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I really need some advice about absence disciplinary at work. Employer has me worried about dismissal.

Hi

I’ve been ill for some time now with various symptoms, all of which have been investigated as separate illnesses until recently when new symptoms appearred and my GP decided it was possibly a Neurological condition. I have now been referred for further tests in relation to possible MS or an MS like condition.

Over the last year or so I have been off work on several occasions due to the symptoms I experience. Some days I just can’t lift my head off the pillow and feel so confused.

In February 2012 I was taken to what my employer calls a stage 1 absence disciplinary and was told that if my absence had not improved or I had not received a diagnosis to explain my absence by the end of June 2012 then I would be taken to a stage 2 disciplinary. Stage 2 bascially means that they can dismiss you at any time should they feel it is appropriate.

However, after speaking with HR and Occ Health they decided that it was not appropriate to move to stage 2 in June 2012 as I had not received a diagnosis and it was not fair to hold me accountable for the length of time it was taking the NHS to investigate my problems.

I was therefore kept on a stage 1 and was told that this would be reviewed again on 19th September 2012. Again any further absences/no diagnosis between these dates would go against me.

Well I have been off work again since 14th September 2012 and do not feel ready to return yet. My doctor has declared me unfit for work. Following a consultation with both a hospital consultant and my GP on 19th September it has been decided that my symptoms appear to be as a result of a neuro condition and I have been referred to Neuro for further tests.

So I suppose what I’m really asking is; is it likely that my employer will be able to take me to a stage 2 or do they have to allow me time to have things investigated properly and receive a diagnosis before they can dismiss me? I’m really worried I could lose my job simply due to the length of time this has gone on.

Surely that fact that I am under hospital investigation shows there is a real problem and that I am trying to get it resolved. I could understand if my absence was unexplained or unsubstantiated by my GP but I have received sick notes from my GP to cover each absence. He wouldn’t write these for no reason.

I really do sympathize, as if being wasn’t stressful enough. Are you in a union, if not join one. I’m a teacher and my union have been a fabuolous support to me. Can I ask if you are public or private sector?

Sue

Hi Anon, to sum up, many businesses take someone to Stage 1 whether there is a jolly good reason for the absences or not…to kind of make the system fair…for example if you have X amount of absences during X time you will be referred for an absence “hearing” or review.

I think the wording you were given after your stage 1 was a little inappropriate “if my absence had not improved or I had not received a diagnosis to explain my absence by the end of June 2012 then I would be taken to a stage 2 disciplinary”

However, HR and Occupational Health are the gatekeepers of the absence policy and it I think as they say you cannot be held responsible for the length of time it takes for the NHS to get to a diagnosis.

You are under a consultant and you are being monitored in the meantime by your GP so it would be highly unlikely and very ill advised of them to dismiss you whilst under medical investigation. (I have extensive experience of employment tribunals so whilst not an expert I’ve got some hands on experience)

So try not to worry, you sound incredibly sensible and level headed about the situation.

As you say, your GP is stating that you are unfit for work. The only additional advice I would give is that if any significant new symptoms appear go to your GP to get it documented.

I’ve been off work since March, have maintained contact and updated my employer every step of the way, and I am still employed.

Keep calm and relax and look after yourself…if there is anything you prefer not to write on a public post please feel welcome to PM me.

Gillian

Hi Sue

I work in the private sector and I am a member of a union but I’ve not contacted them yet.

I really do believe they are making me more ill with the amount of pressure they are putting me under. I appreciate that I have been unable to tell them what’s wrong and due to my varied symptoms I have been under investigation for various different things; it feels like I change my story every time I talk to my boss. But it has been a long process of elimination that I hope I am getting to the end of.

I have to phone my boss tomorrow to make her aware that I have been signed off for another week and my stomach is churning at the thought. She told me last week she would be contacting HR to see what the next steps would be and it’s all I can think about. I’m so worried.

I know it’s easy for me to say but as Gillian say’s stop worrying.

http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/advice-and-guidance/your-rights/disability/ This defines under Law a disabled person. It says: The Disability Discrimination Act says a disabled person is someone with a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

I presume from your length of time off and symptoms it would be very difficult for anyone to say therefore you do not come under the Equalities Act. So therefore any action against you because of your illness; although not diagnosed but you have been signed off by a doctor; should not be as it amounts to discrimination. So why are they giving any sort of disciplinary hearing

Your Union are the best at handling this situation but it can be hit and miss. This is my thoughts of how I would handle the problem but if you phone the Equal rights people first thing tomorrow I’m sure they will agree, tel 0800 444 205 and will help even I believe contact your employers.

http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/legal-and-policy/

Whatever do NOT go to any meeting alone; either take Union rep. colleague even your husband but don’t go alone.

George

Hi Anon, just stay calm and deliver the news to your boss…it’s factual that you have another sick line.

She is correct to contact HR with the news of your continued sick leave, that is most likely the procedure so I hope you can try not to allow your boss to make it sound like a threat

The only other suggestion I have is that your GP writes you a longer sick note, Mine gives me month long ones.

