Advice needed on phased return to work due to work related stress UK
April 22, 2015 2:35 AM   Subscribe

I could really do with some advice on my rights for a phased return to work after absence due to work related stress, complicated by chronic fatigue syndrome.

Apologies, this gets a bit long. In December 2013 the place I work at got more work in and allowed two people from my sub team to be go on holiday. Unfortunately I was the only person who knew how to do their work, so I was then expected to perform three peoples duties (something my current team leader said was ridiculous and something she'd never ask) and make sure everything went out on time. I'd spoken to my team leader and the company doctor about feeling stressed. Work was supposed to do a stress risk assesment then but didn't.

After New Year my team got a new team leader who was talking about chaging my task. I had an old injury that could have possed a problem in just one small aspect of the proposed work. I spoke to my new team leader and mentioned about the injury and that it may cause a problem, but that I was willing to do the test. My team leader then came back to me later saying that I'd told her I couldn't do the job and questioning how I'd been able to do my other roles. During a meeting with her about it I happened to mention in passing about how another aspect of work was causing back pain. In the minutes she wrote after the meeting she stated that I'd said it was my back that was a problem and had twisted my words to make it sound like I was saying I wasn't capable of doing the job anymore. Obviously I started to feel like I couldn't say anything without it being twisted and used against me.

Due to this I had to talk to the company doctor, who again recomended a stress risk assesment. When I said to my team leader and section manager about them saying they'd do one before as it was recommended by the doctor, it was denied by my section manager, however I do have proof that it was recomended by the company doctor.

When the stress risk assesment was finally done the HR manager and my team leader were both there. When I mentioned being stressed the HR manager said to me that "everyone is stressed". Also as a lot of my stress was being caused by my team leader micro managing and twisting my words having her there in the meeting made me feel awkward mentioning her role in my stress, and the HR manager's attitude made me feel like I had to just get on with it. Added to this fact that on most of the days when the assesments were done things weren't going too badly so I wasn't as stressed as at other times.

I used to be fine handling short term stress as I'd been in the job for seven years and had dealt with larger workloads and tighter deadlines. I'd been thriving and had spent several months doing my three main tasks, as well as helping out with a co-workers two tasks and helping out in other places when needed. I was able to do this due to managing my own work load, but my new team leader micro managed and kept changing her mind as to what she wanted me to do. This effectively destroyed any productivity due to having to leave work to do something else.

Anyway I ended up standing in the walk in fridge crying several times. For months I'd been experiencing a very tight and painful chest feeling like I couldn't breathe properly. Also I was struggling to sleep, just couldn't find the energy or desire to cook, and was noticing that I was starting to snap and experiencing mood swings. Last year I was going on holiday and had worked hard to clear my work before I went. The last day I was working before going on holiday a lot more work came in. My team leader asked me to do a significant amount of work that exceeded the targets set, as well as asking me to train someone else up on my tasks. Again I ended up crying at work, feeling like I couldn't breathe.

The first day of my holiday I ended up having a massive anxiety attack where I felt totally unable to breathe and getting very teary. I got signed off by my doctor when I got home and have now been off for almost a year. At my last meeting with my latest team leader (I have a new one since being signed off) and section manager they made it sound like they would help support me back into full time work.

Unfortunately I used to suffer with chronic fatigue syndrome (ME) however I had managed to make a partial recovery. So making a quick and sudden increase in the amount of energy I expend could trigger a full relapse, stress can also trigger a relapse. So I'm concerned that returning to full time too quickly could cause a relapse of my CFS that would then render me unable to work at all. My GP and the company doctor both agree that I'll eventually return to full time work. My GP has suggested a very gradual return to work, starting with four to six weeks of one half day a week, then building up to more.

HR however said normally they'd want a return to full time work in four weeks, but that they'll extend it to eight weeks. This would involve a consistant increase in the level of energy expended but no time for my body to acclimatise to it. I've essentially been told by work that either I do that or they'll have to consider if I can still do the job. I know that in time, given a well managed return to work I'll be able work full time again and deal with the tight deadlines, and I want to be able to work full time too. But I'm feeling very pressured to just give in to their demands, and I'm worried about becoming sick again, as then I'll lose the job anyway and be unable to work.

So I was wondering if anyone knows what my rights are. I've spoken to ACAS but they weren't much help apart from mentioning the disability discrimination at work act, which I know they've applied to me in the past as due to the CFS I get double the absence period before having to have meetings. At the moment I'm starting to feel very stressed again due to all this and I just don't know what to do.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (2 answers total)
You need an employment lawyer. A lot of people who were in a psychiatric hospital with me last year ended up in a protracted negotiation with their employer re: return to work terms, especially where their illness had been compounded or caused by the work situation, which it seems clear that yours is. The best situation here would be if you were in a union, as they provide quick and easy access to employment lawyers and arbitrators, but since you don't mention it I assume you're not. So, you'll need to find one on your own. What you'll be looking to do is trade your right to compensation, which might well be substantial, against a return-to-work schedule on your terms and various other concessions as needed.
posted by Acheman at 2:55 AM on April 22, 2015

I'm sorry you're going through a tough time. You may find this blog post useful: fit for work and they are a great organisation for advice.

Your entitlement to a phased return to work is governed by your terms and conditions of employment. There is no statutory right to such; however, an employment tribunal will probably regard dismissal for medical capability disfavourably if a phased return to work has not been fairly attempted. Your view of what is a fair attempt may well differ from that of your employer.

Also, your rights as a person with a disability are outlined in the Equality Act 2010 which supersedes any other relevant legislation. This act provides for reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities at work.

What does your GP say? A phased return to work should be clearly stated on your fit note.

Otherwise though, a year is a long time. I'm sorry you are feeling stressed out about it, but your employer is right to take action. You can't expect them to hold your job indefinitely.
posted by goo at 2:01 PM on April 22, 2015

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