Am I Entitled to Stress Leave?
In Australia, there are different types of leaves employees are entitled to and familiar with, including sick leave, annual leave, personal leave, parental leave, compassionate leave and community service leave.
However, there’s one type of leave that not a lot of people know about: stress leave.
As businesses become busier and busier and the demands on employees become greater, let alone the ever present threat from the Covid-19 virus, it is becoming increasingly common for workers to feel as though they are suffering from stress in the workplace. This is something which is sometimes not considered serious by employers but it can, in some cases, develop into more serious mental health/mental illness medical conditions such as depression and anxiety. It can also exacerbate an existing mental health condition.
Most employees do not feel comfortable talking to their employers about their psychological and mental health and wellbeing, with the stigma surrounding mental health.
As with any condition that is affecting your wellbeing and ability to work it should be discussed with your general practitioner and if your doctor feels that leave is appropriate a medical certificate or doctor’s note should be provided.
In many cases people will be able to control their stress levels with a brief period of time off work and be able to return to work feeling healthy and refreshed.
If an employee is under stress, should they take a leave? How does an employee use their stress leave?
Here, we talk about stress at length and how it can affect a person’s work, personal life, mental health and general wellbeing. We also answer the question ‘am I entitled to stress leave?’ and other concerns regarding this type of time off work.
Stress and Mental Health Issues
With about two years spent dealing with the COVID-19 global pandemic, people’s lives under community quarantine and other coronavirus outbreak-related restrictions have certainly taken a toll on their mental health.
Aside from business closures, job losses and reduced income, Australians have had to deal with the social isolation, limited movement and general sense of helplessness and uncertainty brought on by the pandemic.
Families have been separated for far too long, and the very limited socialisation has made a lot of people desperate, depressed, frustrated and unhappy. The financial and emotional stress people have experienced in relation to the global pandemic has also been cited as having contributed to Australia’s suicide rates.
In response to the acknowledged stresses brought about by the global pandemic, there have been efforts and mechanisms in place designed to help people manage stress, care for their mental health and remove the stigma around mental health. These include mental health services and crisis lines, aside from government financial assistance.
For those who’ve remained gainfully employed, work has proven to be a welcome distraction from the pandemic situation. However, when people are already experiencing stress and are unable to manage it, work can get in the way and even exacerbate it.
Besides, even without the coronavirus pandemic, people can and do experience stress in the workplace, which could arise from:
- Inadequate staffing
- Toxic management
- Frequent extended work hours
- Lack of support from supervisors, co workers and colleagues
- Too many projects with the same due dates
- Unavailability of those to whom tasks have been delegated
- Unresolved mechanical or technical difficulties that affect job performance
- Workplace bullying
- Destructive criticism from superiors or fellow employees and co workers
- Inability to manage or organise one’s workload
- Traumatic event in the workplace
So, for someone who’s feeling stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unwell, taking some time off work could help with their mental and emotional recovery.
But what does taking stress leave from work entail? What are people’s options?
Stress Leave From Work Defined
Stress leave refers to an extended break from work that an employee can use to manage and recover from stress-related illnesses, injuries and related situations. An employee would usually need to take a stress leave when their situation and stress levels are so dire, they cannot be addressed by a few days break or short vacation.
However, in Australia, stress leave is not considered a separate official category of leave, unlike annual or sick leave. Instead, the Fair Work Ombudsman considers it as a type of personal leave full-time employees are entitled to so they can recover completely from mental stress or a mental health condition.
Taking Stress Leave in Australia
According to the Australian Government’s National Employment Standards, employees are allowed to take leave from work for personal reasons.
Called sick leave or carer’s leave (aka personal or carer’s leave), this leave from work allows employees to take time off. Generally speaking, this extended period away from work is supposed to give them the time and space they need to be able to deal with personal illness or injury (physical or mental), their responsibilities as carers and family emergencies.
This time off an employee takes is also considered a personal leave that an employee needs to take to find relief from pressure in the workplace environment and recover from an injury or illness that’s related to stress. Therefore, if an employee is unable to perform their role or duties at work because of stress, they are entitled to paid sick leave or personal leave (under their employment contract) if they have accrued personal or carer’s leave credits.
Based on Australia’s National Employment Standards, permanent employees are entitled to 1 hour of personal paid leave for every 26 hours worked. For full-time employees, this 1:26 ratio is typically equivalent to 10 days of paid sick leave per annum, and 1:26 pro-rata for part time employees.
