Stress Leave in Queensland: Understanding Your Rights and Options


When workplace stress becomes overwhelming, it can seriously impact your mental and physical health, eventually forcing you to take time off. This period of absence is commonly known as ‘stress leave’.

What is Stress Leave?

Unfortunately, in Australia, “stress leave” is not an official or legally recognised category of leave. However, if you need time off due to work-related stress, you have paid and unpaid options for doing so, which we outline below. If you are a permanent (full time or part time) worker, you are entitled to take paid leave in the form of: 

  • Sick leave: Full time employees are entitled to 10 paid sick days per year. If your job-related stress leads to a diagnosed mental health condition, you can use your accumulated paid sick leave (sometimes called personal leave). This type of leave can be taken at any time regardless of the cause of your illness. Some employers may require a medical certificate. 
  • Annual leave: Full time and part time employees are entitled to 4 weeks’ paid annual leave per year. If you have exhausted your paid sick leave, you may take further ‘stress leave’ in the form of paid annual leave.
  • Domestic Violence Leave: Since 2023, all employees are entitled to 10 days of paid family and domestic violence leave if they experience violent, threatening or abusive behaviour by a close relative, member of their household or current/former partner. 
  • Compassionate leave: Full time employees are entitled to take 2 days paid compassionate leave following a death or miscarriage of a relative or household member.  

If you are a casual worker, you are not automatically entitled to paid sick or annual leave. However, you are entitled to 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave and unpaid sick, carer’s, compassionate and community service leave. Depending on the industry you work in, you may be covered by a modern award that contains additional paid leave entitlements. 

If you have suffered a psychological or physical injury at work, you may be entitled to: 

  • Workers' compensation (WorkCover): In extreme cases of workplace stress leading to a psychological injury, you might be eligible for a WorkCover claim for treatment and income support. If your claim is accepted, WorkCover will pay some or all of your wages while you take time off work to recover from your injury. 

Common Grounds for Stress Leave

Work-related stress can happen for many reasons, and not all stressful situations automatically warrant stress leave. Here are some common factors that can contribute to severe stress requiring time off:

  • Excessive workload: Unrealistic deadlines, heavy workloads, and constant pressure can take a toll on your mental health.
  • Inadequate support: Lack of resources, support from colleagues or managers, and poor guidance can be major stressors.
  • Bullying or harassment: Dealing with workplace conflict and mistreatment can significantly impact your well-being.
  • Major organisational changes: Downsizing, role changes, or uncertainty about job security create constant anxiety.
  • Work-life imbalance: Difficulty balancing work demands with personal needs can strain your mental health.

Psychological Conditions Related to Work Stress

Prolonged and severe work stress can lead to various diagnosed mental health conditions, including:

  • Anxiety Disorders: Generalised anxiety disorder, panic attacks, phobias
  • Depression: Feeling helpless, hopeless, and a loss of interest in things you normally enjoy.
  • Adjustment Disorder: Significant emotional distress after a stressful work event.
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Develops after a traumatic or distressing work incident.

Impact of Existing Psychological Conditions

A history of mental health issues doesn't automatically rule you out from taking stress leave or making a WorkCover claim for a workplace psychological injury. Here's what you need to understand:

  • Aggravation of Pre-Existing Conditions: Work-related stress can worsen an existing psychological condition. To lodge a successful WorkCover claim, medical experts need to confirm that your work was a significant contributing factor to the worsening of your pre-existing condition.
  • Increased Susceptibility: In some cases, a prior mental health diagnosis might make individuals more susceptible to work-related stress injuries. You still have the right to a safe and healthy workplace, though the nature of your employment might need adjusting if possible.
  • Employer's Duties: Employers still have a responsibility to take reasonable steps to minimise the risk of stress in the workplace, provide support to all workers, and manage the situation sensitively. This doesn't change with a pre-existing condition.

Applying for Stress Leave: Process Under WorkCover and with Your Employer

  1. Seek Medical Treatment: Consult a doctor or psychologist to discuss your stress symptoms and get a formal diagnosis of any related mental health condition. Obtain a Work Capacity Certificate outlining your limitations.
  2. Inform Your Employer: Share your health concerns and the doctor's recommendations with your employer as soon as possible. Provide the Work Capacity Certificate.
  3. Consider a WorkCover Claim: If your condition results from severe work-related stress (work is the significant contributing factor), explore lodging a WorkCover claim. Remember, there are time limits for making a claim.

Important points

  • Open Communication: Have a clear, honest conversation with your employer about your condition and any necessary work adjustments. WorkCover or any future legal compensation claim will want to see that you have tried to raise and resolve these issues with your employer.
  • Documentation: Keep comprehensive records of medical appointments, consultations, and any stressful work incidents.
  • Legal Advice: For complex WorkCover claims, consider seeking legal advice from a personal injury lawyer specialising in worker's compensation matters. Smith’s Lawyers are psychological work injury experts and provide free initial advice and risk-free claims with no upfront costs.

Additional Resources

Last updated:
February 28, 2024

Disclaimer: This information is designed for general information in relation to Queensland compensation law. It does not constitute legal advice. We strongly recommend you seek legal advice in regards to your specific situation. For help understanding your rights, please call 1800 960 482 or request a free case review to talk to one of our lawyers today.

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