in every calendar year if you’ve been employed with your current employer for at least two consecutive weeks.
That is the minimum entitlement for provincially-regulated workers. If your employment contract or union agreement provides more time off, paid time off, or any other benefit greater than the ESA, or the CLC, that benefit is what you’re entitled to, and your employer cannot take it away even if it is more than what the law says.
Combining Sick or Stress Leave with Other Personal Leaves
Note that if you are experiencing stress due to a personal or family situation for which you are entitled to personal leave, you can add the leave(s) together if you need more time off. Examples of other personal leaves include:
- Bereavement Leave
- Child Death Leave
- Crime-Related Child Disappearance Leave
Your Obligations When Taking Stress Leave
If you need to take stress or sick leave, you also have obligations to your employer.
You must notify your employer before taking stress or personal leave or as soon as possible after starting your leave. You do not have to give written notice; verbal notice is acceptable.
Note that even if you are unable to notify your employer that you need time off for sick/stress leave, you do not lose the right to take the leave.
You may also be asked to provide proof that you are entitled to take a leave by providing your employer with a doctor’s note, for example. For an employer to request proof, however, it must be reasonable for them to do so. Having a history of absenteeism, for example, may give an employer the right to ask you to show proof that you were entitled to take stress, sick or personal leave.