If an employee does not have enough accrued personal or carer’s leave, their company does not offer paid sick leave or your doctor doesn’t consider your condition severe enough, an employee can file for unpaid leave to cover mental health days, but on a discretionary basis. They also have the option to make a workers’ compensation claim if the cause of their stress, mental health condition or mental illness is determined to be work-related.
Employers are required to adhere to their obligations under the relevant workers’ compensation scheme applicable in their state or territory. When an employee’s workers compensation claim is accepted, employers would have to make payments while the employee is unable to go back to work.
If an employee has had a stress leave claim rejected or is denied coverage, they may require legal advice to proceed with their claim further. To find out more, contact the expert lawyers at Bradford Legal.
What is required to make a claim?
Like other workers compensation claims it is always necessary to obtain a WorkCover First Certificate of Capacity from your doctor detailing the circumstances giving rise to the illness that you are suffering from and making a clear diagnosis of that illness.
A doctor will provide a WorkCover First Certificate of Capacity if they believe that your workplace has caused your stress related illness.
Claims involving stress related illness arising from the workplace are extremely complex and are often declined by workers compensation insurers, sometimes without good reason.
Tips for Taking Work Related Stress Leave
Employees taking stress leave are advised to make the most of their time off and use it as an opportunity to decompress, work on personal circumstances and take their mind off stresses.
To accomplish this, the following tips are worth considering:
- Following doctor’s advice: People taking stress related leave usually do so with the advice of their healthcare provider. Therefore, employees taking stress related leave should be mindful of their doctor’s advice concerning relaxation, mental health conditions and stress management. If they are feeling stress symptoms, overwhelmed or pressured while on leave, they should inform their physician.
- Focusing on improving health: Instead of using their stress leave for spring cleaning or other time-consuming tasks, people should focus on improving their diet, getting adequate sleep, and participating in relaxation activities to help and improve stress related illness and other mental health issues.
- Forgetting about work: A personal sick or stress leave is supposed to be spent on focusing on oneself. This means staying away from work completely – including emails and text messages – and focusing on personal life circumstances.
- Goal setting: Stress leave provides people with the perfect opportunity to reflect on their personal goals and the improvements they want to see at work.
People taking workplace stress leave have the obligation to prioritise their health and wellbeing so they can return to work refreshed and ready to fulfil their job responsibilities.
Stress Leave FAQs
Below are some frequently asked questions about stress leave in Australia:
Can an employee take time off from work due to stress?
Yes. Although stress leave is not considered an official separate leave category, it falls under sick or personal leave. An employee is entitled to stress leave so they’ll have the time they need to deal with personal illness (physical or mental health issues – including stress), perform their responsibilities as carers and attend to family emergencies.
Do employees get paid for stress leave?
As previously mentioned, stress leave may be paid if the employee has accrued leave credits or takes the leave as part of their annual leave. If the employee makes a claim for workers’ compensation and it is determined that the cause of their stress and subsequent illness is work-related, they may receive additional benefits from this successful claim.
A successful workers’ compensation claim covers loss of weekly wages, reasonable medical and related treatment costs, and certain vocational rehabilitation and return-to-work expenses that are deemed reasonable.
How long can an employee take stress leave from work?
An employee can take stress leave within their allotted leave time. This includes holiday or sick leave. If they need more time off, this is best discussed and arranged with their employer.
What can cause work-related stress?
Work-related stress can arise from organisational and environmental factors. This stress may be manifested in physical signs (sickness or weight loss), mental health conditions (confusion, inability to concentrate), emotional (low self-esteem, frustration, apathy) or behavioural (sabotage, angry outbursts, absenteeism) terms.
Examples of organisational factors that contribute to work-related stress include unreasonable or unmanageable work demands, lack of control over or autonomy at work, inadequate support from colleagues, your human resources (HR) department and supervisors, negative work conditions (e.g. incivility, bullying, poor communication, etc.) and role conflict.
Certain environmental factors that add to workplace stress include poor air quality and ventilation, lack of space, noise, insufficient lighting, temperature and humidity, defective equipment, vibration, safety concerns and hazardous work conditions.
Stress Leave and Mental Health Related Claims
Are you experiencing a high level of stress at work and want to learn more about taking stress leave?
The experienced Workers Compensation lawyers at Bradford Legal will help support you in understanding your personal rights and work with you to ensure your mental health condition is taken seriously by your employer. We believe work related stress leave should be taken very seriously by both employer and employees, and therefore believe it is important you take the right steps to understand what your rights are and the compensation you could be entitled to.
If you are still unsure about what stress leave is or what is required to make a claim, get in touch with our experienced team to discuss your specific situation and options today.