Stress Leave in the UK - everything you need to know. (2023)

Let’s face it – most of us have been under stress at some point in our working lives. Long hours, heavy workloads, tight deadlines, workplace conflict - they frequently send our stress levels into the stratosphere.

There comes a time to say: “Enough’s enough – I need to chill out before I burnout”. But sadly, for whatever reason, we don’t get this far before having a nervous breakdown – or worse – getting seriously ill.

The numbers are telling - 40% of all work-related sickness in the UK is caused by stress. Blimey. That’s four in ten absences caused by stress! Worse still, stress is preventable, we can tackle it.

Sooner or later, stress catches up with us. And when it does, we need time off to recover, recharge, and recuperate. That’s why we have stress leave. To help us get back to a good state of mind, so in time, we can get back to work.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything there is to know about stress leave. So relax, unwind, and leave the stress behind.

A quick note to introduce ourselves: We're Timetastic, a Staff Holiday Planner for used by thousands of teams and small businesses, mostly in the UK but from pretty much every country in the world.

What is stress leave?

Minus the name, stress leave is practically the same thing as sick leave. It’s time off work when your mental health is suffering.

The symptoms of stress

Mental health is a non-negotiable. If you feel symptoms of stress, do something about it – because the problem won’t fix itself.

Symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Loneliness
  • Sadness and depression
  • Grief

You might get up and dread work, you might find it hard to motivate yourself, lack of energy and drive. They are all symptoms, indications that something isn't right.

The first thing you should do is talk to someone – anyone. Family, friends, a stranger. A problem shared is a problem halved.

If you can, talk to your employer. Get it out in the open. Tell them how you’re feeling. Try to explain why. It's going to be a hard conversation, but it helps.

And book an appointment with your doctor. Be open, honest and direct. Keep a mood diary, and share it with them.

Do I need a sick note for stress leave?

When we're dealing with absences related to stress, it's important to show sensitivity and compassion. Some long-term stress leave will come as a consequence of a serious condition and need considerable recovery time.

We need to have empathy towards every case – and combine with a good understanding of employment rights.

If you're off work for 7 days or less, you don’t have to get any form of official/ doctors sick note. But when you return to work, it's likely your employer will want you to confirm you've been absent because of sickness/ stress leave. This is called ‘self-certification’.

If you're off work for more than 7 days, you'll need a Statement of Fitness for Work (in other words, a doctor’s note). This will likely contain recommendations for changes to help you get back to work, and/or a minimum duration for stress leave.

Will I be paid during stress leave?‌‌

Just like any other sickness related absence, you’re legally entitled to sick pay. Check your employee absence policy for any details relating to stress leave. If there aren’t any, you’ll fall back on Statutory Sick Pay.

To qualify for Statutory Sick Pay:

  • You’re classified as an employee
  • Your illness has lasted for a minimum of 4 days in a row
  • You earn in excess of £113 per week
  • You notify your employer of your sickness within 7 days

Your employer is legally obliged to pay the minimum of £89.35 per week, for a maximum of 28 weeks. Beyond that, it’s their decision if they want to continue with Statutory Sick Pay.

These responsibilities are best covered in your absence policy. We've got a free absence policy template here you can download.

Keeping in contact‌‌

Remember, you’re on stress leave for a reason. You need to cool off. You need time out. Which means no work-related calls, emails or anything of the like - give yourself the best chance to recover.

That said, don't get stressed with not knowing what's going on at work, checking in with your employer from time to time isn’t a bad idea.