At least then they will realise that this illness may not be a quick fix.

It probably depends on how long it is until your neuro appointment…??

By the way if you have a copy of your absence procedure (you should really have been given a copy at your stage 1 meeting)I would study it in depth so that you note any failure to adhere to the process on your bosses part.

Hope you can feel less anxious about tomorrow, Gillian

Hi, I have been off work since last Nov 2011…I received SSP until August I now receive ESA…I have good and bad days, some times I can be so fatigued I will be asleep all day. It is a worry, but you have to listen to yourself if you are unwell and not fit for work you have to rest.

Jan

Insist that the company get an independent review from their occupational health advisor. If the company doesn’t have an occupational health service the HR department can access an agency. They cannot be allowed to bully you like this.

Occ. Health will liaise with your GP and consultant and present the medical facts to your employer.

Hi all

Thanks for the replies

George - my employer has a rule where if you reach 4 absences within 12 months then you are automatically put onto a stage 1 disciplinary ( I have been off 6 times in the last 12 months all with doctors lines and even though I have never felt 100% I have forced myself back to work - I would probably have been better off staying off completely because that would have meant only 1 absence against me but you’d think they would be pleased I was aking an effort to be at work when I can be). They allow you approx 3 months where they monitor your absence and if there has not been an improvement or any progress in resolving your health issues then they can take you to a stage 2, which is what they are threatening now. I have previously spoken with Occ Health but that was nearly 3 months ago and was in relation to suspected bowel disease or Endometriosis (this was because my latest symptom was constant lower abdominal pain which radiated into my hip and down my leg, accompanied by bowel and bladder issues). The tests for this have come back all clear.

My GP has now decided to look at the bigger picture and rather than all the ailments I have suffered over the last few years being separate he now thinks they are all related to a Neurological issue as my symptoms are getting worse and I now have vision problems. He is therefore referring me to Neuro.

When I told my boss this last week it was clear that she was unhappy that the route of my diagnosis has changed (I think she thinks I’m making things up) and she was not impressed that a change in direction would probably mean another long wait for possible diagnosis. During our conversation she made it clear that as an employee my employer pays me a salary and in return for that salary my employer expects a certain amount of work from the employee. She then said that my employer would not be willing to carry me forever and they need to gauge how long it will be before I get a diagnosis and treatment to make me fit to return to work and if it is in their interest to keep me as an employee during the investigation process.

Hi Anon, The first thing that you should do is get a copy of your employer’s policy on sickness absence. There will be rules and guidelines for managing absence including their responsibilities to you. You also need to make sure that your manager is interpreting the policy correctly. The policy should be available to all employees. As you work in the public sector there should be a reasonable level of protection in place for somebody going through a diagnostic process. I am a manager in the public sector and it sounds like you are being treated as though all your illnesses are unrelated, so your pattern of absence is being seen as suspicious. The important thing now is for your employer - and more particularly, your manager - to understand that the whole spectrum of your various problems are likely to be the symptoms of a single illness, which may be neurological. It’s also worth emphasising that you have fallen foul of this policy because you made such an effort to be in work when you really should have had longer periods of absence, so their approach feels unfair as you are being penalised for your commitment to your job. It may be worth putting all this in writing just for the record. If I were you I would appeal against the stage 1 disciplinary on those grounds. As well as considering the business needs of the organisation they should also be considering your needs as an employee - and they should be giving you some support at a difficult time. if you are keen to get back to work and they are keen to keep your periods of absence to a minimum, has anybody suggested a phased return to work, temporarily reduced hours or working at home for part of the week (or part of each day)? If they are prepared to be flexible it could work well for both them and you. They may want to involve HR to assess what the likelihood is of you being able to return to work full time, but at the moment that assessment would be very difficult as you have not yet seen a neurologist, so this is something that should really come much further down the line after a period of long term absence. If your manager is unsympathetic it may just be that she is a poor manager. Depending on her behaviour tomorrow you could ask for a conversation with her manager - or if you think your job is really being threatened you could even consider taking out a grievance, particularly if you are feeling victimised or discriminated against. Your union rep should be able to discuss these options with you but it’s probably a last resort. I think they they would be on shaky ground trying to dismiss you at this stage in your diagnosis and, depending on the diagnosis, they could find themselves skating on thin ice on terms of DDA. Of course there may come a time when they and you have to consider whether or not you can continue to do your job, but that time isn’t now and I’m appalled that they appear to be threatening you rather than supporting you. Good luck tomorrow! I

I’ve just realised that you work in the private sector not public sector, so my last post might not be all that helpful though it may still be worth taking the same approach about appealing the stage 1 disciplinary.

Hi darling,

Yes; your manager is right about employment responsibilities but an employer must also abide by the Law which overrides any rule your employer wants to impose.

