What Is Stress Leave and How Can You Get It? – A Complete Guide

If you feel like you're working yourself into the ground, and your job is taking a toll on your mental wellness and overall health, it might be time for a mental health day or request some stress leave.
Image showing the mental health impact of stress

Guide to Stress Leave in Australia

Understanding stress leave and how to get it is essential for an Australian worker. If you have an excessive workload, you are probably aware of how much effort it can take to stay on top of everything that needs to be done. Maintaining a work-life balance can be hard when so much is required. It’s even more complicated when dealing with the added stress of a hectic schedule and a lack of support from your boss or co-workers.

Work-Related Stress: The Statistics

According to a Global Organization for Stress study, 80% of working adults experience stress. Furthermore, World Health Organisation data shows that depression is among the prominent causes of disability worldwide.

  1. 91% of adults in Australia have reported feeling stressed about one or more significant aspects of their lives.
  2. 50% of adults have significant stress levels related to some aspects of their personal lives.

If you feel like you’re working yourself into the ground and your job is taking a toll on your mental wellness and overall health, it might be time for a mental health day or some stress leave.

Requesting stress leave may feel uncomfortable. Sadly, some people still feel uncomfortable discussing mental health on the job, so it’s natural to be concerned about how your boss may respond.

So, what can you do to give yourself a rest? Our legal guide gives you the information you need concerning requesting time off from work due to stress. But first, let’s look at what it is and why it is essential for your mental health.

What Is Stress Leave?

Stress leave is a kind of leave that employees can take from their job when experiencing mental health problems. This type of leave may be known as “mental health leave” or “sick leave” in some workplaces and is often linked to recognised psychological conditions like depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

You should know that stress leave is not an officially recognised type of work absence, but the Australian Fair Work Ombudsman recognises stress as a mental health condition eligible for paid sick leave.

Stress leave is typically granted for a limited period so employees can receive treatment for their condition. How much time you can take off will depend on your employer’s policies and procedures, but in Queensland, it usually ranges from one week to several months. Your doctor can extend stress leave if they say you need more time to recover.

Do I Get Paid Stress Leave?

Stress leave may be paid or unpaid, depending on the employer’s policy. It is typically reserved for situations in which an employee is experiencing severe personal mental health issues and cannot perform their job duties. This leave aims to give employees time off to address these issues unhindered by work commitments.

Some people may feel uncomfortable asking for stress leave, but it’s important to remember that it’s an option for everyone — even if you don’t think your employer would approve. If your stress levels in your work environment are causing health concerns, taking time off might be beneficial to improve your overall well-being and avoid potential issues.

What Causes Stress?

Stress is a significant cause of illness and can harm your mental and physical wellness. Stress can lead to depression, anxiety, heart disease, and chronic pain. When stress becomes chronic or unmanageable, it can significantly damage your health.

Stress occurs when pressure builds up, causing us to feel overwhelmed. Work-related stress often comes from having too much work on your plate or feeling like you don’t have enough time to complete tasks at work. There are a few things that can cause stress at work, including:

  • Excessive workload
  • Working long hours
  • Lack of control over your workload
  • Lack of communication with management or colleagues
  • Unrealistic deadlines or targets
  • Bullying or harassment from colleagues or managers.
  • Uncertainty about the future of your job or company
  • Budget cuts or restructuring within their organisation
  • Inadequate safety measures or an unsafe working environment

What are the Symptoms of Stress?

Stress brings on many different symptoms, depending on the person experiencing it. Some common symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Feelings of helplessness and powerlessness
  • Depression
  • Insomnia (lack of sleep)
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep

If you are experiencing these signs of stress, you should seek medical treatment immediately. If your occupation is the cause of your anxiety or has increased its severity, you must speak with an experienced WorkCover lawyer to know your right to claim workers’ compensation.

Why Does Stress Leave Matter?

