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Been signed off for work induced stress, what should I expect / do I need to do?

(18 Posts)
NameChange1935 Fri 06-Jan-17 15:31:50

I've NC and have thought a few times about posting but I don't know where else to ask for advice, please let me know if I need to give more info.

My job is quite niche and identifying. There have been some huge changes in our industry that have made managing my job in the usual way (been in the same field some years, considered an expert - my company's assessment, not mine) virtually impossible. This has taken it's toll mentally and physically and I have been signed off for at least four weeks, likely to be longer. My GP thinks it will be longer and a counselling assessor said his honest opinion was six months.

Until the last year, when I have begun to be run down, my record has been exemplary and I've never been signed off for stress or managed someone who has. I've also left my laptop at work so have no access to the intranet and can't obtain policies without requesting them.

The counselling assessor was quite blunt - he said that they can't do post event counselling because all the issues that my immediate health crisis are ongoing and there's nothing wrong with me per se; the root cause is the structure at work and workload that has led to this.

I have had one meeting with my manager this week (signed off on Tuesday following a semi breakdown at the weekend). He was keen for a weekly face to face meeting to check on my wellbeing, which I refused because the thought made me feel sick and panicked, said I would text him in a fortnight to confirm how I was. At present they are planning for me to return in 4 weeks and he also wanted to discuss return to work yesterday "if you feel up to it". I said I didn't. He has been trying to get me to identify "other triggers" than the work ones I have already listed to him (all of which were previously known by him and our director as I brought them up in meetings), I said I couldn't do this as I'd been truthful that it was solely work related.

I know I need to cooperate. I have every intention of returning if they can come up with a solution to what caused the issues (genuinely I have no idea what this could be, my head is a mess and my body is just not cooperating so I can't think clearly).

Can anyone please advise on what the usual process should be, what is expected of the employer and employee? I have tried googling but there's a lot about how to dismiss long term sick people, which doesn't help really!

Also, the counselling assessor said I might wish to consider employment legal advice in case my employers have failed in their duty of care. I strongly had the impression from the initial correspondence (via email after we got cut off on the phone) that my company is worried about a grievance - I have some experience of working with HR on similar issues and I recognised the language my manager used in his email, which was not his usual style. I hadn't even thought about this until the assessor raised it, but that's probably because I've only worked for the one parent company since I graduated some years ago so have not got wide experience of other workplace cultures or norms, just what the owning group does.

Is there anything I need to do, anything I should expect from them? My main focus right now is trying to get well, but I am worried my company will expect a certain level of engagement that I just can't give at present. My ideal would be no contact for a period of weeks to calm down and have a complete break but I don't know if I'm legally allowed to request this?

Arkengarthdale Fri 06-Jan-17 16:07:17

Hi op. Don't have any advice but wanted to express sympathy. I've been in almost exactly the same boat, except I eventually raised a grievance.

It's absolutely fine to have no contact until you're ready, especially in these very early stages. Am I right in thinking you have only been signed off this week? For four weeks? Your employer should not be trying to discuss your return at this point!

Try to get a timeline down on paper of what has led to the overload of work and the various ways you have tried to deal with or raise it as a concern. Keep detailed notes of conversations you are having now - it's often a good idea to email confirmation of your understanding of a conversation as soon as possible afterwards, as then people can't deny what they've said or put a completely different slant on it (I speak from bitter experience).

My employer tried to turn the blame onto other things too, but it sounds as though your doctor and your counsellor are clear that it is work that is the problem. Do you have access to occupational health? I have it in writing from occ health that my management were well aware of the issues and that their treatment of me was the cause of my ill health. Should have been priceless except my union was completely crap.

If you have access to a union I would recommend going through them. Sometimes they can act as a shield between you and the employer, for example you say you want to resolve things but you feel sick at the prospect of talking to your manager. Your union rep could act as a go-between.

Be kind to yourself and remember there is no rush. You are not well and you need time to recover. Doctors don't sign people off willy-nilly in my experience so listen to the medical advice and take the time you need.

Good luck and best wishes flowers

NameChange1935 Fri 06-Jan-17 16:20:14

Hi Ark, thanks for your reply. Yes, signed off this week. I did take a notebook to the meeting but my manager didn't have one so I thought it would look aggressive if I pulled one out, although tbh I am so stressed that I've forgotten most of what was said. He emphasised that everything on the list would be "dealt with" on my return but that's impossible - a bit like saying Brexit will be "dealt with"; they might fix a small niggle but can't fix the overall issue, can only change how we are engaging with it.

Although there is a union I don't know how to sign up and never have signed up so it is probably too late now (from what I have read on here previously).

Sorry to hear you have been through something similar. Do you mind my asking please, how did it turn out for you? Before this I loved my job and I don't want to leave, but I'm also anxious (although this could be the stress talking) that I may never be able to go back.

Arkengarthdale Fri 06-Jan-17 16:49:38

I'm sorry NameChange I said I had no advice and then proceeded to give you paragraphs of it!

Unfortunately my situation turned out badly for me. I did end up with a settlement agreement but haven't been able to find another job because everybody knows everybody else round here (remote depressed rural area) and people talk.

