6 Steps You Can Follow To Take Stress Leave From Work

Updated 20 January 2023

During your career, you may experience stress for work-related or personal reasons. Taking time off from work for stress offers an opportunity to manage your mental and physical health. Before you schedule an extended break, it's important to know how to determine your eligibility for time off and the people you need to contact to submit your request. In this article, we discuss the importance of taking breaks and how to request stress leave from work.

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What is stress leave from work?

Stress leave from work is when an employee takes time off from their job to recover from stress-related illness or injury. Stress leave isn't an official category of leave, but the Fair Work Ombudsman includes stress as a condition that qualifies for paid sick leave. Most full-time employees get 10 days of paid sick leave a year, which means their employees continue to collect their salary while on leave. However, your benefits are specific to your contract of employment. Check your contract or ask an HR representative if your company can penalise you for taking stress leave from work.

If your company does not offer paid sick leave, or your doctor doesn't consider your condition severe enough to require taking leave, you may not continue to be paid while on stress leave. If you still want to take time off to focus on managing your stress, you can speak with your company about taking unpaid sick leave. Here are a few signs you may benefit from taking stress leave:

  • You cannot perform your work tasks

  • Stress levels are affecting your quality of work

  • Work-related stress affects your personal life

  • Your doctor recognises symptoms of depression or anxiety in you

Read more:

  • What Is Burnout? (With Tips That Can Help You Prevent It)

  • How to Request a Mental Health Day

  • What Is a Work-Life Balance? (Plus Tips for Maintaining One)

How to take stress leave from work

Follow these steps to learn how to take time off work for stress:

1. Review your company policy

Before you submit a time-off request to your managers, it's important to understand your job's employee leave regulations and company policies. Here are factors you can consider when reading the handbook:

  • Annual holiday leave: National Employment Standards entitle every full-time employee to four weeks of annual leave or holiday pay. Part-time employees also get four weeks of annual leave, according to their regular work hours. For example, if you're a part-time employee who works 20 hours a week, you're eligible for 80 hours of annual leave, which equals four weeks of work on your part-time schedule. Shift workers may also qualify for annual leave, depending on their industry.

  • Employer guidelines for sick leave: If you want to use your paid sick leave to take time off for stress, research the requirements. For example, your employer may require you to have specific documentation from a physician to qualify to use sick leave.

  • National public holidays: Australians have eight national public holidays. Your company may offer additional holidays with pay depending on what holidays your state or territory celebrates and when they fall during the week. Check for what holidays your company offers paid time off.

Related: What Is a Contract of Employment? (Your Ultimate Guide)

2. Consult your income protection insurance

Income protection insurance pays you a benefit if an injury or illness prevents you from working. Income protection insurance isn't necessary for everyone but can be a good investment if you're a small business owner who doesn't have guaranteed sick or annual leave. An income protection insurance plan may cover mental health conditions, including stress. Some insurance companies may deny you coverage if you have a pre-existing mental health condition, so research policies before selecting a provider.

3. Study your state and territory laws

Laws around worker's compensation and paid leave can be different depending on what state or territory you live in. For example, each state and territory declares their own public holidays. This means you may receive paid leave time on different days depending on where you live. Do some research into the requirements of your state and territory, or ask your company's HR department about your benefits.

4. Consider your options

Once you understand your employer's guidelines for stress leave, you can think about how much time you may need away from your job. Consider the time of year you want to reserve your time off, which can influence your manager's approval. For instance, if you work in a store that sells winter gear and need to reserve time off during the summer months, your manager may be more likely to approve it because of slow business.

If annual leave and sick leave are not available to you, you may also consider taking unpaid leave from work. Review your budget to help you decide if unpaid vacation time is possible. The extent of your financial resources may influence how much vacation time you request. When thinking about taking unpaid leave, consider asking if your employer can hold your position for you and for how long.

Related: How to Call in Sick: A Step-by-Step Guide

5. Get a doctor's note

If you want to take paid sick leave, you may need a doctor's note to qualify for stress leave with your employer. Your employer can ask for documentation regardless of how much time you intend to take off. Without documentation, your employer can decide if you qualify for sick leave, which may affect whether you can take paid or unpaid leave. Talk to your manager or consult your employee handbook to determine the requirements.

When speaking with your doctor, explain that you're thinking about taking a stress leave from work and describe your stress symptoms. Be honest about how your stress level is affecting your professional and personal life. Mention any signs of stress you may have, including physical signs like low energy, aches and pains or insomnia. Your doctor may ask you to take part in some tests to confirm that you suffer from a stress disorder.

6. Meet with a human resources representative

The last step in taking time off for stress is submitting your leave request. Reach out to your HR department to learn more about the company's policies or your eligibility for time off. When you submit your request, consider following these practices:

  • Give plenty of notice: Requesting time off at least 30 days before your leave can allow your employer to prepare for your absence and approve your days.

  • Be specific about how much time you need: To approve your paid leave request, managers may need to know how much time you're requesting. Include when you plan to start your leave and when you plan to return to work.

  • State your reasons for time off: Being transparent about your need for time off can help you start conversations about work-related stress. For example, if you feel overwhelmed by the demands of your job, you can work with your employer to improve the workplace environment and promote healthy work habits.

  • Discuss alternatives: Alternatives to taking time off for stress may entail working remotely, which enables you to work in other settings that may be more comfortable. You can work with your manager to find alternatives that can support you during your work.


  • How to Create a Strong Out of Office Message

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Tips for taking stress leave from work

Consider some of these tips to make your time off relaxing and helpful:

  • Follow your doctor's instructions: If your doctor has recommended you take stress leave, listen to their recommendations for how to relax. Consider any medications they prescribe or relaxation methods that can monitor and reduce your stress levels. Regularly update your doctor on how you feel.

  • Focus on your health: Sick leave is not the same as a vacation. Taking a trip or overbooking your personal responsibilities may contribute to your stress level instead of relieving it. While on leave, take the time to focus on your health. You can try eating healthier, sleeping more and consider meditation or social outings that can increase your well-being.

  • Stay away from work: Spend your sick leave focusing on your own well-being. Creating distance between you and your work can help you gain perspective. Stay away from your work email or any work-related tasks until your sick leave is over.

  • Set goals: While on your leave, think about what you want to achieve. Consider if you can make changes at your job to improve your stress level. You can also establish personal goals. Make a plan for changes you can make to help your stress level and how you can implement them.

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Frequently asked questions about taking stress leave from work

Here are some frequently asked questions about taking stress leave from work:

  • Do you get paid for stress leave? As long as you take stress leave during your annual leave, your employer still pays your salary. You can take unpaid leave, but there is no guarantee that you will receive any payment or that your employer will hold your position.

  • How long can I take stress leave from work? You can take stress leave that lasts the length of your allotted leave time, including holiday leave or sick leave. You can speak to your employer about additional time off work.

  • Can your employer fire you for stress leave? National Employment Standards entitle you to four weeks of annual leave, so your employer can't fire you for taking stress leave within that period.

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