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Emoployment advice - possible discrimination?

Hello,

I’ve worked for the same company for nearly nine years. I declared having MS on the medical questionnaire. For a small company (as they were when I started) they have always been supportive about my illness and taking time off for relapses. Our contract only allows for very small amount of sick pay in a rolling year so the vast majority of the time, I only receive SSP. I went part time in April 2012 after a relapse at the beginning of the year. I am still there five days a week and only work seven and a half hours a week less than full timers.

In July 2012, I was effectively promoted (without a title) to create a team consisting of just me. The area I cover was desperately needed. I got lots of positive recognition and I really love what I do. I had a bad eight week relapse at the end of 2012.

In April 2013, I got a payrise for the work I’d put into creating this team and told they had approved me getting an assistant as the area had grown so much. I had to interview the candidates (never done an interview in my life) and I was told she would report to me and a change in my title would be forthcoming to reflect this (which never happened)

She started just as I went onto Gilenya and it’s been a very rocky road for me with three relapses in nine months including one just before Christmas then back at work two weeks then another. I am currently awaiting a referral to be considered for Tysabri.

To be honest, she has been an absolute Godsend. She has picked everything up really quickly, is far better at the technical kind of stuff we do and has really been pushed in at the deep end as with me being off so much, she’s had to cover for me during the times I’ve been off and learn pretty quickly. We work well together as the parts of the role she enjoys, I don’t and vice versa so we decided between us to split our workload along those lines. I’ve always stressed that we’re a team but she has always said she feels like I’m in charge.

I went back to work yesterday and I definitely feel there is an atmosphere. She has really not been at all chatty with me like we usually are. During my most recent absence, she has been very involved in some new regulation that will effect us which has included visiting our head office to meet the team we deal with (which I have been pushing for since I began doing this role) and seems very “in” with both our direct manager (DM) and our operations manager (OM) For example, she was told by our DM that we’re moving desks tomorrow which she then relayed to me (DM didn’t tell me) and our OM asked me to do something this morning to do with this new regulation (a reallly crappy proof reading task) and when I got back to my desk, she didn’t say anything to me until I later mentioned what I was doing and she said “oh yeah, he told me he was going to ask you to do that”. Our DM interviewed for new staff for our team last week (I didn’t know we were getting any new staff) and “my assistant” sat in on those and was told yesterday by our DM who they had made offers to - which she (assistant) then relayed to me this morning. The biggest thing is that this new regulation is being rolled out this week and next and when I asked to sit in on these briefings, as I’ve missed all the discussions regarding this, I was told no because they “don’t want to bombard me”. I made it clear to our HR manager (back to work interview) and my DM (brief update on changes mainly for her role) yesterday that work is not an issue, the problem is I’m on a drug that’s not working for me. Even something stupid like the fact that we share a single phone (mine was taken away last time I was off sick) and it now has her name first on the display is really getting to me.

I know it all sounds really petty but I’m actually pretty upset about it all. I feel like I’ve effectively been demoted without anyone actually telling me and now also being completely frozen out.

The other thing is that myself and my OH have already decided during this latest relapse that I’m going to leave work later this year once our AST is up on the flat we live in even if I get on Tysabri. I just want to enjoy any quality time I have left to be honest. We are going to be moving to a property owned by his father (so living rent free) which will also massively reduce my OH’s travel costs. It is the only way we can balance out losing my money until some debt we have finish next year. My employers have no idea about this.

Part of me thinks I should just suck it up - I’ve only got eight months left and then I’ll be gone and I’ll be laughing when my assistant gets pregnant (which I think she will this year) and then they’ll be screwed… but the other part of me wants to say something and I do feel like because I’ve not been around that much, they are effectively using my MS against me even though they chose to promote me after I’d just gone part time!

Thoughts please (be gentle with me!)

TT x

Hi TT

They are being rather insensitive. It is always difficult when one has been away on sick leave. I covered someone away on extended sick leave but was so careful (I hope) not to change a single thing whilst she was away, even keeping the brand of coffee the same, although I disliked it! She was the sole employee before I joined. She got really upset when she returned because a client asked to speak to me. Your work mate is going to feel everything you feel now. She has been running the show and suddenly you are back, although she knew all along you would be back probably part of her still feels upset that she has lost the responsibility she had. Equally and quite rightly you feel you should carry on where you left off. I am sure it will settle, just keep talking, and don’t let resentment set in.They obviously value your skills and equally don’t want to put you under any pressure as you have only just returned. Suggest to the bosses that as you are back now you would appreciate being “kept in the loop” on relevant issues. Ask if there was a problem with the phone and if not could yours please be re-instated as one line is not really sufficient. It is going to take a little time for the dynamics to settle back to how it was. It is not petty it is very real and upsetting and we all need our work place to be as stress free as possible. Chin up and onwards and upwards. Sometimes just sharing experiences will make the situation seem less fraught. Hope it gets easier for you.

