Stress remains one of the top work-related factors that affect the health of adults in the UK. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), stress, depression or anxiety accounted for half of workplace caused illness cases in 2020/21. An estimated number of 822,000 employees were affected.
The increasing prevalence of employees being signed off work with stress raises important questions. As an employer, you face the dilemma of balancing concern for employee’s health with productivity and operations costs.
How do you deal with stress leave as a UK company without risking loss of productivity?
In this article, we will look at how you can find that fine balance and where you should start. If you are struggling with staff getting signed off with stress, call our24/7 HR helpline, on01455 858 132.
Employer’s responsibility towards staff off work with stress
Before you worry about your employee handing in a sick note for stress, think of what can cause this.
They might experience difficulties in their personal life. Or they can go through work-related strain that negatively impacts their mental health. In this case, it falls within your responsibility to assess the risks and improve their work environment.
Employers have a duty of care towards the wellbeing of their staff. But many people struggle to discuss work-related stress and anxiety. Whether they fear losing their job or being considered poor performers, we’ve seen employees reluctant to approach their managers with such issues.
To prevent mental health difficulties from escalating, ask these questions:
- How can you better help your employees in dealing with workplace challenges and resulting strains?
- How can you better support their recovery when they have been signed off with stress?
Avoid the temptation to think such mental health issues will not affect your workforce. Data identifies almost 18 million workdays lost to stress, anxiety, or depression in the year previous to the pandemic. This makes double the number of workdays lost to musculoskeletal disorders in the same period.
Give your employees the option to seek help when they need it, through an employee assistance programme (EAP). Such programmes counsel workers on any mental health difficulties they might experience, whether personal or work related.
Before you decide to refer your staff, approach them with caution to discuss. You cannot force them to take this course of action.
If your organisation doesn’t already have an employee wellbeing programme, we can help. Our EAP call centre offers free 24/7 counselling, critical incident advice and telephone support.
After an employee gets signed off work with anxiety or stress
When dealing with a doctor’s note for stress and anxiety, you need to understand and assess the situation well.
If your staff member is going through personal difficulties, follow the advice we’ve given above. Show them you care about their wellbeing and want to support them.
If work-related aspects affect their mental health, don’t wait for the situation to escalate. We recommend following this three-step approach:
- Treat the issue like a sickness absence. By downgrading the problem, you risk upsetting the individual and making the situation worse.
- If the employee experiences damaging levels of stress at work, assess what is causing this. Identify which factors and aspects need improving, agree on a plan and act on it.
- If the employee becomes so stressed they feel they can no longer be part of the company, they can pursue constructive dismissal.
In such a case, it’s in your interest to pinpoint contributing factors and resolve them.
Ideally, you should aim to prevent getting to the third stage of this process. The main goal of understanding work-related stress is to support and retain staff.
Start by inviting them to a meeting either before they take time off work, or after. Ask them how you can help accommodate them moving forward.
Don’t hold such a meeting only to tick a box. Turn this into a real opportunity to improve the work environment, your systems, and ways of working. It will potentially benefit everybody on the long run.
Causes and symptoms of workplace stress
More often than not, we’ve seen staff take stress sick leave in the UK when they struggle with:
- An excessive workload or not taking breaks
- Poor relationships with colleagues
- Poor relationships with managers
- The working environment—a toxic company culture
It is never too late to address such issues, even if the effort to improve feels overwhelming. At the end of the day, a happy, healthy workforce will engage better, increasing productivity and contributing towards business growth.
While employers can’t act as trained therapists, unless qualified to do so, they can recognise signs of stress, such as:
- Irritability or outbursts of anger
- Difficulty concentrating
- Low mood
- Excessive intake of caffeine or alcohol
- Low productivity
- Regular absences or lateness
- High sickness rate
- Cynicism and defensiveness
- Weight loss or gain
- Shortness of breath
- Regular or lingering cold
You can approach and discuss these symptoms in a return to work interview. Encourage the individual to open up about any work-related aspects that might be causing them. If these symptoms have persisted for a while, advise them to seek support for stress related mental health issues. The sooner they receive the help they need, the better their prospects of recovery.
