Forum

Work v sick

I’m a bit confused.

I ‘probably’ have MS. Last time I saw a neurologist, in April, she sent me for evoked potentials test and brain MRI. Spinal MRI already shows lesions in thoracic area. We agreed that she would refer me to MS specialist if tests indicated MS or back in her clinic if not. Abnormalities and inflammation showing in brain, evoked potentials indicate problems on left hand side - I received a letter saying I was being referred to MS specialist. NHS time has ticked by and I’m awaiting seeing the MS specialist on 12th October. My GP is chasing this up because I seem to have been put down as a ‘new’ patient, but no change in date yet received.

Since July I seem to have been having a relapse. When I saw GP initially I said I wanted to continue working but he advised a temporary change in hours to try and accommodate excessive fatigue and stress. Employer said change in hours: change in pay. This I could not afford therefore GP signed me off sick (full-time company sick pay).

I’m now at the point of feeling able to work, though I appreciate that full-time is looking more problematic.

I’ve had an Occupational Health review and the nurse has recommended 3 days per week until I see the neurologist, gain a diagnosis and possible treatment plan. Then review. Once again employer states pay will be reduced accordingly.

My line manager wants to know my decision and how we’re going to work this.

I’m feeling pressurised to accept part-time work even though I may, with treatment, get back up to near full potential. My major, major concern is my mortgage, which has 5 years left to run. The cut in pay will prevent me from keeping up my payments on that, or my personal loan (also 5 years to go). I do not have critical illness cover.

Any advice?

Hiya,

Believe me there is no way you can fight MS; DMDs seem to be the only drugs to be helping some. You can only roll with the punches and in time you may come out on top.

Speak to your mortgage provider; I’m sure as you have paid a majority they can put you on an interest free mortgage till you feel better. Don’t think “I’ll work through it;” it doesn’t happen you will only feel worse and be sick longer.

To help contact Access to Work; tons of help to keep you employed like taxis to and from; furniture; infrastructure Get support in work if you have a disability or health condition (Access to Work) - GOV.UK

Sorry to sound a little abrupt but pride comes before a fall.

Good luck

George

Hi George,

Thank you for your response. A chat with the bank seems to be in order and I’ll contact the Access to Work people tomorrow.

I understand that it’s not wise to try and fight MS but I do feel that I’m being forced into a big decision. The MS advice brochures all say not to alter things too swiftly. I’d rather have at least spoken to the specialist before changing my working day. Jobs aren’t easy to come by at my age (60) and with my possible diagnosis. My husband is unable to work due to long-term illness and we’ve kept going for several years on my pay - no benefits. I’m at a loss as to what can or cannot be claimed to support us going forward.

Hi

two questions… Do you have critical illness cover on mortgage or loan. This may cover the borrowing.

Look at www.gov.uk as many companies offer a staggered return to work on full wage. If you are in a trade union it may be worth speaking to them.

all the best

neil

Hi Neil,

Unfortunately I don’t have critical illness cover on either just term life insurance.

I thought I could have a staggered return to work too but because, ultimately, I’m unlikely to resume full-time work my employer will not pay full-time pay whilst I’m ‘getting up speed’. The OH report has kinda damned me. I am in touch with the union but, so far, they have been unable to negotiate a change in handling this.

I may be able to clear most of the mortgage come December when an old pension becomes payable but it doesn’t cover the whole debt.

Thank you for your help.

Personally, I would not accept a switch to part-time work unless or until you’re sure you’re never going to get any better (which seems a bit premature at the moment), OR you can get it in writing from the company that it’s just a transitional arrangement, and your full-time hours are still open to you whenever you’re ready.

It can be very quick and easy to switch to part-time, but in most cases there is no guarantee that you can return to full-time, should you wish to in future, and they can say: “Tough luck!”. So think very hard before doing anything you only want temporarily, but which may turn out to be irreversible.

Legally, it’s a change of contract, and once you’ve accepted a changed contract, there’s nothing to say you’re entitled to have it put back how it was.

Also be aware that reducing hours may well affect more than your income NOW. If you have a company pension, it will affect that. It will also affect you if you’re ever made redundant and entitled to contractual redundancy pay, because it will only be calculated on your reduced hours.