Give them the chance to keep you updated with any changes at work. At some point, they might ask you to get involved in an absence review, something which aims to:

  • Understand the reasons for your stress leave
  • How long you might be off
  • Look at how to avoid future stress
  • Look at the future of your role, including the possibility of dismissal

How to prevent stress‌‌

When you get back to work you might find yourself in a return to work interview. Nothing to be afraid of here, it should be a good thing. It's to help your employer understand what triggered your stress leave in the first place, and how to put plans in place to prevent it happening again, including:

  • Offering flexible working hours
  • Offering a management review
  • Providing outlets for employee feedback
  • Doing regular performance reviews
  • Keeping workloads manageable
  • Giving adequate breaks and holidays

Remember: healthy-minded people are productive people. For tips on how to prevent fatigue, depression and general unhappiness in the workplace, check out our piece on avoiding burnout.

How we (at Timetastic) avoid stress

The last thing we want is people off with mental health issues. We have a responsibility to the team here and want Timetastic to be a calm, enjoyable place to work, so people can focus on the task at hand without any form of anxiety or stress.

Here's a few of the steps we use to help keep stress levels down:

  • We don't set unrealistic goals. Working to tight deadlines, panicking, stress, it can be terrifying and leads to errors. We leave plenty of slack in our goals.
  • We don't set undue expectations. Nothing worse for stress than not meeting someone's expectation.
  • We accept things slip. Unplanned events happen, people have off-days. It's not the end of the world.
  • We take regular time off, everyone should be nice and fresh. We keep an eye on this using the Burnout Board in Timetastic.
  • We don't blame. In fact we don't really look back retrospectively, the future is a positive place. Dissecting and sulking over a missed deadline, something that didn't work, a lost customer, a scrappy bit of code - it doesn't help anyone.
  • We talk. Is everything ok? How's the workload? Do you think we need to break that task down? Have you got any holidays booked? Have you been out recently, the weather is lovely?
  • Support. Support comes in a myriad of forms. It could be training, time off, being a sounding board for ideas, listening to problems, empathising, putting yourself in someone else's shoes. What can we do to change, how can we make this better.

You're welcome to take a look at Timetastic for keeping track of staff leave, we offer a 30 day free trial and demo's via zoom - Start your free trial today.

Some final thoughts

No-one benefits when stress levels are going through the roof. If anyone in your company is suffering, try to help them, nip it in the bud before the stress leads to bigger health concerns. And when someone does become ill due to work-related stress, be sure you respond with empathy, and in accordance with the rules and requirements to help them recover fully and, hopefully, return in a sustainable way.

If you're aiming to create a more compassionate, happier culture around absence in your business, have a look at our guide on how to create an effective sickness absence policy.

And seeing you're all the way down here

You might have guessed we, at Timetastic, are strong believers in a healthy work-life balance – and that time spent out of work is just as important as time spent at work. Time off, holidays, rest and recuperation are essential, so booking them shouldn’t be a headache. That's why we made a simple staff holiday planner, the only headache is deciding what to do with your free time. Have a trial on us – it’s totally free to see how it works.

Suggested reading

  • How to enjoy work
  • How to apply the 'marginal gains' approach to life and business
  • Avoiding 'boreout' - how to make boredom work in your favour
  • How to deal with notification overload
  • Will weekends be the same after quarantine?


What are the rules of stress leave? ›

As stress leave is not a separate leave under the ESA, the grounds for stress leave would be the grounds of sick leave. The grounds for a sick leave would be an illness, injury, or medical emergency for yourself. Stress leave might also be availed under family responsibility leave or leave for bereavement.

How long can you be signed off work with stress UK? ›

How long can an employee be signed off work with stress? Employees who are too ill to attend work, whether through physical or mental illness, have the right to time off work to recover, and during this absence to be paid statutory sick pay for up to 28 weeks.

What are good reasons for stress leave? ›

Although there is no “good” reason for stress leave, appropriate reasons include: Mental health issues (as approved by a mental health professional) Family emergencies. Overwork and burnout.

Can I be fired while on 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.

Can you be dismissed for stress leave? ›

An employer could dismiss an employee while off work with stress on a long term basis in some cases, as they aren't legally obligated to keep a job for the employee for an open-ended period. However, if you have been dismissed whilst off with stress at work, you may have been the victim of unfair dismissal.


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