disabilities, mental health, covid and flexible working

(19 Posts)
whitecremeegg Sun 04-Oct-20 10:28:25

I have multiple disabilities and I'm currently in the vulnerable category. The Covid Secure guidelines for my industry are impossible for me to follow because of my disabilities eg I cannot do social distancing.

Even without Covid, I require reasonable adjustments and prior to Covid I was going through a grievance process because my employer was failing to provide all the adjustments I required. I was being very badly bullied and had evidence of managers saying some really horrible things about my disabilities. As a result of my experiences, I have now been diagnosed with complex PTSD.

I'm trying to summarise so as not to be outing. I had union support which was a bit hit and miss at times.

I have had a year's sick leave so cannot take anymore money wise. I wouldn't say I'm fully better but I can't afford to stay off.

My GP however has been great and has written to my employer saying that I should work from home due to Covid 19, my disabilities and my mental health.

HR, however, are only focusing on the Covid 19 part and saying that "we are all working from home right now anyway" and things will get better and my team will be back in the office in Spring.

However, it appears covid secure measures could be permanent. They want everyone to wear masks (I can't). They want everyone to social distance (I can't). They've changed the layout completely (I can't follow it). They've got 1 way systems and signage that I cannot read properly. I have multiple disabilities.

They've removed any fixed desks and replaced it with a booking system (I need a fixed desk due to disabilities). I have also been told I can't drive at the moment cause of panic attacks at the wheel.

Anyone who doesn't follow the measures is to be challenged / disciplined. No mention of any disabled staff or exemptions.

I am very stressed that they see this as a temporary issue due to Covid but even when Covid goes away, I'm still a disabled person, who was already struggling pre Covid - hence the grievance.

My Union has told me to be careful not to lose any goodwill as they had already agreed to make adjustments but this was pre covid (and still haven't all been done anyway). So I'm a bit annoyed with my union in that regard.

Union have, however, asked HR for me to have an OH referral but employer is pushing me to return to work before I have this, albeit on a WFH basis but I still think I should see OH first?

I am now wondering if I should put in a flexible working request to work from home permanently, even after Covid, because social distancing could be here to stay and even if it isn't, I still have PTSD and other disabilities that could be managed better at home.

Would this piss them off more and 'lose goodwill' like my union warned? I did speak to an HR friend who said to go for it. So I feel conflicted. I don't feel safe returning to work. I feel it would cause a lot of H&S issues and possible other incidences of discrimination, but at the same time, I don't want to be hated any more than I already am.

Are there any HR, lawyers or union reps who could suggest what to do? Oh and I'm trying to job search but that doesn't change my disabilities and in this current climate, there isn't really any jobs!

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whitecremeegg Sun 04-Oct-20 10:28:48

shit that was an essay - sorry.

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flowery Sun 04-Oct-20 10:59:51

I’m a bit confused- you say you don’t feel safe returning to work, and talk about how you can’t follow the Covid secure measures because of your disability, but then it sounds like you’d be working from home?

If your GP has recommended working from home and your employer is happy to allow that, why do you think you need to see OH before starting work?

NooneElseIsSingingMySong Sun 04-Oct-20 11:10:26

Have you had any help from outside agencies like “Access to work”? I’m no expert but I have a hidden disability (Autism) and after lots of enquiring and false starts (referred time Occ health who simply said “Not our area of expertise, can’t help”, suggested Health and Safety - more about accessibility) I was advised to contact Access to work who I’m now working with to get a work based assessment to see if I can get any advice and support.

I think you should definitely have an OH review before you’re pushed back to the office. If it’s beneficial to you to WFH and you’ve proven that you can do your job effectively that would be a reasonable adjustment.

Basically I would push to explore every avenue to get the right support and understanding. I get the same attitude about being an inconvenience to the management and I hate it but ultimately you’re entitled to adjustments to do your job!

DianaT1969 Sun 04-Oct-20 11:27:06

I couldn't follow completely, but it sounds as if you will be working from home until Spring. Is that right? Why don't you start work again, from home, and assess the situation for your disabilities in the workplace once you are back? It will give you around 5 months to ease yourself into work at home before any 'fighting' for adjustments are required.
Apologies if I haven't understood correctly.

whitecremeegg Sun 04-Oct-20 11:28:00

Hi @flowery working from home is temporary until at least the new year or spring. So when I return from sick leave, it will be WFH initially.

However, they have started planning for everyone to return but haven't made it clear enough how they will do that. All I know is that all staff will be wearing masks, visitors are to wear masks, there are perspex screens, social distancing requirements, one way systems, passing places, restricted lift access, restricted toilet access (need to ask permission!!), social distancing signage - it is all things I would struggle with.

Because my PTSD diagnosis came during my sickness absence and is related to my working environment / experiences, my union believes I should have another OH assessment and so does my GP. Plus work lot all the previous OH reports which was another reason for my grievance.

Yes I have Access to Work but not for anything mental health related. I get help via my GP for that. I tried the company EAP but no one answers the phone. Tried emailing and no reply there either and the contact details are correct. There are a lot of issues with my employer and lack of support.

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whitecremeegg Sun 04-Oct-20 11:29:33

The issues are not just Covid related and hence returning in March or New Year or whenever doesn't mean I still won't have challenges.

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AlexaShutUp Sun 04-Oct-20 11:35:31

Can you not go back to work for the time being, and then deal with the issue of returning to the office when the time comes? I'm not clear on why you need to get the longer term issue sorted out before you go back?

