Taking stress leave in Ontario (A brief guide)

In this guide, we will discuss the topics around taking stress leave in Ontario such as how to get stress leave, what does it mean, how long can you take stress leave for, what are your rights, signs of stress you can identify, types of stress leave and some additional considerations.

Taking stress leave in Ontario

An employee taking stress leave in Ontario means they can have up to three days off work but employees are encouraged to ask their employer for more time off if they really need to.

There used to be a “personal emergency leave” that allowed employees to take up to 10 days off work but it was removed back in 2019.

We all have felt stressed at some point and it is more common than you might think, so it is nothing to be ashamed of.

“According to the Globe and Mail, it is estimated that one in five people in the workforce experience mental health issues, including severe stress. It is also estimated that 500,000 Canadians call in sick due to mental health problems per week.”

The Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety defines workplace stress as:

“The harmful physical and emotional responses that can happen when there is a conflict between job demands on the employee and the amount of control an employee has over meeting these demands. In general, the combination of high demands in a job and a low amount of control over the situation can lead to stress.”

Severe stress can not only affect your mental health but also carry other medical conditions. When an employee takes stress leave it really means they go on “sick leave”.

This not only applies to someone having the flu or a medical condition but also stress could be considered under that category which entitles an employee to take sick leave.

How to get stress leave in Ontario?

As we have mentioned, you can take stress leave or “sick leave”, but how can you do that? well, it is simple.

Employees are required to see their doctor and get a doctor’s note stating they are too sick to go to work but it doesn’t necessarily need to say you are suffering from stress.

Moreover, “in Ontario, employers can lawfully ask for a sick note where it is reasonable to do so. Nevertheless, many employers have a policy in which they do not require a sick note, especially for short leaves of absence (duttonlar.ca).”

There used to be an emergency leave that allowed workers to have 10 days but it was eliminated in 2019.

However, with the new legislation employees are entitled to three days sick leave, two bereavement days, and three family leave days. 

What should I say to my doctor?

You don’t have to come up with something elaborated or a crazy story.

Your doctor will ask you some questions to understand your ailments, if these are the product of stress, and if a sick leave can help you recover.

According to sonialaw.ca, “you may not require a doctor’s note for stress leave if you are availing of your sick days.

In that case, even a brief consultation with a doctor should suffice.

Just explain your symptoms and how workplace stress is affecting your well-being.

If your symptoms are severe and you are seeking longer time off from work, a doctor will ask you to undergo tests before he or she will certify you as suffering from a stress disorder.”

Since your employer may ask you for a medical note if you are taking sick leave due to illness, injury, or a medical emergency, they can request to know the following:

  • the duration or expected duration of your absence
  • the date you were seen by your doctor or health professional
  • whether you were examined in person by the health care professional issuing the note

However, your employer can’t ask for information about your diagnosis or treatment.

Types of stress leave in Ontario

In Ontario there are two types of stress leave: 

  • Sick leave according to a contract.
  • Minimum employment standards sick leave

Stress leave according to contract

Some employees may have a contract that allows them to have a certain amount of days per year to take off for sick leave.

Your contract should state if they are paid or unpaid days.

Moreover, if you are an employee suffering from chronic stress, you are encouraged to check your contract for your sick leave entitlements.

For instance, your contract could state you are entitled to x amount of days paid or unpaid sick days per year.

Stress leave according to minimum employment standards

According to duttonlaw.ca, “To be clear, in Ontario, employers can lawfully ask for a sick note where it is reasonable to do so.

Nevertheless, many employers have a policy in which they do not require a sick note, especially for short leaves of absence.”

Moreover, “Sick leave is the only statutory leave that is provided for by the Employment Standards Act for stress. Thus, employees suffering from stress can only take ‘sick leave’”.

Sick leave is only allowed for a maximum of three days a year.

Meaning, employees that do not have a sick leave entitlement in their contracts can only take three days off for stress per year in Ontario.

However, some employers do allow the employee to take more days per year but these days may be unpaid.

Your rights during the sick leave

If you are on sick leave, you are entitled to the same rights as an employee who has taken a pregnancy or parental leave.

This means your employer can’t threaten, dismiss, or penalize you in any way when off sick.

Also, just as you have rights there are also requirements before you go on leave.

For instance, you must inform your employer before starting your leave.

However, if you need to start your sick leave before informing your employer, make sure you notify them as soon as possible after it has started.

There is no need to give written notice, oral notice will be enough.

Signs of stress at work

If you experience any of the following signs over a prolonged period of time, it is important to act and identify the root causes to minimize the impact:

  • Impaired concentration
  • Drop in productivity
  • Fatigue
  • Reluctant to participate in social events and activities
  • Depression, anxiety and irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Headaches
  • Heart palpitations
  • Digestive issues
  • Over eating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Drinking or smoking more than usual

“The Ontario law protects you from dismissal, suspension, discipline, or lay off if your physical or mental condition requires that you take a stress-related sick leave from work (diamondlaw.ca).”

Common causes of workplace stress

According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, some common causes of workplace stress are:

  • Overwork
  • Uncertain job expectations
  • Career development
  • Threatened or actual harassment or discrimination
  • Exposure to hazards

What are WSIB benefits?

The Ontario Government understand how detrimental can stress be in the lives of the employees, this is why the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board provides benefits to employees that are diagnosed with chronic stress related to their job.

A medical professional will determine the eligibility for WISB benefits, which depends on the disorder being diagnosed.

The stress must predominantly be related to factors or conditions you were exposed to in your workplace.

Examples include sexual harassment, bullying, or threatening behaviors by co-workers or your boss.

Some of the benefits for work-related chronic stress include:

  • Psychological evaluation and treatment.
  • Prescribed medications.
  • Income replacement for the time lost from work due to the condition.

Why is this blog about taking stress leave in Ontario important?

Taking stress leave in Ontario without knowing how to do it can make many employees worry.

However, we talked about how the legislation allows three days for sick leave and how you could go about asking your doctor to give you a sick note if you feel stress is overwhelming and it is not only affecting your work but also your personal life.

Be aware of the symptoms and the possible triggers so your doctor can advise you on how you could go about dealing with stress.

Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about taking stress leave in Ontario

Can you take stress leave from work?

If you are an employee suffering from stress, you can only take sick leave for up to a maximum of three days per year.

There used to be a “personal emergency leave” that entitled employees in Ontario to take 10 days but it was eliminated in 2019.

What do I tell my doctor to get stress leave?

Here is what you could tell your doctor to get stress leave:

Be honest and open about your symptoms.
Tell your doctor how you feel and don’t leave out any details.
Follow your doctor’s advice.
Book any follow-up appointment (if needed).
Be clear about the situation and what you feel may be the triggers.

How long can you be on stress leave?

If you are an employee without sick leave entitlement in your contract, you can only take three days for stress leave per year.

However, your employer may be flexible and permit more than three days of stress leave per year.

Can an employer deny stress leave?

If you are a disabled employee, under the human rights code an employer must accommodate disabled employees up to the point of undue hardship.

However, you may seek legal advice from a lawyer for specific circumstances. 

How much does stress leave pay in Ontario?

The basic rate used to calculate sickness benefits is 55% of average insurable weekly earnings, up to a maximum amount. In 2020, the maximum amount is $573 a week.


Duttonlaw.ca: “Stress Leave Ontario”

Diamondlaw.ca: “Stress Leave Under New Ontario Sick Leave Rules”

Sonialaw.ca: “How to ask for stress leave from your doctor? A break may be better than burnout”

Ontario.ca: “Sick leave”