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To be furious about how my DSis has been treated, and ask for advice?

(21 Posts)
stripeyjimjams Fri 05-Apr-13 16:21:45

I posted in Employment Issues about this last week, and got some great replies, but the situation has moved on.

My DSis suffered from depression throughout most of last year. At certain points, she was very unwell. This led to her taking some time off work and being on medication. Her employer at the time wasn't happy. She told my DSis that she couldn't keep taking time off and expect her job to remain. My DSis was as honest as seemed appropriate, told the manager she was suffering from depression and was doing all she could to get better (therapy, meds). The manager told her she'd need to be more transparent about her condition and how it might affect her work, or she's be demoted (to a wage she couldn't afford to live on).

DSis was invited to a meeting with manager and asst manager to discuss the situation, and was told she could bring someone along, so she brought me. I sat in on this meeting, while they read out a list of the times DSis had called in sick, and problems they had with her performance. She gave them excellent examples of how she had addressed the performance related issues. She's sitting there shaking, holding back tears while they tell her she needs to get into more detail about what's wrong with her, so they can work around it. Basically, they wanted to know why she had a short stay in hospital. This was because she took an overdose. She finds talking about this utterly traumatic, and broke down in tears. They said she basically needed to be more honest, or be demoted. She refused to tell them, and was demoted. She resigned soon after.

Fast forward to now, she is much improved. Off her meds for a few months, volunteering at a school, and doing well. She wants to do a PGCE and I'm really proud of her.

She's applied for a paying job now that she feels better. She contacted her old work to ask in advance if it would be OK for the prospective employers to contact them for a reference. Manager comes back and says yes, of course, but I'll have to be honest with them. And that's it. And now DSis is in pieces, thinks she'll be forever unemployable.

This woman (old manager) has form for being unpleasant. I used to work there and we were all good friends. She refused to come to my wedding (which happened just after DSis had resigned) as she said she'd be uncomfortable with DSis there. Fine by me. But she chose to phone me during my hen dinner (which she knew I was having that night, she even said so on the phone) to have a long conversation about why she wasn't coming.

Sorry this is so long, but I'd love any advice on how to help DSis in preparation for her interview, and what to say about the possibility of a bad reference from the old manager. I'd love to sue the pants off the old manager for discrimination under the MH act, but know that's not possible.

squeakytoy Fri 05-Apr-13 16:23:56

I would be going to the citizens advice and checking out the rules of constructive dismissal for a start.

EllieArroway Fri 05-Apr-13 16:43:11

I agree with squeaky - she needs proper advice. She should look into constructive dismissal and what the rules are with regards to references. They are quite strict, but I'm not sure of the details.

She won't be unemployable because of this. Can she get a reference from the people she's been volunteering for?

vj32 Fri 05-Apr-13 17:48:51

I had loads of time off for illness when I was pregnant. I was on a temporary contract so ended up taking maternity leave ASAP and didn't go back. They didn't take it very well. So sort of similar in that it wasn't really my fault, but I fully accept it was crap for the people I was working with as they got dumped with a load of work and extra stress because of me.

They did provide a reference, but it just consisted of confirming that I worked there and that there weren't any disciplinary issues or anything but that they couldn't comment on my work because I had so much time off. While wasn't great, but it didn't stop me getting another job, and I know my other reference was really good.

I would check out her rights, but also focus on getting a really good second reference. If your sister has a really good reference from her volunteer work, the other won't matter as much, especially if she is open about health problems. (She will have to disclose this when she does a PGCE anyway as they have to check your medical fitness to teach, or did 5 years ago.)

JamieandtheMagicTorch Fri 05-Apr-13 18:02:32

I am pretty sure you could get some advice and even advocacy from a mental health charity such as Mind or Sane.

JamieandtheMagicTorch Fri 05-Apr-13 18:05:18

Also, the charity Rethink Mental Illness, which is quite campaigney, AFAIK

DitaVonCheese Fri 05-Apr-13 19:17:40

It's illegal to give a bad reference afaiw. They will just confirm she worked there.

rhondajean Fri 05-Apr-13 19:26:36

It's not illegal as such but there is a possibility of suing if you have been given a bad reference.

Thr last place I worked, the chief officer (a thoroughly unpleasant woman who is never happy with anything) is famed for dating with faint praise. A classic example is their last annual report which mentions a previous colleague who was a supervisor but moved to a larger company to become a senior manager and it said "x moved onto a similar post with another company".

I will never ask her for a reference again but I get round it by giving someone else who used to work for her as a manager. I worked closely with him and he now works elsewhere. Is there any chance your sister could find someone like that?

rhondajean Fri 05-Apr-13 19:26:58

Damning not dating.

SomethingProfound Fri 05-Apr-13 19:36:48

Can your sister not use the school she is volunteering with at the moment for a reference?

HeartsTrumpDiamonds Fri 05-Apr-13 19:38:09

I am agog that the manager and assistant manager thought it was appropriate to bully her about her depression.