When not addressed, stress can have significant psychological and physiological effects. This is due to biological factors. The body produces hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline/epinephrine in response to stress. By reacting to perceived danger, they narrow blood vessels, speed up the heart rate, and spike blood sugar.

These hormones are harmless in low concentrations. Yet, prolonged exposure to these hormones was never intended, and research has linked chronic stress to a wide range of adverse health outcomes. Such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Poor concentration
  • Impaired memory
  • Depression
  • Weakened immune system
  • Heart problems
  • High blood pressure

Stress leave is vital because it allows people to recover from any mental health issues they’re experiencing at work. If you’re suffering from anxiety or depression and feel like you can’t go on anymore, taking some time off may be necessary for your health and well-being.

What is My QLD Employers’ Safety Obligation?

Under Queensland workplace health and safety laws, your employer has a duty of care for a safe and healthy workplace environment, including protecting your mental health. Furthermore, this obligation includes not only your relationship with your boss but also with your co-workers.

Legislation protects employees from any adverse actions employers take regarding mental illness, such as stress. This means your job security should not be threatened when you are already in a fragile mental state.

Can I Get Stress Leave from Work?

Fair Work Australia states, “An employee can access stress leave when they cannot work due to a personal sickness or injury.” Illnesses associated with pregnancy and stress are examples.

If you get sick from stress, you should be able to take time off work at full pay. While this may help in the short term, it won’t solve the problem of chronic stress that calls for therapy and even extended absences from work.

Your employment contract will specify the conditions under which you are eligible for stress leave. Your yearly sick leave allotment and any additional leave allowances your company gives will determine how long you may take off work for a stress-related illness.

Below you will find a step-by-step guide to how to have paid stress leave approved at your workplace.

Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Paid Sick Leave

1. View the company’s sick leave policy

There is no standardisation of leave policies across industries or employers. To find out what kind of time off is sanctioned by your organisation, it’s a good idea to look through your employer’s sick leave policies. If your boss does not recognise time off for stress, you can use annual leave, personal leave, or sick days.

Annual leave is the total number of absent days an employee is allowed annually. Illnesses warrant the use of sick days. Some employers may offer other types of leave.

2. Familiarise yourself with QLD employment legislation

Find out what labour laws are in effect in your local area by researching, which will aid in the discovery of potential prospects for stress leave. Usually, you can use legal grounds to request time off from work, even if your company’s leave regulations are unclear.

Many Queensland employees receive four weeks of paid sick leave each year. However, this varies depending on your workplace policies and whether you are a part-time or full-time employee.

Nevertheless, if you’re an employee or worker coping with a stress-related condition, you may be eligible for extensive paid time off without using your sick leave. You could also have various additional benefits to help you treat and recover from your condition. If your doctor determines that your job’s stress is causing your mental illness, you may be eligible for worker’s compensation.

The rules and standards for creating healthy and safe workplaces are outlined in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld). It lays out your responsibilities to ensure the safety and well-being of your employees and anybody else who may be present at your place of business.

3. Schedule an Appointment with Your Doctor

Understand that there is no such thing as a “stress leave.” Indeed, you’ll be filling out a leave of absence request from your employer due to a mental health issue. Typically, a doctor’s diagnosis is required when requesting time off, so you will need a medical certificate that your doctor will sign, and you will receive medical care from them while you are away.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, or any mental health condition, you must schedule an appointment with a healthcare professional such as a clinical psychologist, social worker, counsellor, psychiatrist, or primary care physician. Typically, they must diagnose, but you must explain your symptoms.

Generally, your healthcare practitioner will fill out and sign off on your leave request after you convince them you need time off. Directly ask them whether they approve of you taking time off from work. You can propose an initial leave duration period or ask them to recommend a certain period of absenteeism.

4. Let your Employer/HR Manager know

Your doctor should have given you a note approving your stress leave from work by now. Can you explain this to your boss?