I thank my lucky stars I never switched to a three-day week, despite thinking about it, because less than two years after diagnosis, I was made redundant, and would only have got 3/5 the payoff, despite only recently having switched, after being full-time for over 20 years!

At the very least, try to get a written undertaking that any changes to your hours are NOT permanent, and only reflect the advice of OT for a “phased return”.

Whether full-time hours wil be sustainable in the long-term, I can’t say, but I definitely don’t think it’s a decision you should be forced into NOW - before you’re even diagnosed. You need to keep your options open for as long as possible.

My understanding (and some personal experience!) of the law is that holiday still accrues at the same rate, even when you’re off sick, and there’s not a lot they can do about it. So depending how long you’ve been off sick, you could have quite a lot of holiday owing, that has to be taken by the end of the year (financial or calendar - however they work it). So if that’s the case, I wonder if you can take two days holiday a week (at full pay) for n number of weeks.

On the one hand, I don’t think you should really have to use holiday, when the real reason is you’re sick. But on the other hand, you get full pay for holiday, which you wouldn’t for part-time working, and you may lose the holiday anyway, if you can’t use it all up in time - so I opted for using accrued holiday as the most practical solution. I would maximise my pay AND avoid wasting any holiday entitlement - even if something did seem slightly smelly about having to do it that way.

Tina

x

Wise words as always, Tina.

I think I may have sufficient annual leave to cover one day a week up to the next neuro appointment - possibly this will be accepted - and at least reduce wage losses.

Do you know if I have to adhere to the OH report? Can I insist upon say a 4 week phased return with a view to being back full-time at the end of this period? And if I do that - are they supposed to pay me full-time as otherwise I could be covered by a sick-note? I cannot find this information on any government website in plain english, though I have found this on gov.uk: ‘‘If you agree a phased return to work or altered hours after a period of sickness, pay SSP for the days that your employee is sick in the normal way. Any day for which SSP is paid will count towards the maximum entitlement of 28 weeks’’. This does seem to insinuate that the hours not worked are covered by SSP whereas I’ve been told I’d get nothing.

So confusing and worrying.

To be honest, I can’t remember how it worked with me, and the law may have changed since anyway.

I seem to remember also being told I couldn’t get SSP for the days I was “off sick” as part of a phased return, but that may have been because SSP was already finished - doesn’t it end after six months anyway? I’d been off over a year, so was probably well outside the eligibility window - but you might not be.

Tina

Sorry - didn’t answer the whole question - would forget my head if it wasn’t screwed on.

I don’t know about occy health, but I suspect you have to abide by it, otherwise what’s the point of having them?

If they say you’re only fit for a three-day week, but you insist on working five, your employer may not be happy about accepting liability for that - you might turn round and sue them for damaging your health by allowing you to work more hours than they knew you were medically cleared for. So I think they would be careful always to stick within the OH guidelines, so they couldn’t be accused of exploiting you - whether or not you were a willing participant.

Tina

Good point - dammit! Well, I’ve been given a few ideas to work with so I’ll see what I can negotiate. If only I’d taken out critical illness insurance - but I thought I couldn’t afford it and, anyway, it’ll never happen to me!!

Thank you everyone xx

I agree with Tina - your manager is unlikely to agree to anything that goes flatly against the OH recommendations.

Pensions etc - if you are not already familiar with this, you need to acquaint yourself with what are your entitlements in the case that your health should break down and you could not return to work. Are you in a company or company-approved pension scheme? What does that say about Ill Health Retirement (IHR) - the usual term for the health-breaking-down scenario? Obviously one hopes that you are a very long way off that. But you need to learn now how that would work and what effect going part time (for instance) would have on potential IHR some time in the future. Or on potential redundancy in the future, as Tina says. It’s kind of the same point - benefits will tend to depend to some degree on closing salary, and if your closing salary is a fraction of full-time, that can have a pretty marked effect on what you are entitled to.

Alison

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To my surprise, they have accepted a phased return to full-time hours despite the OH recommendations. I’ve agreed to return full-time prior to any diagnosis etc. I’m going to use the next few weeks a) to see what my stamina is like and b) to check up on the ins and outs of pension etc. I never thought I’d end up in this situation! We’ll see what the MS consultant has to say in October.

Thank you to everyone who has offered advice, and very good advice too.

This Forum is a godsend.

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