Most workers in Ontario are aware that if they wake up feeling unwell, they can call their employer, use one of their sick days, and take the day off to get better. However, what they may not know is that they can do the same if they feel stressed out.
Technically, stress leave counts as sick leave, so if you need to take a stress leave from work, you are legally entitled to do so. Keep reading to learn about your sick/stress leave rights in Ontario, including the number of legally entitled sick days, what your employer can ask about your illness and whether a doctor’s note is necessary.
What are the Laws Regarding Stress & Sick Leave From Work?
Sick or stress leave refers to the time you can take off from work when you are sick or injured, and your job is legally safeguarded during your absence. Depending on your employment contract, you may be entitled to paid or unpaid sick days every calendar year. Sick leave can be taken for illnesses or injuries unrelated to work, and you are entitled to it, even if you caused your sickness or injuries.
Each province establishes the minimum rules for sick leave, and employers can choose to add to these provincial minimums. Federal employees’ rights, on the other hand, come from the Canadian Labour Code. Federal employees are entitled to five days of sick leave or stress leave, including three paid days after three months of continuous employment.
You can find out about employment laws in other provinces by visiting this Canadian Labour Congress page, which summarizes current sick leave requirements for each province and links to each one’s employment legislation for reference.
Ontarians are allowed only three days of unpaid sick days per year unless their employment contract provides a longer leave. If it does, their employer cannot shorten their entitlement.
Stress Leave and Your Workplace Rights
Sick leave is protected by employment laws, meaning that employees cannot lose their job or be threatened or penalized for taking sick leave or asking about their sick or stress leave rights. If an employer cuts your hours or changes your role or duties at work for taking a stress leave, seek advice from an employment lawyer immediately.
An Employee’s Duties When Taking Stress Leave
Employees have a responsibility to notify their employer if they need to use sick days. Giving notice before taking sick leave is preferable, but it is acceptable to notify the employer as soon as possible after starting sick leave. Written notice is not required, as notice can be given verbally.
Providing a Doctor’s Note for Sick or Stress Leave
An employer can request proof that the sick leave is legitimate as long as it is “reasonable in the circumstances.” Reasonableness depends on the employee’s absence frequency or how much time the employee has already taken off, among other factors.
That proof is often in the form of a medical note from a healthcare practitioner, such as a doctor, nurse practitioner, or psychologist. However, employers are only entitled to know the date of the healthcare practitioner’s consultation, whether it was in person, and how long the employee is expected to be on leave.