stress leave ontario and mental health

Stress Leave and Mental Health in Ontario: Your Rights

Mental health is not always a visible problem in the modern workforce.  Many employees suffer stress, anxiety, and burnout without taking any time off from work to recover. 

If this describes your situation, you may be wondering what your rights are. Are you entitled to mental health and stress leaves in Ontario? What are your specific rights? What if your employer does not respect your rights? 

This article will answer the questions outlined above by explaining workplace rights respecting mental health and stress leave. You will also learn how an employment and mental health lawyer can help with your situation.

Are Ontario Employees entitled to Stress Leave and Mental Health?

Under the Ontario Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“ESA”), employees are entitled to take a variety of unpaid leaves of absence, which can be used when needed to address an employee’s workplace mental health concerns. Primarily, employees in Ontario are entitled at least up to 3 unpaid sick days from their employer which can be used to address mental health and stress-related struggles. 

Need Guidance on Mental Health or Stress Leave?

Mental health is crucial to your well-being and performance at work. If you’re considering mental health or stress leave, it’s important to understand your rights and the procedures to follow. Achkar Law can help you navigate the complexities of taking leave for mental health reasons, ensuring you’re supported every step of the way. Contact us for a consultation to discuss how we can assist you in this sensitive time.

Beyond that, the Ontario Human Rights Code (“Code”) requires employers to accommodate an employee’s disabilities in the workplace to the point of undue hardship. Mental health and stress concerns are considered a form of disability under the Code. 

It could be considered a reasonable accommodation for an employer to allow an employee to remain on unpaid medical leave to help them recover from their mental health and stress-related struggles. The requirement to accommodate the employee under the Code may warrant granting unpaid leave beyond the minimums allowed for under the ESA or the employee’s contract. 

Some employers offer employees paid sick days and disability benefits through an insurer that allows an employee to go on an extended mental health and stress-related leave with pay. This will depend on the unique relationship and agreements between the employer, employee, and any third-party insurer. 

To summarize, an employee may be entitled to mental health and stress leave in Ontario under the ESA and the Code. However, the length of such leave and whether such leave would be paid for will depend on an employee’s unique circumstances. 

What If An Employer Does Not Provide and Stress Leave or Mental Health Leave?

Employers are allowed to ask their employees for simple medical documentation to demonstrate their need for mental health and stress leave. However, this documentation does not need to be extensively detailed or provide information about an employee’s specific diagnosis. The employer is only entitled to disclosure of medical information reasonably necessary to accommodate an employee’s disability in the workplace. 

If an employer unreasonably refuses to grant an employee medical leave or stress leave, and/or takes action to retaliate against them for requesting it, that can result in legal liability for: 

This can result in an employer having to pay an employee’s severance entitlements, damages, and potentially the employee’s legal fees. How an employee can address a workplace dispute with their employer regarding mental health and stress leave will depend on the unique circumstances of their case. 

How Can An Employment and Human Rights Lawyer Help?

Whether you are an employer or an employee, you may need tailored legal advice to resolve a workplace dispute relating to mental health and stress leave. It is always best practice to gather relevant documents and seek a consultation with an employment and Human Rights lawyer promptly for guidance regarding the next steps. 

When dealing with mental health and stress leave issues in the workplace, a lawyer can help both employers and employees with:

  • Providing legal advice;  
  • Negotiating a resolution; 
  • Drafting policies, letters, and other legal documents; 
  • Navigating complex and technical legal proceedings; and
  • Minimizing legal risks while maximizing the chances of achieving a desired legal outcome. 

Conclusion

Workplace mental health and stress-related issues have become increasingly important to manage during the pandemic. It is critical to understand how to take and address stress or mental health leaves in today’s working environment. 

Ontario employees are entitled to at least unpaid mental health and stress leave under the ESA and the Code. Employers can also provide their employees paid sick days and insurance benefit coverage for employee mental health and stress leaves. 

If an employer does not allow an employee to go on a documented mental health and stress leave or otherwise mistreats an employee for requesting such leave, they could be liable for a variety of damages. Navigating such circumstances can be complex and stressful, so it is always best to consult with an employment and Human Rights lawyer for advice about the next steps.  

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