Understanding Stress Leave: Common Questions Answered

Stressed business woman working in her office

Mental health has become an increasingly important issue in the workplace over recent years. While physical wellness is paramount to the workforce, mental well-being is a battle most of us wage daily. Fortunately, modern policies are evolving to accommodate mental well-being, and one of the ways this is achieved is through stress leave. In this blog post, we will be answering common questions about stress leave and understanding what it is, how it differs from traditional sick leave, how one can take it, and if it’s an entitlement for Australian workers.

What is Stress Leave?

Stress leave refers to the time off granted to employees who cannot work due to stress. This stress could stem from various sources, including workplace conflicts, personal issues, or overwhelming job demands. It is a specific kind of leave that focuses on mental health, allowing employees time to recover without the pressure of work commitments.

How Stress Leave Differs from Traditional Sick Leave

While traditional sick leave is generally utilised for physical illnesses or injuries, stress leave specifically addresses mental health concerns. The key difference lies in the health issue addressed. Traditional sick leave covers conditions that are typically short-term and immediately visible, such as a cold or flu. On the other hand, stress leave caters to mental health issues that might be ongoing and less apparent to others but equally debilitating.

Is Stress Leave the Same as Sick Leave?

In distinguishing between physical and mental health, it’s important to note that while they may manifest differently, both are crucial to our overall well-being. Stress and sick leave address these two aspects of health, respectively. However, they are not the same. Traditional sick leave attends to physical health, covering acute and visually discernible conditions. Stress leave, conversely, is designed to help employees manage mental health issues, which may be chronic and less visible but are just as, if not more, debilitating.

In Australia, stress leave is not specifically recognised as a separate annual or sick leave. However, full-time employees are entitled to take personal leave, which can be utilised for recuperation from physical or mental health conditions, including stress. It is important to note that policies regarding these leaves may vary across different companies, with some companies strictly differentiating between sick leave for physical illness and personal leave for mental health. Nevertheless, progressive companies in Australia understand the significance of mental health and align their policies to ensure optimal employee performance through physical and mental well-being following Australian law.

The importance of treating mental health with the same urgency as physical health cannot be overstated. With rising awareness about mental health, workplaces must adapt and provide support through stress leave. This helps employees recover and manage their mental well-being and contributes to a healthier, more productive, and more supportive work environment.

How to Take Stress Leave

Business woman on the phone looking stressed and about to leave

Recognising the signs: When might it be necessary?

Leave becomes necessary when persistent stressors in the workplace start impacting your mental and emotional well-being. You might struggle to concentrate, experience mood swings, feel constant fatigue, or struggle with anxiety or depression. Listening to these signs is crucial, as ignoring them could lead to more severe health issues.

Conversations with HR or management: Best practices for broaching the subject.

Honesty and transparency are key when discussing leave with your HR or management. Explain your situation without going into excessive personal detail and describe how this is impacting your ability to perform at work. Let them know you believe a period of stress leave will help you recover and return as a more productive team member.

Documentation: Understanding the potential need for absence from work certificates

Under Australian law, employers can require a medical certificate for stress leave. This document is issued by a medical practitioner stating that you are unfit for work due to stress or related mental health issues. It doesn’t disclose specific details about your condition, protecting your privacy. Obtaining this certificate is essential in legitimising your need for leave. Remember, prioritising self-care isn’t just good for you – it benefits your employer by ensuring you can perform at your best when you return to work.

Am I Entitled to Leave? Understanding entitlement rights under policies

Under Australian law, employees are entitled to ‘personal / carer’s leave’, which encompasses sick leave due to stress or mental health issues. According to the National Employment Standards (NES), full-time employees are entitled to 10 days of paid personal/carer’s leave each year.

How long can one take stress leave?

The duration of leave is dependent on various factors, such as the severity of your condition and the advice of your healthcare provider. This leave continues to accumulate if it isn’t used so that it could cover a longer period of absence. However, it’s important to note that after using all your paid personal/carer’s leave, you may have to take unpaid leave if you need more time off for health reasons.

Conditions or prerequisites that might apply.

Legal protections are in place to prevent discrimination against employees taking leave. However, your employer may require you to provide evidence that you are unfit for work, which usually takes the form of a medical certificate. For longer absences, they may require additional documentation or evidence. Remember, keeping communication with your employer open and honest throughout this process is vital.