DianaT1969 Sun 04-Oct-20 11:48:08

It still sounds as if you are worried about issues that will arise in 5 months. Saying this in the kindest way, but you should really be working from home now (or as soon as you feel well enough) and tackle changes in the workplace if and when you go back. Lots of people could be made redundant in the next 5 months. A vaccine or treatment might be rolled out which means the workplace plans can be scaled back.
Live and work in the moment OP. A lot can happen in 5 months.

Jojobar Sun 04-Oct-20 11:48:28

Are you able to work from home currently? Do you have a proper work station, designated room or at least area to work in etc? Anyone in our organisation who requests to WFH permanently has to have a OH assessment but part of that is having a suitable and separate workspace. Anyone working from their kitchen table or a laptop on their sofa will not be approved (doesn't affect the current temporary arrangements but it means that those employees will be phased back to spend at least part of their time in the office over the next 6 months). I'd therefore be careful about getting OH out to assess you as you may find they don't consider your set up appropriate. Then you'll be back to needing to return in the spring, and your employers will need to make the necessary adjustments to their plan to accommodate your requirements.

whitecremeegg Sun 04-Oct-20 11:55:10

Yes I do already have a desk and a desk chair and a lamp so the set up is fine.

Pre Covid, they were trying to get me back to work (physically in an office) with just one days notice and not any of my adjustments in place. So yes, I do worry about the new year or spring and being in that position.

What people don't seem to realise is that my disabilities will not go away in the new year or in the spring. Its not just a Covid issue. So waiting and seeing does not change the diagnosis nor the recommendations that my GP said to HR that I work from home to protect my mental health.

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AlexaShutUp Sun 04-Oct-20 12:02:17

I think people have understood that your disabilities will still be there in the spring, OP, but they're just saying to focus on one thing at a time. First get back to work, then tackle the issue of adjustments that you will need in the spring.

I'm not totally clear as to whether you were asking for home working as an adjustment before covid, or whether that's new? Have your employers explained why they weren't able/willing to make the adjustments that you had asked for?

Ultimately, they don't have to agree to your request to wfh indefinitely, if they don't feel that this will enable you to perform your role effectively. On the other hand, if you have been doing the role effectively from home for a few months by the spring, they will be on shaky ground saying that it won't work. I'd have thought that it's therefore in your best interests to get back to work asap in order to demonstrate that you can make it work.

user15412486546 Sun 04-Oct-20 12:10:51

Ok, I can see why you're feeling panicked about what will happen in the spring and all the added uncertainty from that.

However I think all you can do right now if focus on the present and going back on a WFH basis, making sure that is working well and any issues are ironed out - then when things do start to change you're in a stronger position because a) you working from home will be something they're used to; b) you will have shown it's successful; and c) it will be possible to go through OH and similar processes if they're trying to get you to work without RAs.

Right now it's too far off and almost hypothetical so there's very little constructive that can be done about how they may or may not ask you to work in spring.

Today they're asking you to WFH with all the right kit, so focus on that and worry about changes when they get here.

I think that's what your union probably means about goodwill - people might feel you were trying to start a battle over something that's currently hypothetical when your present wfh environment is appropriate for your needs and not a problem.

user15412486546 Sun 04-Oct-20 12:15:31

I don't think it's that anyone expects your disability to have magically disappeared by spring, more that the business/employer has no idea how it will be operating then and just needs to focus on supporting you correctly in the present - which it is.

Do you think some of your feelings about this might be a type of emotional flashback to what happened before (when they tried to get you back on a day's notice without RAs)? And that making you feel unsafe?

AlexaShutUp Sun 04-Oct-20 12:18:19

I think that's what your union probably means about goodwill - people might feel you were trying to start a battle over something that's currently hypothetical when your present wfh environment is appropriate for your needs and not a problem.

Yes, this.

whitecremeegg Sun 04-Oct-20 12:21:10

Thank you, you do make some good points above like proving I can WFH effectively over the next few months.

Yes I am having flashbacks. I attempted suicide because of how I was being treated there. The thought of physically going back is very difficult and yes I did ask to WFH pre Covid but different managers were saying yes and no. Some people could (favourites) and others couldn't (me).

I have been diagnosed with new conditions including PTSD whilst on sick leave so some things have changed since I was last physically in work. I am very concerned about my physical and mental wellbeing.

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AlexaShutUp Sun 04-Oct-20 12:25:50

OP, I think you need to try really hard to take it one step at a time. Try not to think ahead to the spring if you can, even though it may be hard. Just focus on doing the job from home now, and try to do it as well as you can. This will help to take the heat out of the situation on both sides, and it will also put you in a stronger position when it comes to negotiating adjustments when the time comes.

flowery Sun 04-Oct-20 12:39:25

Focus on now. If you can work now from home, do so. If you don’t need an OH referral before being able to do so, don’t push for one unnecessarily.

Work from home effectively for the next few months. If at some point in the New Year/spring your employer starts wanting you to return to the office and the provision in place isn’t suitable, get an OH referral then, to seek recommendations to enable you to return (or confirming that you need to continue to work from home). But don’t be obstructive now, when at the moment no one is trying to get you to do anything you’re not able to do or comfortable with.

DianaT1969 Sun 04-Oct-20 13:00:03

You will protect your mental health by starting work from home now and earning a full wage. As we all know, MH deteriorates rapidly when we have financial insecurites or can't see past the next bill. Take a breath, start working from home with enthusiasm and show your company that this is the long-term solution for you that is both inexpensive for them, and productive for the company.

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