Employee rights in work-related stress and anxiety
When signed off work with stress in the UK, employees keep the same entitlement to sick pay. This means treating mental health difficulties the same way you would any physical illness.
Also, when requesting time off work for anxiety or stress in the UK, the employee might ask for compensation. UK law allows them to claim for personal injury due to work-related stress in case it causes other health issues.
If the employee can prove their stress resulted from harassment or discrimination, they might even pursue a tribunal claim. For them to pursue a claim, they’ll want to receive a diagnosis from a medical professional.
In a case of long periods of absence, you may request a formal meeting to discuss their return to work. If the employee refuses to meet, or misses multiple appointments, you can begin to consider a capability dismissal.
Suffering with stress doesn’t count as a disability in the UK. However, this very common mental health issue can trigger conditions considered a disability. Every employer should take all the necessary steps to avoid such an outcome.
The way you treat your staff who experience high levels of stress will make all the difference. Supporting them in dealing with their difficulties will give them the best incentive to keep working for you.
Getting signed off work with stress – employee FAQ
We have seen employees themselves ask us or our EAP counsellors two major questions, and we will answer them below.
- “How to get signed off work with stress and anxiety?”
Firstly, employees need to come forward and discuss their situation with their GP and their employer too. Their manager might feel that their hands are tied, as they cannot support somebody who doesn’t ask for help. However, they can create and promote a company culture based on openness and trust. This will prove key to staff approaching them before their situation worsens.
The decision to provide a doctor’s note for stress and anxiety stays with the GP or occupational health practitioner. What happens next will depend a lot on how both employee and employer work together to resolve the issue.
- “Can work contact me when off sick with stress?”
When dealing with such difficulties, fear of coming across as a bad employee can overwhelm the person. As it’s a delicate situation, it requires good communication, trust, and a good balance to achieve a positive outcome.
They are signed off work with stress so they can recover. It means that any avoidable triggers should be removed. However, absence of communication in itself can constitute a trigger.
This is where a counsellor will help find the best way to maintain contact with the employee. If they are absent for extended periods of time, their manager might need to update them about changes within the business.
Dealing with work-related stress doesn’t look pleasant, but it looks unavoidable at some point in everybody’s history. Managing the situation in a pro-active, solution orientated manner can make all the difference.
Get advice on how to manage stress sick leave in the UK
Work-related stress and illness accounts for a significant number of working days lost in the UK. If your employees are struggling with mental health difficulties, we can help.
Talk to us about our employee assistance programme and any other HR related issues resulting from employees dealing with stress.
Call our 24/7 HR advice line today, on01455 858 132.
Employees can be signed off work for stress and receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for up to 28 weeks. However, they have to be earning at least £118 per week and have worked for your company.Do you get full pay for stress leave? ›
You are not entitled to any extra sick pay for a mental health condition, even if caused by work-related stress. Physical and mental illness both count as sickness.Can I take time off work due to stress? ›
Asking for time off due to stress can, therefore, be stressful! But stress is treated, legally, in the same way as physical illness. Should you feel unwell due to stress, you should see your GP as soon as possible. Your GP will tell you how best to deal with your stress and how much time to take off work, if necessary.Can work contact me when off sick with stress UK? ›
An employer should keep in regular contact with an employee who is off sick because of a mental health problem. Employees often benefit from keeping in touch. However, employers should make sure their employee agrees to the contact and that it's not overwhelming.Can I leave my job due to mental health UK? ›
UK law on sick leave for mental health
There is no specific law on mental health sick leave in the UK. However, you need to treat sickness leave for physical and mental illness in the same way. In some cases, certain mental health conditions are categorised as a disability.
- Acknowledge your stress levels. ...
- Talk to someone you trust. ...
- Consult your GP. ...
- Get a doctor's note. ...
- Talk to your manager or human resources. ...
- Take time off. ...
- Return to work.
- Be open about your symptoms.
- Be upfront about your feelings. Don't leave out any details.
- Listen to your doctor's advice.
- If needed, book follow-up appointments.
- Explain your situation clearly and what you feel triggers your predicament.