If my experience can help you, you're most welcome to it. Do take detailed notes. Not your problem if your manager isn't as prepared as you. It's well known that stress makes it difficult to remember stuff, so it's perfectly fair to take notes. I didn't, and it cost me dear. People just denied saying things or that I had raised stuff with them. Lay a paper trail. It never seems important at the time, but my god it can be vital later.

Hopefully your employer is considerate and not given to doctoring minutes of meetings, but why find out the hard way? I trusted mine and they were not trustworthy. If the paper trail is never needed you will have lost nothing.

Remember it's a business relationship. They are not your friends, even if you are friendly with them. They have a duty of care towards you as an employee and if they are in breach of this I believe they have a responsibility for sorting it out. I was bullied before i had a breakdown and although everybody knew it was happening, it was denied at my grievance hearing. I so wish I had put all my complaints in writing and kept contemporaneous notes. So treat any meeting or conversation like you would a work one, with an agenda, minutes, agreed actions and follow up. In writing.

Welfare checks are fine but in my opinion it's far too early. I think you are perfectly justified in asking to be left alone for a fortnight. As you can't access your company policies, please do ask for hard copies to be sent to you. I was able to question numerous things that my employer did because I did have access to the policies.

I'm sorry this is long. I'm sorry my bitterness is still coming out. I didn't believe that professional people would behave the way they did, and if I can spare you that by sharing my experience I will.

HR are there to support management, not employees unfortunately. However, they can direct you to relevant policies and provide info.

Shame you're not in a union. Although mine was pretty ineffective just having someone with me in meetings helped. I was always outnumbered at least three to one. My union, although a big one, wouldn't deal with any issues that are ongoing at the time of joining, although I understand others are willing to take on stuff.

There are some good advisors on here, employment lawyers I believe. ACAS is often recommended although I didn't find them helpful in my situation.

I think my big mistake was to try and deal with stuff on my own. My biggest regret is that I didn't seek official help much much earlier (although the useless union took another three months to get in touch with me when I reached the end of my tether and asked for help - a lot of damage was done to my mental health in those three months.

So - take the time you need. Take detailed notes. Seek help, advice and support - and take it!

Be kind to yourself.

NameChange1935 Sat 07-Jan-17 07:13:55

Thanks Ark, I'm sorry to hear things didn't end well and thank you for sharing your experience. I'll make notes next time I meet with them. It's too late now for me to send them a summary email to work but I did send texts to my DP after the meeting explaining what had happened so that'll do formy own record.

Are there any HR professionals who could please answer my questions about reasonable expectations in my OP?

Blinkyblink Sat 07-Jan-17 07:19:23

Sounds awful.

I think you need to accept the job is not for you, and resign.

Snog Sat 07-Jan-17 07:27:41

I asked for email contact only for the first few weeks that I was signed off with stress and this was acceptable to my employer.
OH was a resource that was helpful to me to be engaged with as they are a neutral 3rd party.
My advice would be to put your health first at all times OP. I am still suffering from stress related illness two years on.

Heathen4Hire Sat 07-Jan-17 07:37:02

You say there is a union in your workplace...I am a union member and mine doesn't care WHEN you joined, they would help anyway. Talk to the rep/steward and listen to what they say.

My husband had three months off last year for stress (plus other MH stuff) and his employer was deeply unsympathetic and harassed him constantly. DH blocked their number! He has returned to work (but he is stubborn, part of the issues he has) then his manager, who refuses to believe in stress or any MH stuff, stopped him going to his talking therapy appointments! Now he has been discharged for not attending. I am writing all this because I get what you are going through.

MH issues are still not fully understood by workplaces because many managers relate it to a broken leg, or an infection. It doesn't work like that, the brain, the body and the soul will know when it is rested enough. I am now a "Time to Change" advocate at my job to discuss and challenge these attitudes.

Your current manager can contact you monthly. You can email him when you are up to it to let him know how you are getting on. My husband refused to leave his job and start afresh but I think it's something you should consider.

rumred Sat 07-Jan-17 08:05:42

Hi namechange I'm in a similar situation to you and have been off work for over 6 months. First of all don't resign. Your health has been harmed by work, do not let them off the hook only to put yourself in a worse position.
Join the union and ring their welfare line to discuss your situation. Mine have been a great support and their advice has helped me not make some basic stress related mistakes. Your boss is unreasonable to contact you weekly, would they if you had a physical illness? Of course not. You need time to recover and not be pressurised by the very situation that led to your ill health.
Talk to supportive friends.
Can you speak to your hr department to get access to policies?
You will feel better in time but accept it will be longer than you want.
I read sunbathing in the rain by gwyneth Lewis and it helped enormously. Please look it up.
Any other advice please do pm or ask here. You'll get support, mostly
And I entirely empathise it's such a horrible situation to be in

NameChange1935 Sat 07-Jan-17 09:29:40

Thanks for your responses. I feel better about being firm about contact. I'm definitely not going to resign! Firstly, I love my job but also it would be a bad idea financially and legally. I didn't create the issues with my job, they arose from an unprecedented change in the industry, albeit one I forecast and tried to brief the business on, and have also been raising in my meetings with my manager; I've done everything correctly.

