Can I take leave if I feel stressed? - Paul Doran Law

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Can I take leave if I feel stressed?

Can I take leave if I feel stressed“Can I take leave if I feel stressed?”

Good question.

The short answer is: “Yes, of course you can”.

Here’s the long answer…

Stress at work seems to be on the rise. The Global Burnout Study from 2022 has found that employee burnout increased by over 5% in the previous 12 months. They also found:

These are the main reasons for workplace stress, according to CIPD data from 2021:

Meanwhile, common non-work reasons for stress include family and relationship issues, and personal illness or health.

Are you stressed?

You might be interested to search the internet for the ‘Holmes and Rahe stress scale’. It awards points for certain events in the past 12 months, ranging from death of spouse (100 points) to minor violations of the law such as a speeding ticket (11 points). Calculate your own score to see your risk of becoming ill in the near future:

No one scores zero. For example, we all get Christmas once a year, which by itself is 12 points!

Signs of stress

Not all stress is bad. Good stress is called eustress. It’s the type you feel when you’re excited. There is no threat or fear, but your hormones surge (including adrenaline and cortisol). With this, you might get butterflies in your stomach, a racing heart and sweaty palms. It’s short-term, and it focuses your energy, inspires and motivates you, and enhances performance.

On the other hand, bad stress, or distress, can lead to anxiety, confusion, poor concentration and decreased performance. It can be long- or short-term. You may need to take up relaxation strategies to help reduce the bad stress in your life.

Some stress is short-term, for example, if it’s caused by bereavement or a relationship break-up or a one-off deadline at work, and will eventually reduce and vanish.

Here are some of the symptoms you might experience if you’re stressed (the bad kind):

Some of these conditions might be serious enough for you to need time off work.

Work-related stress

Some stress can be caused by things that happen in the workplace. The HSE defines work-related stress as:

“The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other demands placed on them.”

In law, your employer has a responsibility to protect you and other staff, by:

It’s a fine line, because a certain amount of pressure can be normal in the workplace.

Your employer should consider:

Is stress a disability?

Definition of disability (in law):

“A physical or mental impairment with substantial long-term effects that adversely affect your ability to carry out day-to-day activities.”

Long-term would be 12 months or more.

In the UK, suffering with stress doesn’t count as a disability, but it can trigger conditions that do. If that happens to you, you are protected against being discriminated against at work due to your disability.

That means it would be unlawful for you to suffer direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation at work. Also, your employer should make reasonable adjustments in relation to your disability.

What can you do about it?

Are you experiencing stress or anxiety?

Don’t be afraid to approach your line manager or HR department to discuss it informally. If your stress has arisen due to a personal reason, ask them to keep your conversation confidential.

Your employer might have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) or other employee wellbeing arrangements in place, which will give you support. They might also provide you with training, arrange to share your workload with a colleague, offer you flexible working hours, or send you home.

Whatever happens, it’s a good idea to keep a written record of your discussion, as you might need it later.

You could also talk to your GP or occupational heath practitioner for advice.

If things don’t improve, you would then escalate it to a formal grievance – check your staff handbook which will explain how to do this.

If your stress is due to the work environment, such as bullying, harassment or discrimination, you’ll need a diagnosis from a medical professional, and might be able to make a claim against your employer.

We’re expert employment lawyers who only ever act for employees, not employers. Give us a call so we can give you the best advice.

Have you been signed off work with stress or anxiety?

Mental health should be treated the same way as physical health. You have the right to take sick leave (with a doctor’s note as usual if you’re off for a while), and receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for up to 28 weeks while you are too ill to go to work. Your employer might pay more than the statutory minimum.

You might talk to a counsellor to help ascertain whether your employer can contact you while you’re off with stress. You might like to be kept informed so you don’t feel forgotten and isolated, but they can’t contact you unless it’s serious or urgent.

Your employer might want to keep you updated about changes in the organisation, for example, but not if contacting you will make you more unwell.

It may be appropriate for them to contact you about performance issues, disciplinary issues or redundancy.

You can also expect them to contact you about your return to work, and they might invite you to a formal ‘return to work’ meeting before you go back. At this meeting, you can ask them to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to aid your return.

Have you been off sick with stress for a long time?

Your employer is not obliged to keep your job open for you indefinitely. They have the right to dismiss you for misconduct, if you can no longer carry out your role, or for long-term sickness absence.

If that happens, they have to follow a fair process, and, if they fail to do so, you have the right to make a claim against them. As employment lawyers, that’s where we come in.

Are you so stressed at work that you feel forced to resign?

Your employer should take your grievance seriously. If they don’t, and you feel you’re unable to continue working there, you might have a case for constructive dismissal or disability discrimination.

These cases are not easy to win, so please don’t resign until you’ve spoken to us. If you’ve already resigned, talk to us within three months of leaving and we’ll let you know your chances of winning.

Have you reached agreement with your employer that it’s best for you to leave?

If yes, this would be called a ‘negotiated exit’. You would usually receive a lump sum financial payment and a job reference in return for agreeing not to make any future tribunal claim against your employer.

It’s best to take legal advice before you agree to your employer’s offer, especially if your stress is work-related.

When you reach agreement about the package they’re offering, you’ll be asked to sign a settlement agreement (known as a compromise agreement in Northern Ireland). This is a legally binding document, so you’ll need to take independent legal advice before you sign it – we can also help with that.

Related reading

If you found this information useful, you might also like to read our other articles on similar subjects:

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