How Long Can You Be Signed Off Work With Stress 

Employers should take care of their employee’s well-being while minimising any work disruptions that may occur if an individual is signed off for stress.


James Rowland

Commercial Director James leads Account Management, Sales and Marketing at Neathouse Partners.


07 December 2022


16 July 2024
4 min read
How Long Can You Be Signed Off Work With Stress 

Employers need to take care of their employee's well-being but at the same time minimise any work disruptions that may occur if an individual is signed off for stress.

The length of time an employee may be signed off from work with stress depends on the type and severity of their mental health issue. In some cases, it can be as short as a couple of days or weeks, but in more severe cases, may take several months or even longer. 

From an employer's perspective, under the Employment Rights Act 1996 and The Working Time Regulations 1998, the employee has the right to sickness absence before any redundancy steps can be implemented. 

If you have employees who are away from the workplace for a significant period, you may have wondered how long you can be signed off work with stress before you can take action as an employer regarding employment.

Read on to find out more about managing employees who are signed off for extended periods, and what you can do to support your team at work to manage stress in the workplace.


What does being signed off mean?

Workers are entitled to take time off from their job due to illness or injury and being signed off from work means that an employee has been given formal permission by their employer or GP to take a period away from the workplace to recover.

If an employee is absent from work for more than seven days due to illness, such as stress, they will need a note from their doctor confirming their condition and reason for absence. During this time, it is expected that they will not work and are unlikely to be able to continue with any duties associated with their role.


How does it work?

Unwell employees, whether due to physical or mental health reasons, have the right to take time off work to recover.

This can be done by applying to their doctor or employer for time away from their usual job role and responsibilities.

While this will not always result in a continuous period of being signed off from work, it does enable employers and employees to focus on any issues around health and well-being, whilst making sure that the employee still has access to pay and/or support during such a time.

If an employee is signed off work with stress for more than four days in a row, they are usually entitled to statutory sick pay for up to 28 weeks. Any further sick pay received would be at the discretion of the company and is likely to be outlined in the sickness policy.


Employment law to be aware of surrounding sick leave

Employers need to be aware of the legal guidelines surrounding long-term absence from work due to stress.

  • Under the Employment Rights Act 1996 and The Working Time Regulations 1998, an employee has the right to sickness absence before redundancy steps can be implemented by an employer. Essentially, employers have to give their employees time to recover before any action can be taken in terms of termination or dismissal.
  • Employers must explore other options as well, including rehabilitation supported by occupational health assistance or adjustments in terms of job duties and hours before they can take any further steps regarding long periods of absence.
  • In some cases, long-term sickness can be classified as a disability and may require additional considerations. It is important therefore that employers are aware of the legislation in place to protect employees suffering from mental health issues, such as the Equality Act 2010 and that any action they take does not breach the employee's rights.
  • Employers are responsible for paying Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) while an individual is signed off and in some cases, they may choose to pay full salary depending on company policy.


What does work-related stress look like?

What does stress at work look like

In 2021/22 HSE’s work-related stress report highlighted that stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 51% of all work-related ill health and 55% of all days lost due. This means that managing stress is an issue that employers need to proactively get on top of to ensure they meet their duty of care towards employees and reduce the amount of time lost, but what does stress look like?

Whilst there is no one-size-fits-all definition for work-related stress, it often manifests as apathy, fatigue, insomnia, headaches, irritability and even panic attacks. In the long run, it can cause anxiety or depression.

There are plenty of workplace factors that can cause stress for employees including;

  • an excess of work or deadlines that are always looming.
  • long hours, lack of job security,
  • Feeling isolated and unsupported by your work colleagues or management.,
  • difficult relationships with work colleagues,
  • being bullied or harassed at work
  • Being discriminated against and/or victimised in the workplace
  • Having to tolerate a poor or unsafe working environment

Take a look at this ACAS guide to stress in the workplace for more helpful tips on spotting the signs of stress in the workplace and how to manage stress with your employees.


How to support staff with stress

If you become aware that staff are suffering from work-related stress, you should take all reasonable steps to identify and resolve any work-related factors that are causing or contributing to ill health. Doing this can be beneficial to both you and the employee as reducing stress can make staff healthier and happier, improve performance, and reduce absence levels and disputes.

Steps to reduce stress;

  • reviewing job descriptions,
  • reducing workload,
  • offering support and training where necessary,
  • considering whether they should be sent home for a period of sick leave,
  • encouraging employees to be open about any issues they are facing with work-related stress and providing dedicated points of contact for confidential discussions
  • Have systems in place to support employees such as occupational health referrals, confidential reporting procedures for bullying, harassment and victimisation



When managing employees signed off with stress, the goal as an employer is to find a balance that works for both employer and employee and to ensure the employee can return to work if they choose to, when they are healthy enough to do so.

During the period of absence and return to work process, it is important to be aware of the legal considerations and provide all necessary support to ensure their employee can return to work with their well-being intact.

Whilst the length of time an individual may be signed off from work with stress will depend on the individual situation, you can adjust work expectations, and job roles and offer access to occupational health services that can assist their recovery.


Next steps 

If you would like support managing workers on long-term sick leave, policies or employee support programs to help staff sickness, or understanding your role as an employer when managing the process surrounding absences, Neathouse Partners can help. Call 01244 893776 to speak to our expert team today.

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