I will go and look again at joining the union, thanks for that Heathen, and also thanks rum for the book recommendation.

daisychain01 Sat 07-Jan-17 13:10:58

Namechange, a couple of bits of advice and a hand-hold. Firstly please take care of yourself!

While you are off, try to prepare some brief facts about the situation from your perspective. Think in advance (hard, I know!) what that meeting with your manager will involve. Request an agenda in advance, don't go into the meeting blind-sided. Your employer must give you prior notice to prepare for the meeting.

I recommend you outline your circumstances (succinctly) to ACAS. They run a confidential helpline. Again, prepare for that call and have relevant facts at your fingertips. They can give you specific guidance based on employment law.

You have the right to be accompanied to your meeting with your manager. That can be a colleague or a Union Rep. Whoever it is, make sure you choose someone who can support you and take notes. That means you can focus on the meeting and your companion does the admin. They are not allowed to speak on your behalf. Talk with ACAS and they can give you further info.

Policies that could be relevant

Disciplinary and Performance

The above policies must give a summary of the process steps depending on your circumstances, ie if you will raise a Grievance. Or if it's a Performance related matter. The aim is to get you back on track, firstly an informal performance Plan, then there needs to be a review after 6-10 weeks, whatever is decided.

daisychain01 Sat 07-Jan-17 13:13:05

The Acas Helpline number is 0300 123 1100. Customers with a hearing or speech impairment may prefer to contact us using the Text Relay service. You can contact the Acas Helpline using Text Relay by dialling 18001 0300 123 1100

ACAS are the government sponsored conciliation service, by the way.

NameChange1935 Sat 07-Jan-17 17:09:15

Hi daisy, thanks I will call ACAS next week to ask advice about stress related sickness. This is definitely not a disciplinary or performance issue, nor could they make it into one; I've had my review and it was very good, as with all previous reviews.

EvaSthlm Mon 09-Jan-17 19:35:16

I once worked at a workplace where 10% of staff had been or was away from stress related disease.... some worked 25% some worked 50%... some nothing and were at home... In several of those cases it ended with these people changing jobs later on, on their own accord, and being much happier at their new workplaces. (I know this because of LinkedIn...) It really ought to be in your employers interest if they'll get you back fit for work, but the job will have to be redesigned somehow, or at least your position, what is expected of you, and I suppose it is this change that you'll have to discuss with your manager. Especially if it's unmanageable as it is. Just out of curiosity I searched for industries facing "unprecedented change" lately, but came up with a host of disparate industries: model industry, insurance industry, transport sector, airlines industry, data centres, legal industry...
You might want to set your aim a little bit lower, on being "good enough", many young people (women?) try to be among the best, but that is stressful. (My current manager often talks a lot about it's being enough to be "good enough" and not to overdo things).
Anyway, I live in a country where joining a union is what you do, it's not stigmatising in the least, they also provide increased income insurance (12 months w. 80% of salary in case of a job loss) and legal help, if needed, as well as educational seminars on contemporary topics.

EvaSthlm Mon 09-Jan-17 19:38:44

Remember that your health is worth more than being successful, so always put health and your own well-being as the top priority.

user1470997562 Wed 11-Jan-17 14:27:06

I have worked in occ health and we used to suggest employers do a stress risk assessment in cases of work related stress. The HSE has some advice on it, which I've linked above.

NameChange1935 Wed 11-Jan-17 17:12:16

Thanks both, that's really helpful. I have requested my company policies but haven't received them yet. One thing that could change, as you have identified Eva is what is considered 'good enough' by my company, which is something I hadn't thought about but would make sense.

zaazaa Sun 15-Jan-17 12:58:35

Hi NameChange, I am going through something similar at the moment. I rang ACAS, they suggested I take out a grievance as like you, I had reported issues verbally and in email and they did nothing. During that time, I got migraines, eczema and insomnia so badly my doctor signed me off. I was referred to OH 5 times in 6 months and at my last 'informal' supposed help you back to work meeting, they basically said OH is recommendations only and we are going to disregard their recommendations so like you, I am back at square one, worried about returning to work, worried about these two managers who haven't behaved professionally and worried that my health will deteriorate. I joined the union in my workplace but they weren't so good so I went for another union who have been very good with advice. They reassured me that a grievance was the way to go forwards. The problem with these people at work is they make you feel that somehow it is your fault, that you are exaggerating or acting like a snowflake but they say that as if it gets you to drop things or resign then better for them. It sounds as though they have failed in their duty of care as mine have so please get advice ASAP. My grievance was submitted recently and they tried to brush it aside so I am submitting it again this week with an additional complaint on top. I thought I had no case or cause to complain and it has only been ACAS, the union, advice from friends and a former Head of HR plus the advice here that has given me the strength and resolve to o forward with it. Please keep us up to date with developments and sending you hugs. I am in the same boat so know how it feels flowers

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