In Ontario, employees have the right to prioritize their health and well-being, including taking time off work when necessary for stress leave. The Ontario Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“ESA”) entitles employees to a variety of unpaid leaves of absence, including sick leave. While the sick leave provision allows employees to take a leave of absence due to personal illness, injury, or medical emergency, this leave can also be taken as stress leave because of burnout, stress, or anxiety.
Who Qualifies for Stress Leave
Under the ESA, an employee who has been employed by an employer for at least 2 consecutive weeks in Ontario, either on a full-time or part-time basis, is entitled to sick leave for 3 days, without pay, due to personal illness, injury, or medical emergency. This provision extends to include cases of excessive stress that significantly impact an employee’s mental health.
If an employee takes any part of a day as leave under the stress leave provision, the employer has the discretion to deem it as one full day of leave. For example, if an employee takes a half-day of stress leave, the employer may count it as one full day of the employee’s allotted three days of leave.
If You Need Additional Time Off For Stress Leave
If the 3 days of sick leave provided under the ESA is not sufficient, employers are required to accommodate employees’ disabilities, including mental health and stress concerns, to the point of undue hardship, as mandated by the Ontario Human Rights Code (“Code”). This may include allowing an employee to remain on unpaid sick leave to recover from mental health and stress-related struggles, even beyond the minimum leave entitlements outlined in the ESA or the employment contract.
As long as an employee has legitimate medical documentation, an employer must accommodate the employee’s restriction and stress leave.
Some employers may offer paid sick days and disability benefits through an insurer, enabling employees to take extended mental health and stress-related leave with pay, depending on the specific agreements in place. During their time off, an employee may also apply for sickness benefits through employment insurance (“EI sickness benefits”), which allows for a partial compensation for a period of up to 15 weeks while on sick leave.
Protections For Stress Leave Under the ESA
Employees have the right to take unpaid mental health and stress leave under the ESA and the Ontario Human Rights Code. Employers do not have the right to take negative action against employees as a result of taking stress leave. If an employer refuses to grant documented mental health and stress leave or mistreats an employee for requesting such leave, they may face liability for damages. It is advisable to seek guidance from an employment lawyer to navigate such situations and determine the appropriate course of action.
If you are facing constructive dismissal or wrongful dismissal for taking stress leave, our experienced team of employment lawyers at Monkhouse Law can help. Contact us at 416-907-9249 or fill out this quick form, and we would be happy to assist.