How To File for a Stress Leave at Work

Leave Is Available for Employees Experiencing Stress or Anxiety

She may want to consider a stress leave from work.
Photo: Peopleimages / Getty Images

Everyone knows that if you have the flu, you should stay home from work to recover and not spread the infection to your colleagues and friends. It’s also clear that giving birth requires time off from work. But what about stress? Can you take a “stress leave” from work?

You can, and sometimes taking a stress leave is the right thing to do. In a 2021 Gallup survey, some 44% of employees experienced a lot of daily stress the day before.

You may not see your situation strictly as needing a “stress” leave, but you may see it as experiencing burnout, anxiety, or depression. You need to apply for a leave of absence for any of these reasons in a similar way. Here’s how you should approach making the request for a stress leave from work.

Key Takeaways

  • You are eligible for FMLA if you've worked at least 1,250 hours in the past 12 months and your employer has at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius of the workplace.
  • Once your FMLA leave is approved, you should not do any work other than answering a quick email.
  • You can take up to 12 workweeks of FMLA leave for stress; these days do not have to be taken off consecutively.

Determine Whether You Are Eligible for FMLA

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies to companies with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of the workplace. For FMLA eligibility, you must have been employed by your company for at least a year and have worked at least 1,250 hours in the past 12 months. If you meet these qualifications, it’s possible that you are eligible for legal protection for your stress leave.

Go to your Human Resources department and let them know you would like to take an FMLA-approved absence for stress leave. They will provide you with the necessary paperwork that you must take to your doctor. Just saying you are too stressed out to work is not sufficient—your doctor will need to recommend that you take a stress leave.


When you speak with your doctor, it’s important that you speak honestly and not downplay your symptoms. She or he can’t make a fair evaluation if you keep saying, “It’s fine. Everything is fine. I’m just a little stressed.” Remember, stress can affect you physically as well as mentally.

WebMD says “Stress seems to worsen or increase the risk of conditions like obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems, and asthma.” Stress is not something you should ignore.

Your doctor will fill out the paperwork. To qualify for the stress leave, you must be suffering from a serious medical condition. Not all stress causes an FMLA-eligible condition. But, if your doctor agrees that you are suffering from a severe condition and that you are unable to work during this time period, you will be eligible for protected leave.


You have 15 days to return the FMLA paperwork, so make sure you get it back into HR. It’s also okay to send the paperwork in with a spouse or a friend if your condition prohibits you from going into the office.

What Does a Stress Leave Look Like?

This will depend on what your doctor instructs you to do. It’s vital that you follow her instructions and don’t just treat this as a vacation. Even though you won’t go into the office, you are not on vacation.

If your leave is approved under FMLA, then you cannot do any work during the time you are off of work. Other than answering a quick question, you should not check your work email, participate in phone calls or meetings, or do any work. You should focus on your health and alleviating the stress which caused you to take the stress leave.


FMLA is unpaid leave from work. Depending on your company’s internal guidelines, they may require you to use your paid vacation and sick leave upfront so that you receive a paycheck while you are on stress leave. Some companies require you to do so, while others do not. You may also have short-term disability insurance that will cover at least a portion of your pay while you are on stress leave. Check with your HR benefits coordinator or your benefits provider.

Can You Take Intermittent FMLA for Stress Leave?

Yes, you can. If your doctor feels that a shortened workweek or other accommodation is vital to help you with your serious stress condition, intermittent FMLA is possible. FMLA allows eligible employees to take up to 12 workweeks off per year, and you do not have to take the days off consecutively. FMLA leave may be taken in increments of weeks, days, or hours.

What If You Are Not Eligible?

If your company isn’t large enough, or you haven’t worked there long enough, or your doctor doesn’t consider your condition severe enough to leave work, you won’t have a protected leave of absence. This doesn’t mean that your company cannot approve a stress leave, it’s just that they don’t have to guarantee you a position when you return.

Certainly, do ask about taking time off as an unpaid personal leave of absence to get the rest and treatment you need. Many companies will offer you unpaid time off even without the FMLA time off. Your state or region may also have different requirements for employers so ask your HR department.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can I take FMLA for anxiety?

Yes, you can use FMLA leave for anxiety issues. However, you will need to speak with your doctor about taking the leave—the law doesn't protect you if you simply call out for anxiety issues.

How long can you take FMLA for stress?

You can take up to 12 workweeks of FMLA leave. These days do not have to be taken off consecutively.

Is stress covered under FMLA?

Stress is covered under FMLA, but you will have to speak with a doctor about taking time off work. You aren't protected if you call out for stress without a medical recommendation.

Was this page helpful?
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Gallup. "State of the Global Workplace: 2022 Report."

  2. U.S. Department of Labor. "Fact Sheet #28: The Family and Medical Leave Act," Page 1.

  3. WebMD. "10 Health Problems Related to Stress That You Can Fix."

  4. U.S. Department of Labor. "Certification of Health Care Provider for Employee’s Serious Health Condition Under the Family and Medical Leave Act," Page 1.

  5. U.S. Department of Labor. "Fact Sheet #28I: Calculation of Leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act," Page 1.

Related Articles