Signed off work with stress

  • Occupational health
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

Read about the rules for managing employees going off sick with stress and learn how to reduce effects of sick leave to your business.

Sickness due to work-related stress has risen in recent years.

Many employees feel the need to overdeliver at work, to keep their jobs secure. But this often comes at the expense of personal health and wellbeing – causing an increase to stress-related sick leave.

As an employer, you have a legal duty of care for your staff. And failing to protect them from stress could lead to lost productivity, staff resigning, or even compensation claims.

Read about the rules for managing staff going off sick with stress and what happens when you don’t manage sick leave correctly.

What does being signed off work with stress mean?

When an employee suffers from stress at work, they’re entitled to time off to recover. Being signed off with stress can be caused by a high pressure work environment. However, there are many possible reasons.

Below, we’ve listed some of the common symptoms:

  • Insomnia.
  • Headaches.
  • Fatigue.
  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Panic attacks.

There are many factors that cause stress-related illness. Time-off work can create blips in career paths and business growth. So, everyone can be affected, not just the individual.

How long can you be signed off for work-related stress?

The amount of time an employee can be signed off work for stress depends on several factors. But there’s no set amount of time.

The decision for the length is at your discretion. This doesn’t mean you should march your sick employees back to the office when you want.

If they have a sick note, the medical professional who provided the note will be able to specify a reasonable time frame.

Can you sign myself off with stress?

Stress leave in the UK is more common in modern-day workplaces. Employees can take an absence for stress. You need to treat stress issues the same as regular sickness absence.

Your absence policies and procedures should explain the process for sick leave. There are different rules when employees are going off work with stress – self-certification and with a sick note.

Can you self-certificate for stress?

If an employee is off for less than seven days, you don’t need to ask for medical evidence for their illness. Employees should follow your absence reporting procedure and confirm their reasons for being off.

Once they return to work, you can ask them to document their medical state through a self-certification form

Self-certification applies to only the first seven days of leave. Anything longer will require a medical note from a health professional.

Doctors note for stress and anxiety If the absence is longer than seven days, the employee should provide a fit note or statement of fitness of work. This is provided by a medical professional and outlines the employee’s condition.

How to get a sick note for stress

Employees can get a sick note for stress from their GP.

A doctor’s note is sufficient evidence of their physical and mental frame.

If they’re diagnosed as unfit to work, the fit note will outline steps the employee should take to recover.

A return to work note may be issued once a doctor finds the employee is well enough to work again.

They might provide suggestions for reasonable adjustments. These are recommendations for changes to the employee’s working conditions, which might make their return easier.

Work-related stress test

If you’re concerned about any of your staff members, test to check levels of work-related stress. 

You can use The Stress Management Society’s individual stress test to get an understanding for your employees’ wellbeing. And manage any triggers of workplace stress in your business.

Employers should make their staff aware of the symptoms of stress. Have open communication with them to ensure the workers recognise when they get stressed. Grounds for stress leave can include:

  • Lowering quality of work.
  • Isolation from colleagues.
  • Lack of creativity.
  • Increased absenteeism.

Signed off work with stress and employee rights

If an employee has been diagnosed with stress or anxiety, they can be allowed time off.

A lot of people have anxiety but they shouldn’t be put on leave because of it. Mental illness is often defined as a chronic illness; and sometimes people must find a way to live with.

So, it falls to you to decide if their condition is too severe to work. It’s your responsibility to identify and reduce any workplace issues that could be worsening your staff’s health.

Remember your duty to protect your staff’s wellbeing and their work-related stress rights. By helping them through tough times, you can encourage business productivity and a happier workplace.

Do you get paid for work-related stress?

If the employee has been signed off for work-related stress for more than four straight days, they are entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP) or any contractual sick pay.

They need to be earning an average of £120 a week to be entitled to SSP. And they get paid £96.35 per week, (a figure which is reviewed every April).

Whilst most employers provide SSP, sick pay relating to work stress isn’t outlined in employment law – so providing it falls entirely to you.

Work stress and pregnancy

Those expecting a child will have more than their fair share of stresses. So, the last thing you’d want is a pregnant worker getting signed off for stress.

In some cases, work-related stress can have direct links to pregnancy complications. And these aren’t just psychological strains but can also be physical ones. And if a court finds you guilty of causing health problems to a pregnant worker, you could face costly penalties.

