Does work stress qualify as a Mental Health Day? Email to teachers: No, it does not.

Mar 2, 2023, 6:00 PM
washington county school district...
Photo: KSL TV

SALT LAKE CITY — Be careful how you phrase that email. Teachers in Southern Utah are frustrated after an email from their school district reminded them that if they’re stressed at work, they can’t burn a Mental Health Day or use stress as an excuse to spend one of their sick days. 

Dave & Dujanovic hosts Dave Noriega and Debbie Dujanovic talk it over with a teacher who received the email in question.

Debbie shares the Feb. 15 email from the executive director of Human Resources for the Washington County School District:

Please share this email with your staff. We are concerned with a trend of using sick leave to take a “much needed break from the stresses of work.” Employees often refer to it as a “Mental Health Day.” Regretfully, the “Mental Health Day” reasoning is a misconception amongst some employees. They cannot use sick leave to get away from the stresses of work and enjoy some time off. They can use personal leave for that purpose.”

And now, the follow-up email:

I would like to apologize for the tone of my original email about abuse of sick leave and mental health days. It was not my goal to make anyone feel like their mental health was not important, nor to hurt morale among our staff members.”

“Is this really a sick day or is this just a sick-of-work day?” Dave asked.

Use your Mental Health Day for mental health needs . . . but isn’t mental health, health?

“Amy Barton is a second-grade teacher in Washington County. She’s also the president of the Washington County Education Association,” Noriega said. “I asked her, ‘What was your reaction when they sent out the email?”

“I was a little frustrated by the tone because immediately we started hearing from members who were understandably confused and upset, but I know that the intent was to clarify that sick days can’t be used essentially as vacation days or as stress-relief days on the job,” Barton said. “They can be used as a mental health day if the employee is experiencing mental health difficulties and working with their physician to address those.”

If a teacher is working with a doctor or mental health specialist to treat anxiety or depression, etc., time away from work is provided by the district, according to Noriega.

“Isn’t mental health, health? I think we’ve established that,” Dujanovic said. “It’s taken us a long time. It’s taken my entire career to establish mental health as health.”

She added that teachers should be given the freedom to take a day off if they are feeling mentally out of balance.

“Do you think that this email had to come out because people were abusing the system?” Noriega asked Barton.

“There had to have been some cases of misuse in order for the emails to be triggered,” Barton said. “Do I wish that those had been addressed individually? — and I assume that they were — Yeah, that’s always the better way than sort of scattershot into the flock.”

Mental health doesn’t care about your schedule

“Some of you are saying, ‘Look, teachers get several weeks off in the summer. They get a holiday break. They get a spring break. . . Why in the world would they have a mental health crisis? They just had three months off last summer,” Dujanovic said.

“You see where I’m coming from on this,”  she said. “When you’re having a mental-health moment, and you need time away from the workplace, it doesn’t matter if you had three months of vacation. . . . What matters is you’re having a hard time right now. I think teachers deserve to have a Mental Health Day without having to explain it to the boss.”

“I don’t think teachers have a monopoly on stress,” Noriega said. “You and I show up to work every day, and there are stresses in our job. I mean, your co-host is the worst.”

“If you’re having a genuine mental health crisis, absolutely, go get your help,” he said. “If you need to take some time off, that is totally fine — and the Washington County School District does allow that if you’re working with a mental health professional, if you’re working with your doctor, and they say you need some time off, they allow for that, you can use sick days for that.

“I think what they’re saying is — if you’ve got a little stress, if you would like to have the day off, if it would be nice — you can’t use a sick day for that. If it’s crucial, then you can,” Noriega said.

Teachers asked to snitch on each other

  Dujanovic reads the last paragraph of the first email from the Washington County School District HR director:

We asked you to help us by reporting sick-leave abuse and avoiding the temptation to use it for anything other than qualified healthcare needs.”

“I’m just gonna say it like it reads to me: He calls on teachers to tattle on other teachers,” she said.


Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play. 

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Does work stress qualify as a Mental Health Day? Email to teachers: No, it does not.