What Qualifies for Stress Leave in Ontario: Everything You Need to Know

Here’s everything you need to know about what qualifies for stress leave and taking a mental health leave in Ontario.

In Ontario, you have the right to take time off work to prioritize your mental health and well-being. If you cannot work due to your mental health, you can take a stress leave, which falls under the umbrella of sick leave. Here’s everything you need to know about what qualifies for stress leave and taking a mental health leave in Ontario.

What Is Stress Leave in Ontario?

Stress leave is a form of leave that employees in Ontario can take if they are experiencing stress or other mental health issues that are preventing them from fulfilling their job duties. Stress leave falls under sick leave, which is an unpaid job-protected leave included in Ontario’s Employment Standards Act (ESA). It is illegal for an employer to unreasonably refuse to grant a stress leave from work to an eligible employee.

Taking Stress Leave from Work in Ontario

Taking stress leave from work in Ontario is important for individuals needing to prioritize their mental health and well-being. This type of leave allows employees to address severe stress and mental health issues without compromising their employment. Understanding the eligibility criteria and process is essential for ensuring a supportive leave experience. Here’s everything you need to know.

What Qualifies for Stress Leave?

Stress leave in Ontario falls under sick leave, which allows employees to take time off due to a personal illness, injury, or medical emergency. This includes any mental health conditions that impact your job performance, such as stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout. 

You are entitled to stress leave even if the stress is not work-related. A stress leave is similar to any medical leave—if mental health issues are impacting your job performance, you have the right to take a sick leave.

How Long Can I Take Off for a Stress Leave in Ontario?

 

Under Ontario’s ESA, you have the right to take up to three full days of job-protected unpaid sick leave every calendar year. You are eligible as long as you have worked for your employer part-time or full-time for at least two full consecutive weeks. However, there are certain industries and jobs in Ontario that have exemptions or special rules around stress leaves from work. 

You don’t have to take the allotted three days consecutively. But keep in mind that if you take part of a day as a sick day, employers can count that as a full day of leave. You also cannot carry forward any unused sick leave days to the next calendar year. While the ESA sets out the minimum standard, some jobs have an employment contract that outlines their sick leave policy. Some employers also offer separate mental health days as part of their compensation package. 

If your employment contract provides greater benefits than the ESA, your contract will apply. For example, if your contract gives you five days of sick leave, you are entitled to those five days, since it’s a greater allotment than the three days under the ESA.

What if I Need to Take a Longer Mental Health Leave?

For many mental health challenges, three days is not enough time to properly heal and recover. When you’re dealing with complex mental health issues, you may need to request a longer mental health leave of absence. 

In the case you are experiencing severe mental health challenges that are preventing you from doing your job, your condition may be deemed a disability. Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, employers have to accommodate. This means that your employer must find a way to accommodate your disability, up to the point of undue hardship. Reasonable accommodation may allow you to remain on a longer-term job-protected medical leave to heal your mental health.

An extended mental health leave may be paid or unpaid depending on the disability benefits of your workplace. There are other financial supports with varying criteria that can help, including:

How to Go on Stress Leave in Ontario

If you are taking a short-term stress leave from work, inform your employer before starting. However, if the leave is unexpected or urgent, you still have the right to take stress leave without advance notice. In such cases, inform your employer immediately after starting your leave.

If you are going on a longer leave of absence, your employer may require you to provide a medical note to support your mental health leave. The note must be from a medical professional, like a doctor or psychologist. Your employer is entitled to information about your prognosis and how long you may need to be away from work. However, your employer cannot ask for details about your diagnosis or treatment. 

While you are on stress leave, there are laws in place that make sure you cannot be dismissed, penalized, or retaliated against for taking a mental health leave of absence. It may be beneficial to reach out to an employment lawyer to navigate what qualifies for stress leaves and mental health leaves in Ontario.

Get Mental Health Support During Your Stress Leave

Your mental health should always be a priority. If you need support to work through stress, anxiety, or other mental health challenges, we are here to help. At Phare Counselling, we offer personalized and supportive counselling for all Canadians. Our qualified counsellors will work with you to address your specific concerns and help you heal during your stress leave. Match with one of our counsellors today!

Author Bio:

Wendy Chan is a writer and editor who is passionate about health, wellness, and self-care. She has worked in marketing and communications for nearly a decade, creating educational content for brands and companies across Canada. Since 2020, she has been a writer and researcher for Phare Counselling.

Wendy specializes in authoring informative and accessible content on mental health, wellbeing, higher education, and technology. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. You can find her in Vancouver or Toronto, depending on the weather.

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