Here are a few steps you can take to minimise works stress affecting your pregnant workers:

  • Be aware of their pregnancy symptoms, burnout, and health issues at work.
  • Discuss their leave plans and appointments times.
  • Make reasonable adjustments so they can work in suitable conditions.
  • Discuss all financial benefits they are entitled to whilst on leave.
  • Ensure regular breaks and less laborious tasks.

Does being signed off with stress affect future employment in the UK?

It’s advised to record any mental health issues which could lead to things like absence, leave, accidents. However, these records shouldn’t be referred to when employees seek further employment – internally or externally.

For example, if an employee is applying for a promotion, any past records for stress and mental health shouldn’t affect your present decisions. And these records should never be passed on with references to external job placements.

Mental health conditions come under the division of a disability. Which falls under one of the nine protected characteristics stated in the Equality Act 2010. Simply put, it’s unlawful to discriminate against someone based on stress and mental health issues.

Can work contact me when off sick with stress?

Legally, there’s nothing stopping you from contacting your employee. It’s advisable to provide the time off, but you can still check in occasionally—just don’t place them under pressure to return.

The aim of contracting them is to ensure they feel supportive and attain an update for their health and possible return.

Can you dismiss an employee off work with stress?

If an employee is off sick for stress for a long period, you can decide to let them go. But your decisions must be reasonable, and you need to follow the legal procedure.

To follow a fair process, you must provide them with a warning or dismissal before terminating their contract.

But before even thinking of dismissal, you should check if you can help the employee return to work in a healthy state. This can include providing flexible work hours, reasonable adjustments, and a phased return to the workplace.

How to handle employees off with work related stress

It’s a good idea to make sure an employee on stress leave feels confident and comfortable to return.

Have open discussions with them to find solutions for alleviating their stress triggers whilst at work. Here are a few steps for handling employees on stress leave:

Discuss whether work-related stress came from.
Ensure confidentiality throughout the whole situation and provide support channels.
Carry out risk assessments to identify problems during tasks.
Devise an action plan for their return to work
Hold an absence return meeting to update them with any changes to their work schedule. And mention reasonable adjustment made to support their return.

Remember, being signed off work with stress and anxiety may be exactly what your staff members need to make a full recovery. But you also need to take steps to help them return when they are ready. Use an employee assistance programme (EAP) to provide support and track their progress whilst easing their way back to working norms.

Stress at work claims

It’s important to act when your staff raise any issues on being stressed out at work. Never dismiss these situations, as they can easily escalate into worse states.

Employees off sick with stress, who aren’t comfortable speaking up about health issues won't perform to their full extent. Or on another level, they could leave and seek alternative employment where they’ll feel cared for.

Some could even raise their issues as claims in employment tribunals. And if you’re found guilty of inflicting work-related stress, you could face financial penalties and costly business disruptions.

Stress at work compensation pay-outs

There are many factors that cause stress-related illness. Time-off work is what creates problems for career paths and business growth. So, everyone becomes effected, not just the individual.

Along with taking time off work for stress, are there benefits they are entitled to?

Yes, there are various factors that mean employees could receive compensation because of stress at work. These can include:

  • The effects any treatment has had on an employee.
  • Future prognosis.
  • Whether your workplace is responsible.

Obviously, due to the wide range of potential amounts, it’s difficult to say what the total amount for work-related stress compensation is. As such, it’s important to get a consultation with an industry expert to understand what the amount could be based on your circumstances.

Get expert advice on work-related stress leave

Employers need to be aware of triggers for work-related illness; and should encourage staff to raise any issues of workplace stress.

Whether through speaking to a line-manager or HR department, make sure they understand that you’ll care for their health, wellbeing, and development. Without them, you could risk facing tribunal hearings and fines for negligence and malpractice.

Peninsula offers expert advice on dealing with workplace stress and other work-related illnesses. Our certified HR consultants and wellbeing specialists can support you and your staff through challenging times.

We also offer 24/7 HR consultation and employment advice – anywhere and anytime. Our advisers are fully trained and ready to support all your workers’ needs.

And if you’re not yet a client, you can still enjoy free advice from our specialists. Simply call us on 0800 028 2420.


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