Stress is an unavoidable part of life and work. While occasional, temporary stress in the workplace is actually beneficial as it helps us meet deadlines, sales quotas or productivity targets, experiencing prolonged or constant stress can lead to numerous mental and physical illnesses and injuries.
It’s absolutely crucial to educate yourself on the signs of stress and to treat stress management as you do other areas of your health and well-being. This may include taking some time off of work to clear your head or seek treatment. And while there isn’t a specific stress leave in Ontario, workers are entitled to sick leave, which they can use for stress leave.
First Things First – How Much Sick Leave Are You Allowed?
Always consult your employment contract (or collective bargaining agreement if you are unionized) to know your entitlements to sick/stress leave, notice of termination, vacation days, etc. If you’re unsure about what your employment contract provides, speak to your HR rep, union steward or supervisor. It’s also a good idea to consult an employment lawyer before signing an employment contract to ensure that you understand the terms and for advice on how those terms can affect you in the future.
Your employer may provide a specific leave for stress and/or allow you more time off than the legal minimums below.
Minimum Legal Requirements for Stress or Sick Leave in Ontario
Federally-regulated employees, like those who work for the federal government, banks, airlines and broadcasters, are allowed a minimum of five unpaid days off per calendar year for “personal leave” under the Canada Labour Code. After three consecutive months of continuous employment, however, federally-regulated employees are entitled to paid time off for the first three days of their leave at their regular rate of pay.
Most other workers in Ontario are entitled to the minimum sick leave stipulated in the Employment Standards Act of three unpaid days off in a calendar year for personal injury, illness or medical emergency. Neither of these leaves can be carried over to future years.
There are also certain professions, like those in emergency services, hospitality and agriculture, that are exempted from the ESA’s minimum standards and have different rights specific to their fields. This page lists the exceptions to the standard ESA rules with links to their corresponding rights.
What Are Your Rights If You Need to Go on Stress Leave in Ontario?
Regardless of how much stress or sick leave your employment contract allows for, the law in Ontario provides for protections regarding sick/stress leave in Ontario, including:
- The right to be reinstated to the position you held before taking a leave or a comparable one if the role no longer exists.
- The right not to be penalized in any way for asking about, planning or taking a leave you are entitled to.
- The right to combine your sick or stress leave with other leaves guaranteed in the ESA, such as bereavement leave or critical illness leave, if your stress is caused by circumstances covered by those leaves.
You can also take a longer sick or stress leave if necessary if your doctor believes that you will need more time and/or treatment for your stress.
Your Obligations if You Take Stress Leave in Ontario
Your employer is entitled to notice if you take a stress leave. You don’t have to provide written notice, but you have a duty to inform you’re employer either before going on leave or as soon as you can if you need to begin the leave before you’re able to notify them.
An employer can ask for a doctor’s note if it’s reasonable under the circumstances, like if you need an extended leave or are regularly absent from work.