I am hoping for some advice. I am currently signed off work by the doctor (2 weeks) due to work related stress & anxiety. The work pressure has been building up over the last year and dispite asking for additional resource on many occassions, it finally hit me & I ended up having a breakdown at work & managed to get an emergency appointment with my doctor.
I normally pride myself on being very resilient. When I joined the company 5yrs ago I started in a different role & fell into my current role which requires extensive UK travel with nights in hotels away from my husband (although my employment contract states my place of work to be the office) . This started off ok as I wasn't away overnight that much but this has steadily increased as new contracts have been won & I realised last April/May that I was suffering from stress related symptoms. I did make my manager aware of the pressures I was experiencing both verbally & in writing & was promised resource last June which didn't materialise & I've since been told that there is a recruitment freeze & my manager is not able to free anyone up from other departments as all our existing staff are also thinly spread. I did take the initiative after a discussion with another manager but when I sat down with his member of staff & explained what my role involved & how they could help, they then told me that they hadn't realised the work involved & wouldn't be able to help. My manager works out of a different office (we have offices across the UK) and in January the company annouced that they would be closing the office I work from & some of my colleagues have since been made redundant, the rest of us will now work from home & the company is in the process of making preparations for moving us & closing the office permanently.
My sicknote runs out in one weeks time & although I am still experiencing sleepless nights, anxiety & often feel like bursting into tears when I think about work & what I might go back to; I do enjoy most of my job & want to go back. I phoned my boss last week to setup a meeting for the first day I am due back as I was honest & told him that I want to come back but will not be able to cope with my workload as it was before. He mentioned that they are in the process of reorganising my diary & rebooking dates for client meetings but this is exactly what I want to talk to him about & I feel very frustrated already as they had already booked me back into visit a client this Wednesday & will now have to upset the client again by cancelling that booking without thinking that I will be the person that has to walk into that client & experience their frustration first hand which isn't fair on me. I have been in that situation before of walking into a client meeting after cancellation having been off sick with flu & it is not nice. From my conversation with my boss the company have given no thought to any support or recruitment. He has confirmed he is free to meet and is going to check whether HR should attend or whether one of the Directors will attend with him (Our HR is not actually part of our direct company but is based at Group level & works for us on a part time basis so he needs to check diaries etc).
My questions are as follows:
1) Should I attend by myself or take someone I trust into the meeting with me? The reason I ask is that my husband offered his support but my feeling is that this would not be appropriate.
2) The biggest area of concern for me is the extensive UK travel & I'd like to know whether it is reasonable for me to ask the company if this can be reduced so that I only visit clients within a 2 hr drive radius? Much of my job can be done remotely as in general I only ever meet the client once. The reason I would like to reduce the travel is for two reasons, primarily because I spend most of my time on the road with no time set aside for emails, reports, client phonecalls, booking the next hotels etc & secondly (and most importantly) because my husband & I are undergoing fertility treatment and besides me being away from home much of the time, I feel like the pressures at work are not helping on this front & I have also been informed that I need to lose weight before they can start IVF if required so I need more control over what I eat & time for exercise. My manager knows I have had hospital appointments related to a medical condition which HR know about he is not aware that we are undergoing fertility treatment (I decided not to disclose this information after seeing first hand how one of my colleagues was treated when she annouced her pregnancy) but I am now wondering whether I should be honest about this as other female staff appear to have been treated better.
3) I am aware that the company has a duty of care & is legally obliged to take reasonable action to remove the factors causing the stress but what should I do if they turn around & say that there is still no resource available & my role requires that I continue with the UK travel?
4) What else can I expect from the company? Is there a set process for dealing with employees returning to work after stress?
My husband is of the mind that if we do not see any improvements then I should go back to the doctors as it has taken me 3 weeks to get back into a reasonable normal sleep pattern & to feel less stressed but I would like to come to reach an agreement with my employer, my worry however is that they may not be open to the suggestions I put forward.
Help with answering the above questions would be much appreciated.
Hi Mrs P,
On the one hand your company is currently at risk of being held liable for your deteriorating health - you have clearly told them what the problem is, you have had a period off sick already and they have done nothing (yet) to aleviate the problem. If the company continue to do nothing and you suffer another breakdown then it is arguably reasonably forseeable and could have been prevented. However, on the other you have failed to disclose something to your immediate manager (the IVF issue) which could be contributing to the stress you suffer.
Before I answer your specific querstions I have one piece of advice. Your health is more important that your job. You should not be doing anything in relation to your work without having consutled your GP and taken their advice on whether or not you are in a position to return. The standard approach from most GPs in a stress case is to sign you off for 2 weeks, 2 weeks and then 4 weeks. This gives them a chance to assess how serious your condition is. The fact that your note runs out soon is no guarantee that your GP thinks you are fit for work.
As you have been signed off for 2 weeks then technically you need to be 'signed on' for work. Did your sick note specify a return date on it or did it just say '2 weeks'? If the latter then you need to see your GP again and be given an 'or until' date on a sick note signing you back as fit for work. If the former then that is very unusual!
In answer to your specific questions:
1) You have no statutory right to be accompanied at such a meeting. It would be a mistake for the company to refuse to allow you a companion but it would also be a mistake to take a partner/family member. Don't take hubby. If you can, ask a trusted colleague to accompany you.
2) Do not suggest anything until you have spoken to your GP. Do not withold anything either - not telling them about the IVF now would be a mistake, particularly as it could be a contributing factor to your condition. Your employer should be asking for a GPs report and he will probably disclose that you are undergoing this treatment. I would recomend that you and your employer sit and work out how much of your time is spent travelling, carrying out paperwork, etc. The you can work out a more realistic schedule.
3) You can either put up with it or continue to fight it (which may ultimately lead to a loss of job).
4) The procedure should be to consult with the employee, obtain consent to get a medical report, identify and eliminate the causes of stress (as far as is possible) and, where the stress cannot be eliminated, move the employee or dismiss them (only in extreme cases where the stress is something related to the individual's make up).
Personally I wouldn't be doing anything until I had seen the GP again. You have not eliminated or even started to deal with the causes of your stress yet and so to return now is just inviting another episode. In addition your post seems to hint that the underlying cause is not just about the work pattern - your IVF treatment could be/is a factor and the impact of this needs to be fully understood before you can properly look at the best way forward.
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