Workplace Stress: Your Rights & How To Manage It

by Chantel Goldsmith

Monday, August 28th, 2017 at 3:32 pm

How To Manage Workplace Stress

Workplace stress is on the rise. A recent Monster Canada survey has revealed that 1 in 4 working Canadians has left a job due to stress, while 17% have considered it.

The leading reasons for workplace stress as indicated by the survey include increased workload and office politics. While 61% of Ontarian employees claimed they’re overworked, British Columbians feel that they are the least overworked, but are more likely than the average Canadian to quit their job over workplace stress.

Managing workplace stress should be a collaborative effort between the employer and the employee, in order to maintain employee health, productivity, and efficiency. Stress can cause employees both mental and physical impairments, which may lead to the employee requiring time away from the workplace.

Qualifying for Stress Leave

Most employers have a sick leave policy and/or a short term disability policy, that employees can access due to stress. The policy should dictate:

  • When and how an employee qualifies
  • The number of days an employee can take
  • Whether a doctor’s note is required

When an employer does not have a sickness and/or short term disability policy, or when an employee has exhausted their entitlements under the policy, an employee may be entitled to a statutory leave of absence.

workplace stress

Personal Emergency Leave

In Ontario, most employees are entitled to personal emergency leave as soon as they start working for an employer. However, in order to be entitled to paid leave they must be employed for a minimum of one week.

Eligible employees have the right to take up to 10 days of job-protected Personal Emergency Leave each calendar year. The first two days of the Leave in each calendar year are paid, if the employee has been employed for one week or longer, and the rest is unpaid Leave.

This Leave may be taken by the employee due to workplace stress, and the employer cannot require that the employee provide a note from a “qualified health practitioner”. The employee should tell the employer that they will be taking Personal Emergency Leave before it begins.

Approving Stress Leaves

Most employer sick leave and/or short term disability policies require a doctor’s note in order to legitimize the employer’s time away from work. The doctor’s note typically does not have to provide the nature of the employee’s illness or ailment, but should confirm the employee is off with a medical issue. It should also indicate when the employee’s anticipated return to work date will be.

Employers are subject to the terms and conditions of their sick leave policy and short term disability policy, with respect to approving stress leaves for suffering employees. Additionally, where applicable, employers may be subject to approving the leave in accordance with the employment standards legislation and human rights legislation.

Termination While on Stress Leave

Terminating an employee while on stress leave is risky for an employer, as it could trigger a Wrongful Dismissal or human rights discrimination claim by the employee. Employers should obtain legal advice prior to terminating an employee on stress leave.

Accommodation Due to Stress in the Workplace

Stress by itself is not a prohibited ground found in the human rights legislation, although it may arise from or be connected to, a prohibited ground, such as: disability or a perceived disability; sex; or family status. Stress can both cause or be a symptom of mental and physical impairments, conditions which may or may not require accommodation.

If an employee requests accommodation due to workplace stress, an employer should consider the following:

  • Is there a disability-related need for accommodation?
  • Is there another situation requiring accommdation?
  • Is further action needed due to another workplace cause of the stress?

A prudent employer should obtain legal advice prior to choosing whether or not to accommodate an employee’s request for accommodation due to stress.

workplace stress

In The News
Stress is reason why 1 in 4 Canadians quit their job
Mood Disorders Society of Canada: Workplace Stress
Employees divided on productivity, stress of work-space configurations

Workplace Stress Triggering Constructive Dismissal

Stress in the workplace could potentially trigger a Constructive Dismissal claim, if the stress is associated with workplace stress, such as:

  • Increased workload
  • Workplace harassment
  • Poisoned work environment

Workplace stress was held to amount to constructive dismissal in the decision, MacBeth v. Heart and Stroke Foundation of New Brunswick [2012]. In MacBeth, the employer increased the employee’s workload by requiring the employee to resume a responsibility that had previously been removed by mutual agreement from her required duties, causing her extreme stress. She resigned her employment citing constructive dismissal. The Court determined that she was constructively dismissed and awarded her payment in lieu of notice.

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