Your Guide to Stress Leave in Ontario

by | Nov 24, 2022 | Employment Law


What is Stress Leave?

Stress leave is a form of leave available to employees in Ontario who are experiencing excessive stress, anxiety, or other mental health issues that impede their ability to effectively fulfill their job responsibilities.

“Stress leave” is considered a type of “sick leave” as per Ontario’s Employment Standards Act (“ESA”).

Who Is Entitled To Stress Leave In Ontario?

In Ontario, most provincially regulated employees can take stress leave after working with their employer for at least two consecutive weeks.

Certain professionals, such as healthcare practitioners, may be prohibited from taking sick leave if it would constitute professional misconduct or a dereliction of professional duty.

Employees are entitled to stress leave even if the stress or illness isn’t work-related.

Federal employees and Ontario workers in federally-regulated industries also have a right to take stress/sick leave, as found in the Canada Labour Code.

How Much Stress Leave Am I Entitled To?

In Ontario, employees get up to three unpaid days of stress leave each year under the ESA, regardless of their start date.

Key Rules:

  • Employees cannot carry forward their unused sick leave days to the following year.
  • They can take the three days of leave in part days, full days, or in periods of more than a day and need not be taken consecutively.
  • If an employee takes only a part of a day as sick leave, the employer has the authority to count it as a full day of leave.

If an employment contract or collective agreement provides more sick leave than the ESA, that agreement applies.

If there is no provision for a greater right or benefit in the contract, then the sick leave standard outlined in the ESA applies to the employee. However, if the employment contract has a provision similar to sick leave, such as paid “sick days,” and the employee avails of such leave under the employment contract, it will be considered sick leave taken under the ESA.

Federal employees and Ontario workers in federally-regulated industries have a right to a minimum of five days off annually for stress/sick leave per the Canada Labour Code. If the employee has completed three consecutive months of continuous employment with their employer, they are entitled to pay for the first three days of the leave at their regular pay rate.

A woman at her desk holding her head in her hands is seen from above

What Are My Legal Rights Regarding Stress/Sick Leave?

If you need to take a stress leave, your job is protected, and you are afforded the following rights.

1. Right to Reinstatement

When you return from leave, you are entitled to the same job or a comparable one if your old job no longer exists.

You must be paid at least as much as you were earning before taking stress leave. If your job’s wages increased while you were on leave, or would have gone up if you hadn’t been on leave, your employer must pay you a higher wage when you return to work.

If your employer terminates you for reasons unrelated to taking stress leave (e.g., your position has been eliminated), they do not have to reinstate you.

2. Right To Be Free From Penalty

Your employer cannot penalize you in any way if you:

  • Took sick or stress leave
  • Plan to take sick leave for stress
  • Ask about your rights regarding stress leave/sick leave

3. Right To Continue To Participate In Benefit Plans

If you take stress leave, you have the right to continue taking part in specific benefit plans that your employer may offer, such as:

  • Pension plans
  • Life insurance plans
  • Accidental death plans
  • Extended health plans
  • Dental plans

Your employer must continue to pay their share of the premiums for any of these plans offered to you before your leave unless you tell your employer in writing that you will not continue to pay your share of the premiums while you are on leave.

4. Right To Combine Sick/Stress Leave With Other Leaves

If you are sick or stressed due to a situation covered by the ESA, you can combine multiple types of leave if you need more time off. Examples of other leaves workers are legally allowed in Ontario include:

  • Bereavement Leave
  • Child Death Leave
  • Crime-Related Child Disappearance Leave
  • Critical Illness Leave
  • Domestic or Sexual Violence Leave
  • Family Caregiver Leave
  • Family Medical Leave
  • Family Responsibility Leave

For more information on leaves, visit this government website.

5. Right To Earn Credit Towards Length of Employment

You continue to earn credit towards the length of your employment, the length of your service, and seniority while you are on stress leave. This impacts your entitlements regarding severance pay, vacation pay, vacation time off, and other benefits.

However, if you take stress leave while on probation, that time off does not count towards completing your probationary period.

Employee Obligations Regarding Stress Leave & Sick Leave

You also have legal obligations if you need to take stress/sick leave.

1. Obligation to Provide Notice To Employer

It’s best to inform your employer before taking leave. If you have to start your leave before notifying your employer, you must inform them immediately after starting it. Verbal notice is sufficient; you don’t need to provide written notice.

Even if you cannot notify your employer that you need time off for sick/stress leave, you do not lose the right to take the leave.

Therapist and patient discuss stress leave

2. Obligation To Provide Evidence

You may be required to provide evidence to support your entitlement to take sick leave if it is deemed reasonable. The reasonableness of the circumstances depends on factors such as the length of the leave, your past absences, the availability of evidence, and the cost of obtaining that evidence.

3. Obligation to Provide Medical Note

If reasonable circumstances do exist, and your employer asks for a medical note, it only has to include the following information:

  • The date your healthcare provider saw you.
  • If you were seen by the healthcare professional who signed the note in person.
  • The expected length of your sick/stress leave.
  • Information that will help them provide you with workplace accommodations.

The note must be from a recognized healthcare provider like a doctor, nurse practitioner, or psychologist.

Your employer is not entitled to know the diagnosis (i.e., your medical condition) or what kind of treatment you are receiving.

Financial Support During Stress or Sick Leave

Suppose the stress you experience triggers a medical condition such as PTSD, anxiety, depression, or gastric ulcers, and that condition is severe enough that it disables you from being able to complete the primary duties of your work (known as being “totally disabled”).

In that case, while you are off work, you may be entitled to financial support through an insurance plan or government-funded resources.

Remember, the stress does not have to be work-related for you to be eligible for the following supports.

1. Short-Term and Long-Term Disability Benefit Plan

If your employment includes insurance coverage for short-term and long-term disabilities, you may be entitled to benefits designed to replace a portion of your wages while on leave. Rules regarding your short-term vs long-term disability coverage and other guidelines will be stated in the insurance policy, such as:

  • Eligible conditions.
  • Length of coverage.
  • Application requirements.
  • Amount of the benefits.

Unfortunately, insurance companies routinely deny legitimate claims for benefits, especially when it comes to mental illness disability claims. If your claim is denied, speak to us right away.

2. Federal and Provincial Support for Long-Term Sick & Stress Leave

If your workplace does not offer LTD insurance coverage, and your stress leads to a disability that leaves you “totally disabled,” and you need financial support, you may be eligible for the following government programs:


Now you should have a good idea of what stress leave is when you can take it, and some key rights and obligations that come with it.

However, if you need more information or clarification, or you find that your employer is treating you unfairly with respect to your stress leave, you should consult an experienced employment and disability lawyer.

David Ertl Lawyer
About David Ertl
David Ertl, LL.B, has practiced employment and disability law for over 20 years. He is also a certified workplace investigator, former adjunct professor, and has written extensively in the areas of employment law, disability insurance, and tribunal practice and procedure.


Contact Us Today For a Free Consultation

Service across Ontario and Nova Scotia

Call us toll free at 888-222-6184

Call us toll free at


or Fill out the form below

Note: Contacting Ertl Lawyers or any individual at Ertl Lawyers through this form does not create a lawyer-client relationship. Please do not use this form to send any confidential or time sensitive information.

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap