This article will discuss workplace stress leave in Australia. What does this mean? Stress leave or mental health leaves allows workers/employees to take a leave from work when they are feeling overwhelmed, irritable, or troubled. Every person in the world experiences stress, especially when they are in the working class. Here are some common causes of stress in and out of work:

  • Significant life changes
  • Constant worry about problems
  • No control over certain situations
  • Overwhelming responsibilities
  • Having disputes with family, friends, co-workers, or children
  • Discrimination, hate, and/or abuse
  • Any other personal issues that have escalated
  • Poor support, disorganisation and unfavourable working conditions
  • Lack of clarity of a job's role
  • Issues with management
  • Contract breaches

Whatever the factors are, it's okay for one person to feel stress from work and disclose it to their employers. However, it should not come to a point where it will compromise a company's workflow. Regardless of the cause, it's important to address the meaning of stress leave in Australia and how to file and handle it properly.

What Do the National Employment Standards Say?

What do the National Employment Standards (NES) say about stress leave in Australia? The NES are 11 minimum employment entitlements that all employees must receive. These 11 minimum entitlements are:

  • Maximum weekly hours
  • Requests for flexible working arrangements
  • Offers and requests to convert from casual to permanent employment
  • Parental leave and related entitlements
  • Annual leave
  • Personal/carer's leave, compassionate leave, unpaid family and domestic violence leave
  • Community service leave
  • Long service leave
  • Public holidays
  • Notice of termination and redundancy pay
  • Fair Work Information Statement and Casual Employment Information Statement

Employees may take a stress or mental health leave under the personal leave category. Stress or mental health leave in Australia is not a type of leave in and of itself but only refers to the reason for personal leave. According to the NES, permanent employees are entitled to one hour of personal leave for every 26 hours worked.

This 1:26 ratio usually translates into 10 days of personal leave per year for full-time employees and 1:26 pro-rata for part-time employees as of July 2022. The NES applies to all employees in the national workplace relations system. This is true regardless of the award, registered agreement or employment contract that applies.

Applying for Stress Leave Australia

Employees may apply for stress or mental health leave using whatever procedure their employer has stated in their work policies or regulations. However, it's important to note that stress or personal leaves are different from annual or holiday leaves. Here are some factors that affect the application for stress leave in Australia.

1. The Employer's Decision

Some employers may have trouble approving stress leaves due to personal reasons and reasonable grounds. This is the case if the employee filing a leave has a significant role in the company's success. Another reason is the employer not finding the employee's claims reasonable enough for approval.

Situations like this can quickly escalate into legal disputes and arguments but should remain confidential. Employees have a right to privacy as stated in the Privacy Act 1988. Employers may not disclose any information and details about an employee's stress or mental health concerns. They may only use this information if they want to make necessary adjustments for the troubled employee.

2. Opinions and Advice From Other People

It's also possible for employees to get advice from his/her trusted co-workers for advice and opinions. Employees may find it helpful if there is a co-worker they can open up to about their problems. Moreover, these co-workers might even help with making the employee feel better. Employees may also choose to approach their family, friends, and other relatives for more opinions and advice.

3. Paid Sick Leave or Work-Related Stress Leave in Australia

If employees are suffering from severe-work related stress, they may be entitled to workers' compensation. According to Safe Work Australia, compensation claims for mental health conditions are increasing. These claims were rising from 6% of all serious claims in 2014-2015 to 9% in 2020-2021.

This equates to 12, 155 claims with roughly one-third (36%) relating to anxiety or stress disorders. In New South Wales (NSW), employees are qualified to file a Workers' Compensation claim. Employees are eligible for a Workers Compensation Claim if they have workplace injuries or illnesses that are physical or psychological in nature. Some of the common types of eligible claims are:

  • Medical treatment and rehabilitation expenses
  • Weekly payments
  • Psychological injury/illnesses (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression, Anxiety, Adjustment Disorder)
  • Permanent impairment
  • Work break and journey injuries
  • Hearing impairment

Employees have six months from the date of the injury or accident to file, for instance, a stress or mental health leave in Australia. However, the cause of the stress should satisfy the eligible factors above. Workers' Compensation can still cover the employee if his/her injury or illness occurs after their employment has ended. This is common in cases of delayed onset injuries, such as hearing impairment and permanent impairment. However, the injury or illness must come from the job in order to claim workers compensation.

4. Duration and Payments of Stress Leaves

How long can an employee go on stress leave in Australia and how are they paid? Employment contracts will determine how long an employee can go for stress leave. Hence, it's important for employees to backtrack on their contract if there are terms and conditions about leaves.

For instance, Enzo wants to file a personal leave from his work due to stress. Unfortunately, there weren't any specific provisions in his employment contract about stress leaves. Nevertheless, he still applied for a leave from work and told his boss that he needs a break from work. Fortunately, his boss still approved his leave and told him that he can instead use sick leave.

5. Explaining to Supervisors About Mental Health Issues

Employees have the duty and obligation to explain the reasons behind their leaves. They cannot simply apply for it and expect the employer to understand their situation. Applying for a stress leave in Australia or in any other country will always require proper reasons.

Let's use Enzo as an example again for understanding how to explain to supervisors about stress leave in Australia. Enzo wants to make a claim for Workers' Compensation for stress leave. He feels like he has an anxiety disorder due to his work. Furthermore, Enzo cannot claim that he has an anxiety disorder without a proper diagnosis.

Hence, he went to the psychiatrist to get checked, got a proper diagnosis from the doctor, and presented the diagnosis to his boss. He also informed his boss within six months so he is eligible for a stress leave in Australia. Indeed, there are other valid reasons for causes of stress and employees should:

  • Take their claims seriously and remain honest with it
  • Ensure that they will take necessary action and gather resources to help them recover from stress
  • Go to a professional if they feel like they are developing a stress-related illness or injury or mental illness
  • Duly inform and update their employer/ supervisor on their condition
  • Request their employer to modify their work environment or work schedule that can help them cope with stress when necessary.

Importance of Seeking Legal Advice

Employees and employers may have disputes about stress leave in Australia and it may escalate. In our example, Enzo's supervisor may not have approved his leave even if Enzo has the necessary evidence and documents to support his claim. Enzo and his employer might have started legal proceedings if the supervisor did not approve his leave.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.