What is stress leave? Ontario's Employment Standards Act, 2000 (the ESA) gives employees the right to take up to 3 days of unpaid sick leave in a calendar year provided that they have completed at least two full weeks with their current employer.Can I sue my employer for stress and anxiety UK? ›
If an employee is absent from work with stress, an employer must take steps to alleviate the causes and support their return to work. An employee can sue their employer for any breach of the duty of care to ensure their health, safety and welfare, including their mental wellbeing.Is stress leave different to sick leave? ›
Employers grant stress leave in the same manner as they would grant personal leave for other illnesses. Permanent employees are entitled to 1 hour of personal leave for every 26 hours worked.
Can you dismiss an employee off work with stress? If an employee has been signed off work with stress on a long-term basis, even with the support of their GP, the employer is not legally obliged to keep the job available on an open-ended basis for the employee.Can my employer call my doctor UK? ›
It is illegal for an employer to call your doctor, or seek access to your medical records, without your explicit written consent. They must also inform you of your rights around this subject under the Access to Medical Reports Act 1988.How much can I claim for stress at work? ›
Whilst the deduction may fall below the maximum of 35%, claimants can rest assured that any deduction from a successful stress at work compensation claim settlement will never exceed 35%.Can I quit my job due to depression and collect unemployment UK? ›
If your mental health means you find it hard to work or do daily tasks, you could claim benefits. These will depend on the criteria, but can include depression or anxiety. The benefit process can be stressful. There are things you can do if it's affecting your mental health.Is anxiety a disability UK? ›
A mental health condition is considered a disability if it has a long-term effect on your normal day-to-day activity. This is defined under the Equality Act 2010. Your condition is 'long term' if it lasts, or is likely to last, 12 months.Is it OK to resign due to mental health? ›
If you're suffering from mental or physical health issues and finding it difficult to meet the expectations of your job, you may want to resign.How do you justify stress leave? ›
To qualify for the stress leave, you must be suffering from a serious medical condition. Not all stress causes an FMLA-eligible condition. But, if your doctor agrees that you are suffering from a severe condition and that you are unable to work during this time period, you will be eligible for protected leave.How do I ask HR for stress leave? ›
- Step 1: Look up your state's laws. ...
- Step 2: Review your employer's policy. ...
- Step 3: Consult your healthcare provider. ...
- Step 4: Request a doctor's note. ...
- Step 5: Time your request appropriately. ...
- Step 6: Meet with your human resources department. ...
- Step 7: Discuss your options.
Can you get a sick note for mental health issues? You can get a sick note for mental health issues like depression, work related stress, and anxiety. The NHS introduced the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health in 2016 to reduce the long term impact for people experiencing mental health problems.Can an employer fire you for doctor recommended stress leave? ›
Can I be fired while on stress leave? Stress leaves are protected by law. Employers do not have the right to fire you while you are on stress leave.
What if I'm not eligible for stress leave? If your company is quite small, you haven't been working there for long enough, or your doctor doesn't consider your condition severe enough to leave work, you won't be able to receive any protected leave.Can an employer override a doctor's sick note UK? ›
No. The assessment about whether your employee is not fit for work or may be fit for work (and any other advice in the fit note) is classed as advice, and it is for employers to determine whether or not to accept it.Is stress and anxiety covered under FMLA? ›
Yes. Assuming that you work for a covered employer and are eligible for FMLA leave, you may take leave for treatment visits and therapy sessions for the condition.What are 5 emotional signs of stress? ›
- Being more emotional than usual.
- Feeling overwhelmed or on edge.
- Trouble keeping track of things or remembering.
- Trouble making decisions, solving problems, concentrating, getting your work done.
- Using alcohol or drugs to relieve your emotional stress.
An award of over £1,500 and up to around £5,000 is appropriate where the mistakes cause sustained distress, potentially affecting someone's health, or severe disruption to daily life typically lasting more than a year.How do you prove stress is work related? ›
Generally, in order for your stress-related injuries to qualify as “work-related stress” and entitle you to workers compensation benefits, you have to prove that the stress was caused by unbearable work demands, stressful work environment, or a combination of factors that exceed your capacity and capability to cope.How do you prove emotional distress at work? ›
Generally, you must prove that your employer acted intentionally or recklessly; your employer's conduct was extreme and outrageous; your employer's actions directly caused your emotional distress and your emotional stress was severe.What to do if an employee is off with work related stress? ›
- Have a discussion or meet with the employee. ...
