Are Mental Health Days Sick Days?

Apr 1, 2024 | Workplace Mental Health

What is a mental health day?

The concept of mental health days in a workplace is still evolving. There are two primary interpretations of what a mental health day is:

  1. A day to practice self-care, reduce stress, and/or prevent burnout. Someone does not need a mental health condition to utilize these days. Any employee feeling the effects of stress or needing a day off to protect their mental health is encouraged to do so.
  2. A mental health day can also be seen as using sick days because of poor mental health that impairs your ability to fulfill workplace duties.

In the first definition, mental health days do not require you to be ill and unable to work. In the second definition, you need to utilize sick time because poor mental health impairs your ability to work.

Potential Problems

A potential problem in using the term “mental health days” means employers may discriminate based on mental health. For example, if someone requests a “mental health day,” employers may be less likely to grant sick time or a day off. This is because some employers view mental health as less legitimate than physical health. If a workplace does not stigmatize mental health, using the term “mental health days” should not cause any issues.

Another potential problem can arise if your employer defines “mental health days” differently than you do. Let’s say you are too unwell to work due to poor mental health. In contrast, your employer sees mental health days as wanting a day off to manage stress. Your employer may be more likely to deny your request if they don’t understand that you are requesting sick time.

Legal Implications

Legally, the Canadian Human Rights Commission requires employers to accommodate mental health conditions in the workplace. This also means poor mental health is a legitimate reason to use sick days. However, your employer does not have to provide self-care days or days off to reduce stress.

You do not need to legally disclose the type or nature of illness to use allocated sick days. Unfortunately, some employers still pressure employees to disclose information about their illness. In workplaces that stigmatize mental health, it is beneficial for employees to keep mental health-related reasons for sick days private.

Learn More

Workplace Strategies for Mental Health is a great resource to learn more about mental health in the workplace.

You can also learn more about workplace mental health through our newest workshop: Cultivating Wellness. This session goes over signs of wellness vs. distress in the workplace, managing workplace stress, strategies for work-life balance, and self-care fundamentals. Learn more about booking a private training here.