Signed off work with stress: a guide to employee rights and next steps

Are you finding life too much to handle right now? Here’s a guide to your rights and next steps if you’re signed off work with stress.

Even at the best of times, work can be a stressful experience. When you’ve got deadlines to meet, difficult clients to deal with and a line manager breathing down your neck demanding progress; it can all accumulate to one very exhausting experience.

If you are finding work too stressful and you’re thinking about taking some much needed time off, you’re not alone. A massive 79% of people surveyed said they had experienced work-related stress. And a 2013 study commissioned by the mental health charity Mind found that work was the number one stressor in people’s lives. 

As you can see, there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. You aren’t letting the side down or any other such nonsense. The worst thing you can do is blame yourself: it’ll merely add undue weight onto your already overburdened shoulders.

Organisations have to make changes to their working practices to alleviate the pressure on you. They have to be accommodating. Don’t believe me? Carry on reading to find out your rights as an employee. 

Raising an issue with your employer

Whatever the cause of your stress – whether it’s office politics, too much work, little ownership of your everyday tasks, you need to go to your employer and raise the problem with them. They are very unlikely to outright ask you if you have a problem. 

It can be extremely taxing mentally to actually admit to struggling with stress.

At first glance, it raises questions about your suitability for the role, your ability to handle the pressures of everyday work life and your long-term future at the company.

However, these are simply not true and it’s unfair to level these sorts of accusations at yourself. It can only exacerbate the problem.

How long can you stay off work with stress?

Initially, if you are brave enough to go to one of your superiors and explain how the stresses of work are overwhelming, you’ll be granted at least a week off. If you need more time than that, you’ll need to go to a doctor and expand on the difficulties you are experiencing at work. They’ll walk you through a few different strategies for coping with stress and set you in the right direction to seek help.

You should be entitled to sick pay while you’re off work with stress.

Returning to work

Your employer has a duty to provide a safe working environment – and that applies to mental health too. The HR and occupational health departments at your workplace – if you have them – should be able to provide you with assistance upon your return to work.

If the issue is, for example, you don’t have a healthy work-life balance; you might have a right to more flexible working hours. Having a child under the age of six – or a disabled child under the age of eighteen – gives you a legal right to flexible working.

If you’re an employer who’s thinking about the best ways to deal with work-related stress and create a healthier, happier working environment, you can consult this guide. It contains some invaluable advice for employers and employees alike.

Photo by Ashton Bingham