Stress Leave in Ontario During COVID-19: What You Should Know

Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there have been several changes made to the Employment Standards Act, 2000, in an attempt to remain relevant considering the current environment. Employees should be aware that there may have been changes as to the manner by which to take leave from employment at their workplace. This article in particular, we will be discussing COVID-19’s impact on taking stress leave in Ontario.

What is Stress Leave in Ontario?

Under Ontario’s Employment Standards Act, 2000, employees who have been employed for two consecutive weeks may take up to three unpaid days off work per year for an illness, injury, or medical emergency. This is known as “sick leave” of which workplace stress falls under. If an employee is suffering from stress, the type of legal leave to use would be sick leave.

While the Employment Standards Act’s mandatory minimums for sick leave are clear, greater entitlements may be provided in the employment agreement. Additionally, if an employee is suffering from stress and has already used the three unpaid days off for sick leave, they could ask their employer for additional days off at the employer’s discretion. 

When Am I Able to Take Stress Leave?

Stress leave can be taken at any time as long as the employer is notified before the leave begins, with this notice preferably given as soon as possible. This notice can be given verbally, as there is no requirement for written notice. While employers would normally retain the ability to reasonably request a medical note from an employee seeking stress leave, this ability has been suspended due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

An employer may also have specific employment policies related to giving notice to the employer ahead of a sick leave. However, an employee does not lose the right to take the three unpaid days off for sick leave, even if they can’t comply with the employer’s specific sick leave notice policies. 

What Are the Different Types of Stress Leave?

The main two types of stress leave that exist in Ontario are those found in the:

  1. Stress leave under the Employment Standards Act, as described above, and 
  2. Stress leave as per the employment agreement

An employment agreement may provide an employee with a greater number of unpaid or even paid sick days for which could be used for stress, in addition to Ontario’s mandatory minimums. It is always worth reviewing an employment agreement to see what stress leave entitlements are provided.

Stress Leave in Ontario and COVID-19

Stress leave does not fall under Ontario’s Infectious Disease Emergency leave. Infectious Disease Emergency Leave is intended to address the COVID-19 pandemic and employment needs surrounding said pandemic and its effects. 

Even with the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, an employee will need to rely on sick leave for any time off required for stress, even stress related to the pandemic. If an employee uses up all three unpaid days off they are entitled to, they will still have to get additional time off approved by the employer.

Contact Us

If you are an employer facing a wrongful dismissal claim against you, or an employee who believes you have been wrongfully dismissed in Ontario, our team of experienced workplace lawyers at Achkar Law can help. Contact us by phone toll-free at +1 (800) 771-7882 or email us at [email protected] and we would be happy to assist.

If you are a small or medium-sized company looking for full-service support with same day response, visit our CLO Program page for our strategic solutions.