In conclusion, stress leave is essential to managing your mental health and preventing burnout in the workplace. It’s important to recognise the signs early, approach your employer or HR department honestly and document everything appropriately. If you are unsure how to approach stress leave, consult your physician or policy guidelines for clarity. It’s also essential to be familiar with your workplace’s policies so that you can access the entitlements and benefits available to you. Encourage open communication between employees and employers on mental health concerns, and always remember that your mental health is a priority. OnCare Health can also help with stress absence from work certificates.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you get full pay for stress leave? 

Yes, you are entitled to paid stress leave in Australia. As per Fair Work Australia, “An employee can take paid sick leave when they can’t work because of a personal illness or injury. This can include stress and pregnancy-related illnesses.” This statement clarifies that your employer must allow you to take paid sick leave if you suffer from a stress-related illness. Therefore, you should not have to worry about losing your pay while taking time off work for stress.

Is there mental health leave in Australia? 

Yes, mental health leave is recognised in Australia. Under the National Employment Standards managed by the Fair Work Ombudsman, full-time employees are entitled to take up to 10 sick days each year, which includes personal/carer’s leave. Fair Work explicitly states that this entitlement includes leave for mental health conditions such as stress. This provision ensures that employees don’t have to risk their mental well-being in the workplace and can take the time they need to recuperate.

If you’re unable to work due to stress-related minor ailments, , OnCare Health can assist you in obtaining a sick leave certificate. Simply visit our website to conveniently request one from home. During the process, you’ll complete a health questionnaire. Please answer honestly to ensure accuracy.

Is it okay to take stress leave? 

It’s perfectly acceptable to take stress leave. If work-related stress impacts your health and well-being, you must take the necessary time to focus on recovery. As stated earlier, while stress leave is not a formal leave category, employees can utilise it for this purpose. Employers are increasingly recognising the importance of mental health in the workplace and understand that managing stress effectively is essential for maintaining productivity and ensuring a positive work environment.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed and in need of a stress leave, look no further than Oncare Health. Our dedicated team is here to assist you in obtaining your certificate for stress leave hassle-free. Simply fill out a comprehensive questionnaire, and let us take care of the rest.

How long can I take off work for stress? 

The duration of stress leave can significantly vary depending on the individual’s mental health state and the severity of their stress. In certain instances, an employee may need to be away from Work for a short period, perhaps a few days, to recharge and alleviate their stress levels. However, more severe mental health conditions may necessitate longer recovery periods.

What are the reasons for personal leave in Australia? 

In Australia, several valid reasons qualify for personal leave, which is also commonly referred to as sick leave. Primarily, if an employee is unfit for Work due to illness or injury, they are entitled to take personal leave. This includes both physical ailments and mental health conditions. Additionally, personal leave can be taken for reasons such as caring for an immediate family member who is ill or injured, attending medical appointments, and dealing with unexpected emergencies. As mentioned above employees may also use their leave to manage stress-related illnesses and mental health conditions.

How do I ask my General Practitioner (GP) for stress leave?

To effectively ask your GP for stress leave, being open and honest about your symptoms is important. Don’t be afraid to express your feelings candidly; be specific about what you’re experiencing. Whether it’s anxiety, depression, or uncontrollable stress, your GP needs all the details to provide the best possible advice and treatment plan. Always listen to your doctor’s advice and ask questions if anything is unclear. If necessary, arrange follow-up appointments to monitor your progress and adjust your plan. When explaining your situation, be clear about your work environment or other factors you feel are triggering your stress. The more information your GP has, the better they can assist you.This will allow your General Practitioner to provide appropriate recommendations for managing your stress and determining if you need to take time off work. Remember that it’s essential to prioritise your mental health, and taking stress leave is a valid option when necessary.

How do I apply for stress leave?

If your symptoms are mild and you only need to take a day off, OnCare Health can assist you. Simply request a sick leave certificate through our website and answer the questionnaire honestly. However, if you require more than one day off, it is advisable to visit your General Practitioner (GP). When discussing stress leave with your GP, don’t hesitate to express your feelings openly and provide specific details about your experiences. Whether it’s anxiety, depression, or overwhelming stress, your GP needs all the information to offer the best advice and treatment plan. Always follow your doctor’s advice and don’t hesitate to ask questions if anything is unclear.

Does stress leave affect future employment?

Taking stress leave does not have any negative impact on future employment. According to Australian Law, employees are entitled to ‘personal / carer’s leave’, which includes sick leave for stress or mental health concerns. Additionally, the evidence required to establish your unfitness for work does not necessitate divulging specific details about your condition, safeguarding your privacy.

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