Workers often avoid telling their bosses why they need time off because they fear repercussions. Recall that taking time off due to stress is a typical occurrence on the job. Your company has dealt with similar problems before, so don’t worry. Hence, it’s best to talk with your boss or HR department.

You can give reasons that:

  • There’s too much pressure on you right now, and it’s hindering your productivity.
  • The doctor suggests time off from work due to illness.
  • Major points regarding your health situation (you need not go into depth).

Have no qualms about sharing your innermost thoughts and feelings. Facing your manager in person can be manageable. Remember that your health and happiness should be a priority, so explain the problem.

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Can I Claim WorkCover or Workers’ Compensation for Stress?

You could make a stress claim when your job causes you severe mental harm. Queensland WorkCover and workers’ compensation benefits may be available to those who have suffered extreme stress and have a diagnosed mental health condition.

Claims for compensation due to mental health issues are rising, says Safe Work Australia. As of 2020–2021, workplace psychological injury claims accounted for 9% of all significant cases, up from 6% in 2014–2015.

In Queensland, if an employee suffers from stress or mental illness, they could have the legal right to seek work injury compensation for mental illness. Generally, time limits apply to stress claims, so you should seek legal help immediately.

Workers’ compensation stress claims often relate to common conditions like:

  1. PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)
  2. Anxiety
  3. Depression
  4. Adjustment Disorder

The above psychological conditions frequently arise from conditions such as:

  1. Workplace stress
  2. A single traumatising incident
  3. Harassment
  4. Bullying
  5. Overloaded work schedule
  6. Intimidation
  7. Accompanied by a physical injury

Workers’ compensation covers work-related accidents or illnesses only under certain circumstances. So, it is best to consult a legal help Splatt Lawyers, for more information on stress leave and how to file a successful claim.

A person suffering a stress related illness at work

How Can I Have a Successful Work Stress Claim?

For a successful workers’ compensation claim related to stress, your medical certificate must include a precise diagnosis of the mental illness from a recognised psychological category, like “adjustment disorder.” Merely stating “stress” in a certificate is insufficient evidence to obtain WorkCover benefits.

It is essential to prove that a series of events at work or a single incident triggered your diagnosed work-related psychological disorder or that it increased the severity of an existing illness.

Our skilled WorkCover lawyers provide expert and workers’ compensation legal advice. They will explain the stress leave laws and support you through the claim process.

Work related stress icon

How Long Can I Be on Work-Related Stress Leave?

Your sick leave entitlements for mental stress are the same as for any other medical illness. Consult your employer’s employment policy to understand your entitlements and the types of leave available when suffering from stress-related conditions that prevent you from working.

If you are off work for extended periods and have exhausted your sick days, annual or personal leave may be an alternative. Once your leave has ended and you cannot continue performing the required duties for the job, speaking with a workplace lawyer may be necessary if you wish to stay employed.

Tips For Returning to Work After Your Stress Leave

Sick time is different from vacation time. If you try to juggle too many personal duties while on vacation or during a busy work period, your stress level may rise instead of falling. Focus on your mental health while you’re off. You can improve your mental and physical health in many ways, including by adjusting your diet and sleeping habits, exploring other options like meditation, and enjoying social outings.

Here are some tips for returning to work after a stress-related illness:

  1. First, schedule a check-in with your manager before returning to work.
  2. Take it easy on yourself when you first come back.
  3. Ask about employee assistance programs and help from your manager, co-workers, or HR department if necessary.

Expert Workers’ Compensation Lawyers for Mental Health Issues

Splatt Lawyers guides you through your legal entitlements when your job is a significant contributing factor to a stress-related condition. You can claim financial assistance through workers’ compensation (WorkCover), including paid leave or weekly compensation payments to support your recovery. Additionally, you may be eligible for a lump sum compensation payment if you have experienced significant psychological trauma and ongoing effects.

It’s free to know your circumstances, and you pay nothing unless we win your case, so get started now – Call 1800 700 125.

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