The message from anon above is so right; they would be on a very sticky wicket if they tried to dismiss you. It is quite obvious your sickness has probably one cause and as I said earlier you should come under the EA and the safeguards of that means they should be helping you. I get very angry at this type of attitude from your manager as it does harp on being schadenfreude; a good manager would help; not use these tactics.

As I said phone the number I gave you previously; they will help.

George

Good Afternoon Anon,

Did you make that phone call? How are you feelign today?

Gillian

Hi folks

Thanks for all the replies and support x

I called my boss this morning (08:30) to confirm I was still unable to attend work but she was unavailable when I called so I left a message. I eventually received a call back from her around 1:15pm (this resulted in a morning of me worrying about why she hadn’t called me back). She was unhappy that I had not contacted her on Friday to advise that I would not be returning to work as she felt this would have been better for planning purposes. I appreciate where she is coming from with this comment but I never told her on Friday that I would definitely be back today and I had hoped I would feel better over the weekend.

She then had a go at me because the reasons I have been signed off this time differ from previous absences; I have been under investigation for bladder and bowel issues for the last few months so that was what my doctor was putting on my sick lines. This time he has put ‘neurological issues/exhaustion - undergoing investigation’ due to previous and new symptoms. She therefore felt this was a new absence and she was concerned that we were no further forward with regards to diagnosis/treatment and therefore this could mean a long investigation process and further absence in between. She then informed me that she felt that it would therefore be necessary to progress my absence disciplinary to stage 2.

I broke down in tears at this point but she carried on explaining this process to me anyway.

By the end of the call I was distraught and my partner came home for lunch to find me a wreck. He encouraged me to contact my local union rep who gave me a call back at 3pm. After discussing everything that has happened over the last few months he asked me to contact my HR department to allow him permission to discuss the matter fully with them.

At 5:30pm I received a call back from my union rep who confirmed that he had agreed with my HR department to keep my disciplinary at stage 1 for the foreseeable future and that he is also taking steps to have the stage 1 overturned as he feels it is ‘grossly inappropriate given the current circumstances’. He has also encouraged me to make a formal complaint about the way my absence has been handled (added stress on top of an already stressful situation) and the lack of support and understanding I have received from my manager.

It’s amazing the difference a couple of hours can make. I feel so much more at ease.

I’m glad you feel better now. Work obviously haven’t been treating you right, but I’m glad your union rep has done (and hopefully will continue to do!) a fantastic job. Hopefully this will mean you can concentrate on relaxing and minimising any symptoms that come along.

Well done you!

To be fair some young managers are consumed by keeping the business operating and fail to have empathy.

I hope that she gets some feedback. I’m ashamed to say that it is only as I have gained life experience that I know people and our health are waaaay more important than completing the daily routines.

Now chillax and get better

Well done. Your manager was so out of line assuming that she had enough knowledge to decide whether this is a different or related absence…but it sounds like your union rep is doing exactly the right thing and HR have responded appropriately by keeping the action at Stage 1. It’s worth keeping a note of all these conversations - dates, times, what is said and how it made you feel. It’s a bit of a pain but will be very useful if you ever need to make a case against your manager in the future. In the meantime, it’s great that you can relax a bit, take care of yourself and focus on getting better instead of worrying about your manager. By the way, sorry that my first post last night came out ‘anon’, I must have ticked the box by mistake.

Very pleased to hear that sense has prevailed :slight_smile: Your manager was completely out of order - either going well above his/her pay grade and not seeking advice or taking bad advice. Either way I hope you will make that complaint so that someone else finding themselves in your position gets the help they should. Karen x

I’m having similar problems to you, however i work in the public sector and have a full diagnosis of ms. Managers seem to think that they are always in the right and if you don’t fit into certain boxes then your a ‘problem’. for example i am currently off sick through my gp’s and have had 2 meetings during this time, at the last meeting it was set that i would aim to reduce my sickness absence to less than 3 days in 2 months when i returned to work and was given a stage one warning. This was at the begining of september, i am still off work and despite not having returned to work and not having the opportunity to try to meet targets which were set they have now called me in for a stge two sickness review. the meeting is tomorrow and i’m not looking forward to it. You’d think that working for the NHS that managers may be a little more informed about disabilities and the equalities act, especially when they have been provided with the appropriate information and booklets available on this site. will post an update after the meeting.

Are you in a union? If so give your rep a call in the morning and try to get them to attend the meeting with you. If not its always a good idea to take a friend or colleague with you as a witness and support. It’s your right if this is a formal meeting. if you have time check out the sickness absence policy, equalities policy and flexible working policy - all should be on line if you work in public sector. It’s worth making sure that they are following guidance, though it sounds like you are well versed in this already. They may be trying to establish whether your current symptoms are likely to improve so that you can return to work at some point or whether you are unlikely to ever be fit to return your job in the same capacity. To do this properly they need to refer you to occupational health and be given access to you medical records. Given that you do have a diagnosis, you’ll know that you also have associated rights. Your employer has responsibilities to you in relation to things like supporting you through a phased return, making physical adjustments if necessary etc. Hope it goes ok tomorrow. Good luck