Having a diagnosed mental illness is classified as a disability and I am almost certain that they contravened the Equality Act (formerly Disability Discrimination Act). Where were their reasonable adjustments??? Occupational Health?? they demoted her for having an illness?

God the stigma surrounding mental illness makes me sick. Would they have treated her that way with a physical illness, like cancer?

Anyhoo, time to get off my soap box because none of this is all that helpful to your DSis's current situation.

I agree with other posters that this awful woman is not necessarily needed as a reference. Is there someone else at the company who could say "DSis had some time off due to illness but managed it well under the circumstances"? or not use the company at all and rely on volunteer references and a previous job?

Hope it works out for her. You are a nice sister.

redexpat Fri 05-Apr-13 19:38:23

Can she not ask someone from the school for a reference instead? It would be more recent.

PenelopePipPop Fri 05-Apr-13 19:50:06

YANBU. Long-term mental health needs constitute a disability and as such are a protected characteristic under the Equality Act. Her new employer would need to tread carefully in asking any questions such as 'How many days off sick did you have?' which might lead them to discriminate against hiring a disabled employee. Your sister should read this page from Rethink and download their factsheet and maybe give them a call. And since you still have contact with this woman I'd turn the tables on her. It sounds like she treated your sister illegally. Whether or not your sister wants to take action for constructive dismissal now is one thing, but the least she can do is give a straightforward reference now on what actually matters - whether your sister could perform the job she was hired to do. Since she is clearly a bully you may need to bully back a bit and threaten legal action if there is anything at all in this reference that oversteps the mark.

SanityClause Fri 05-Apr-13 19:50:08

Absolutely find out about constructive dismissal.

As I understand it, there is no limit to the compensation that someone may be paid if they are dismissed because of disability.

Callthemidlife Fri 05-Apr-13 19:57:08

Your sister will now be time-barred for taking any action against her previous employers.

In terms of reference the previous employers have a legal obligation to be fair in anything they say. They do not have to say anything except the bare bones of start/leave dates etc, but if they do say anything and it isn't fair then they can be sued either by your sister (if its unfairly bad) OR by the hiring company (if it deliberately hides something that then becomes a problem in the new job).

I would recommend that your sister finds a job first. Then she needs to get an employment lawyer to write to the company pointing out that company itself acted pretty badly (with examples) and that company has x,y,z legal obligations with regard to providing references. Letter should basically be aimed at persuading them to provide only the very standard 'bare' reference, which is the only solution for them to stay safe legally. Hopefully then the problem will go away (especially if they take letter to their own lawyer lawyer will advise them the same).

Depending on type of industry there are exceptions where company is obliged to make full references, but that's not common.

Snoopingforsoup Fri 05-Apr-13 20:23:08

HR shouldn't be allowing this sort of situation. There are rules about how people off work Ill are treated.
Your DSis can explain she was ill - it happens. She can say literally 'I was off ill and they demoted me, so I felt it better to move on and do something I love'. It's not a lie and highlights the positive on her part. Tell her to spin it.
In the meantime, are there other strong references she can ask? Character references from the school she's been working in etc? Focus on what you can do to cancel out the reference from the bastard former employer. It's rare people give in-depth references these days. Large firms often state dates worked and whether they'd employ the person again. An in-depth slating is a rare find these days.

SirBoobAlot Fri 05-Apr-13 20:31:15

No advice, but disgusted at the way she was treated. Hope this doesn't set her back.

HollyBerryBush Fri 05-Apr-13 20:34:03

It's illegal to give a bad reference

But it isn't illegal to give a truthful one. Provided it gives no opinion, just truthful facts (eg attendance) you can't be sued.

stripeyjimjams Mon 08-Apr-13 09:56:21

Just wanted to check in and say thank you everyone, for your helpful replies and empathy. As many posters suggest, yes, she will get a reference from the school and it will be glowing because she gets on brilliantly there. She told them about her previous MH issues and they were very sympathetic. It's a school for ASN kids and I'm so impressed by the culture of tolerance and inclusiveness among everyone there.

She will need two references, though, so we'll see what happens with the other manager. I think Snooping has made a really good suggestion in advising she is honest about having been ill, but puts a positive spin on the situation. I just think it's shocking that this woman wouldn't even just want to cover her own back by giving DSis a decent reference and then they'd probably never need to be in touch again. She knows that DSis was too unwell to fight her back or formulate a case for HR at the time. It's very sad, DSis worked for them for 8 years and had been an excellent, promoted employee until she got sick.

Thanks again everyone.

maddening Mon 08-Apr-13 10:46:36

Could she volunteer elsewhere for a second reference?

givemeaclue Mon 08-Apr-13 10:57:17

She is too late to bring a claim for constructive dismissal and to be honest I don't think they acted unreasonably, they made an adjustment to her role giving her a role which was less senior given her medical condition. She refused to give them all relevant information. I am sayin this from an employer perspective she won'get I anywhere with a claim. Most references though just ask for confirmation of employment dates and not much else . They don't ask about sickness absence. I think she will be fine.

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