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Thanks Dinks :slight_smile: Just talked it through with the OH, before I read your reply, as he is far more rational than me (about stuff like this anyway!) and he said pretty much the same thing about it being difficult for her with me coming back and I’d never thought of it like that. The situation is also a bit tense right now as our DM has had her title taken away from her and been reduced from managing four large teams to just one of them which was sprung on her half an hour before it was annouced so she is very bruised about that and probably doesn’t want either of us “leading” this new team as it’s all she has left. Anyway, he thinks I should just keep my mouth shut for now for two reasons: i) if I ask the question about where I stand, I’m not going to like the answer. ii) they’re probably hoping I don’t ask the question as they probably suspect they’re on a bit of a sticky wicket (by using my absence/disability against me) He also said proof reading is a really important job - I did find a couple of things that shouldn’t have been in there - so they obviously trust me as I’m in effect checking all the work they’ve done whilst I’be been off so that made me feel a bit better. So, sucking it up it is…for now!

Glad you have talked it through. It is probably not that your OH is more rational - he is one step removed from the situation so can see it without the strong emotions. He is right Proof reading is very important, just ask my OH he is a publisher. One little comma in the wrong place can alter the entire meaning. Try and enjoy being back at work in a job you obviously care about.

Sorry that you are having to navigate your way through such tricky water.

Very wise words from Dinks.

Good luck.

Alison

Can I be blunt - as I see things - you are being frozen out and you are being overlooked -

The ‘new girl’ is playing a dirty game and seems quite happy to in effect take over your job. Of course she will justify it because she is doing what she has been asked to do. Let her know you’re not happy with what she’s doing. And I don’t believe things are ‘difficult for her’ because you have come back.

The employer may see the ‘new girl’ as a better bet because you have had some time off.

You have two choices - you accept things as they are or you fight back. To fight back you need to get genned up on your legal rights and challenge your employer - have reasonable adjustments been made, are you being discriminated against because you have m.s.?

Read up about constructive dismissal - the law is on your side. If you go down this route get a one off appointment with an employment solicitor, you’ll be surprised at just how many rights you have.

My personal feeling is we have to fight back - we may not win - there will be others with m.s. after us, we should make things easie fo them.

Your employers are not your friends.

The fact you may be moving the end of the year is not relevant.

I think Dinks has given you some very good advice. I was only off for a month with a relapse a few years ago and felt ‘out of the loop’ as things move on so quickly. Even missing out on office gossip can leave you feeling like an outsider and it isn’t done on purpose. The problem is that once you are back in the thick of things, there isn’t always time for your colleagues to remember everything that you should be informed about which is why they say ‘oh, I meant to tell you about that’. Please try not to take every little thing personally.

Hopefully things will settle down after a few days. Perhaps you could suggest a meeting to bring you up to speed with anything major that you should know about?

Good luck with work, tysabri and everything else

Tracey xx

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I think that the thing can be interpreted in a range of ways, Zetland, and this one is right up at the ‘fighty and combatative’ end of the spectrum!

Technically, this is all correct. But charging like a bull at a gate is necessarily the best approach, and the effort and likely unpleasantness involved has to be weighed against any possible outcome.

Now, here I completely disagree. We all have limited resources at our disposal in terms of energy and time and patience. In a case like this, I think that a person’s first responsibility is to do what is best for her and her family in her particular circumstances, and not get side-tracked by trying to set the world to rights. We all have enough troubles!

Alison

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Alson - thanks

What comes over to me from the initial post is that Tweacle Tart is not being fairly treated. She has trained up the ‘new girl’ and the ‘new girl’ seems happy to take over. This leaves TT in a diffcult situation and I feel that unless she fights back she will be frozen out further.

TT has two options - either let management do what they want which at the moment seems to be subtly distancing themselves from her and hoping she will drift away or TT can fight back.

Making a direct comparison, lets imagine the ‘new girl’ was a ‘new man’ - there would be cries of discrimination on the grounds of gender - in fact the managers wouldn’t dare do what they are doing in this present situation.

The same should apply when one of their staff has a disability.

Of course it’s a personal decision what anyone does in these circumstnces. I hope TT will familiarise herself with the legal position especially with regard to constructive dismissal. This is all on-line and there’s no harm in studying it.

And I hope she will fight he corner - what has she to lose?

Observation here. could it be that TT’s perception, quite understandably, is that of being excluded. After all it was her first day back at work and we all feel apprehensive as if we are being judged on our ability to do the job. Equally some bosses are fearful of asking too much too soon - a case of damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Everyone should be aware of employment rights and regulations regardless. I still feel TT should give it a few days and then re-assess.

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I take your point re. bosses - some years ago at work I realised I was given increasingly less responsibilty than my colleagues. I tackled my boss and she was quite open and said she felt ‘it was kinder’ not to give me a load of work. I was annoyed and it shattered my self-confidence. I believe she thought she was doing the right thing. 6 months later the company was reorganised and because my cv was ‘lacking in some areas’ I was sidelined into a dead-end job.