- Enquire sensitively about the reasons behind their stress at work. ...
- Avoid talking about issues that may increase their stress. ...
- Carry out a stress risk assessment. ...
- Define an action plan with the employee.
Terminating an employee with mental health issues is illegal in the UK unless there is a valid reason. And this has to be a reason that you would fire any other employee for. Otherwise, your employer can't stop paying you, or fire you, if you've had to take time off for your illness.How long can you be on sick leave before dismissal UK? ›
There is no maximum period that an employee can be on long-term sick leave for, but you may consider dismissal if the employee will not be able to return to the job due to ill health after a reasonable length of time has been allowed for recovery.
Are you legally obliged to? An employee or job candidate is not legally obliged to mention any medical condition, whether mental or not to an employer. Mental illness in particular is a very personal thing and it can be difficult to talk about even to your nearest and dearest, let alone an employer.Can HR verify a doctor's note? ›
Generally, yes, your employer can call your doctor; however, the questions your employer ask is limited and protected by HIPAA Privacy Law. Your employer has the right to contact your doctor to verify the authenticity of a doctor's note but cannot ask about your medical condition or diagnosis.Can you sue your employer for stress and anxiety? ›
You can file a lawsuit against your employer for stress and anxiety if the stress and anxiety you experienced eclipses the reasonable levels expected for your position. This may sound subjective, and employees affected by excessive stress and anxiety may not know how to prove their circumstances.Does work stress qualify for short term disability? ›
Can you go on short-term disability for anxiety, depression or stress? Short-term disability generally covers behavioral health issues, which can include anxiety, depression and stress. However, the claims process for these conditions tends to be more difficult.Can you sue your employer for too much stress? ›
California and federal laws protect workers from excessive stress, unsafe working conditions, harassment, and negligence. Therefore, it is possible to sue your employer in some instances. Worker compensation claims may be appropriate if the stressor is work-related, such as an overbearing boss or excessive overtime.How do you explain leaving a job due to stress? ›
I am therefore resigning to focus on my mental health. Thank you for all your help and the opportunities you have given me during my time with the company, and thank you for understanding my situation. If there is anything I can do to help make this transition easier, please do not hesitate to reach out.Can I claim benefits if I leave my job due to depression UK? ›
You can claim benefits as soon as you know the date you're stopping work. You'll need to show you had a good reason for resigning, or you might get less money for around 3 months. This is called a sanction.How do I ask my doctor for stress leave? ›
Make an appointment with your doctor for your symptoms. Tell him or her about any changes in your sleep, diet or mental state. If these are stemming from factors in the workplace, your doctor may prescribe stress leave for a few days.Can a doctor refuse a sick note for stress? ›
Sick notes are discretionary. A doctor can refuse to give you a sick note if they feel you are fit to work. It helps to document when your symptoms started, what symptoms you have had, and how severe they have been to give the doctor a clear and accurate picture of your health condition.How do I resign from a toxic workplace? ›
- Be gentle with yourself. ...
- Don't feel like you have to explain yourself or justify your departure. ...
- Try not to take hostile responses to your departure personally. ...
- Remember: A toxic workplace is not your fault.
If your employer cannot accommodate your needs, or your needs are too great to continue working, then quitting your job might save your mental health. This is a tough decision so do not make it alone. Work with a physician, counselor, or psychotherapist to determine how you can proceed down this path.How much is disability allowance UK? ›
|Care component||Weekly rate|
Making the decision to step away from a job is not always easy or feasible. But when your physical or emotional well-being is suffering and your stress isn't eased by the occasional mental health day, experts say it's generally best to start looking elsewhere.Is stress covered under FMLA? ›
In California, if your workplace stress is preventing you from doing your job then you may be eligible for stress leave. This leave may be available under the: Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), or. California Family Rights Act (CFRA).Can I get FMLA for anxiety and depression? ›
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides job-protected leave to address mental health conditions.