I hope TT will familiarise herself with her legal position, go with her gut feeling about what is happening at work and only she can decide whether to let things continue or challenge things.

Thanks to everyone who has contributed. It’s not the first time I’ve encountered problems about my MS. From red faced squirming when declaring it at interviews to being hounded out of a previous job because of my sick leave (I would have fought it harder than I did but I hated the job)

Having thought things over, I spoke to my colleague (let’s call her New Girl) ysterday morning. I did it along the lines of “it’s been a bit awkward with me coming back, you’ve been doing everything, you must wonder where you stand, I’m wondering where I stand” etc etc. She didn’t really say a lot but I e-mailed our DM and asked for a meeting which NG thought was a good idea. DM and NG were interviewing a potential new starter in the afternoon - cue at least three enquiries as to why I wasn’t sitting in there - and NG called me when they had finished. Walked into the meeting room and they are both sitting on the same side of the desk, bizarrely identically dressed (grey, sleeveless shift dresses) so I had to sit opposite them so it was just all really uncomfortable from the start. It is clear to me that they have discussed what’s going to happen between themselves - the term ‘thick as thieves’ springs to mind. Anyway, to sum things up, I am back on my own doing the part of the role I enjoy (DM feels it’s my “strength”) whilst NG appears to be heading up a team of three new starters doing another part of the role which is to increase because of the new regulation (file checking) I can only assume from this that we’re both now reporting directly to DM (although no one has actually had the guts to say that) so they have changed the reporting structure without letting me know (and still haven’t - I’m just assuming this but I know I’m right) and effectively promoted her and demoted me. I have also had the door firmly shut in my face in respect of attending any of the rollout meetings of the new legislation and even learning how to do the new file checks. I got asked “why would you want to do that?” by DM when I asked to sit in on the training with the new starters or even be taught how to do it by NG.

As you can imagine, I am absolutely livid - well, probably 80%, the other 20% is wounded pride. There was no department before me and now NG is swanning around like queen bee - so much so that today she left me a list of things to do as I get in after the rollout meeting started and barely spoke to me when she did briefly come back to her desk.

I know that I’m being discriminated against but I’m really not sure what to do. Part of me feels that I shouldn’t rock the boat as I can hand my notice in in six months and they may try to start disciplinary action against me for my sickness absence if I do rock said boat but I am angry and I feel like I could well lose it if I don’t get it out. I do get on well with our HR manager (who as a bonus hates DM) so I just wondered if I should just speak to her and get it all on the record.

Further thoughts?

Either let them ill-treat you or you fight back.

If the latter go to an employment solicitor - someone who is familiar with Disrimination at Work and familiar with Constructive Dismissal in the Workplace.

Get him/her to write to the head of your organisation requesting clarification of what they are doing to you. Has NG been given your job? The solicitor will mention Discrimination and Constructive Dismissal and it’s something they’ll have to respond to and smething they will have to be very mindful of.

They cannot take disciplinary action for sickness absence.

OK, zetland - you were right. So sorry, TT, that they are such a nest of vipers. I have a bad image of the blank-eyed evil twins sitting side by side in their little shift dresses. I do fervently hope that neither has the arms for that. I am sure that you have your thoughts on the situation, TT, and mine aren’t printable either. Enjoy your weekend, and to pot with them both. Alison

With all due respect Zetland, I don’t think such an aggressive stance will help me although I admit that is usually my default position! Like I said, I’ve worked there for nearly nine years and plan to leave at the end of October this year. I really don’t want my last months to be difficult or to leave filled with bitterness about a place I’ve really enjoyed working. NG has not been given my job. As things were, I was my own team - NG joined as my assistant reporting to me. Over the months, file checking was added to our remit. As I believe things stand now, I’ve gone back to being on my own doing what I did before she joined - she is now heading up a separate part of the team and they will all be file checking. They can take disciplinary action as it’s in our contract although there is a caveat for disabled workers (reasonable adjustments etc) and it would be a long process. I do feel it is highly unlikely they would go down this route though.

Alison, the bit about the arms did make me LOL!

Sadly, they are both skinny minnies

I intend to have a very chilled out weekend although, if things continue, I may have to invest in a punchbag or two voodoo dolls…in matching shift dresses natch! Have a lovely weekend :slight_smile:

Totally respect your position - clearly we are at opposite ends of the spectrum! It seems a pity to me that after working in a place for years doing agood job and being happy there you are now being discriminated against.

As a matter of interest read up about Constructive Dismissal -

TT, something that occurred to me was the risk that, in the name of ‘rationalisation and consolidation’ (or similar weasel words), you might find yourself reporting to NG some time soon! Surely they wouldn’t be that blatant… Worth keeping an eye on, though.

Alison