Over 6 months sick-Can I be sacked?
in Employment, jobseeking & training
25 replies 2.5K views
Hi all, appreciate anyone reading this and any advice you can give. Will try to keep it brief.
I've been off sick with depression, stress and anxiety for over 5 months due to personal and work related issues. Tried 2 different antidepressants which I couldn't get on with, now on an SSRI which I have taken in the past, but the side effects are relentless. It took around 6 months to work previously, been on it around 2 months at this point. Also taking propranolol for panic attacks. Barely left my flat in 5 months, almost to the point of agoraphobia. No desire to be around other people and purposely wait until later in the day when there are fewer people around to carry out basic chores like food shopping.
Spoke with occupational health once in the time I've been off. Made it clear that aside from personal factors, my current place of work is a major source of my mental health issues. This was 2 months ago. I asked not to have this on medical report, as I would explain this to line manager directly.
So a few days ago, finally speak to manager, mentioned aside from personal issues, it's also work related. She says this is the first we're hearing of it as it wasn't on your med report. Asked what the work related issues are, I remained tight lipped, said it was not the shifts or the work, simply a number of people I have to work with. It's a highly, highly toxic environment and I've been psychologically bullied, have confronted individuals myself rather than get management involved, but that failed. If I returned in my current mental state, I would have a panic attack, do a 180 and go straight back off. She explained unless we know which specific work related issues you have we can't make adaptations which would benefit you. A transfer to another location or different role seems highly unlikely.
In a few weeks I have a meeting with a higher up manager and an HR rep. If I tell them aside from personal factors, it's also work related, will I have to divulge everything? I've stayed tight lipped because I don't need the additional stress of grievances etc, and I know that no matter what adaptations are made, I would still have to work alongside these individuals.
After 6 months I get half pay and can't survive on that. Occupational health suggested severance may be considered if I feel I'm not well enough. Even if I got a transfer/another role, I fear my mental state and medication would force me back out of work. Can they sack me for any reason or would that be unfair dismissal? I'm not with a union so will not have a rep with me. I want to be well again and able to work, but can't put a time frame on when. I've considered paying for therapy if I'm entitled to severance, after 18 years at this company it should be enough for me to live on until getting ontop of my mental health and applying for new jobs.
Sorry if this is a long post, sincerely appreciate any advice.
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The company is not aware of the underlying problems it seems, you've kept tight lipped and whilst I'm sure you have your reasons - this gives them a problem. They can't solve it because they don't know what it is!
This affects you both, you because things will not get better easily, and them because they're paying for a member of staff that can't be productive.
I'd have a think about yourself, about the company and see if you can come up with something you can give them to help them make adjustments, it does sound like you'd be happier working but by talking to them you give a chance (and it's just that, it doesnt always pay off) that things might be adjustable. If not, nothing lost?
Ultimately a company can't keep people on sick forever, so if a return seems unlikely or if your capability is under question then losing your role is possible. However the process would have to be done reasonably, so it pays to be the reasonable one.
Re-reading your post suggests you sort of need to make a decision on what you can accept to make progress going forward, clearly you don't want to lose your job, but you don't want to be with certain colleagues either, and you don't want the stress of greivances to tackle colleges, I think you need to pick one of these to concede or the decision will probably get made anyway. That sounds harsh but really it is in your control at the mo
I also expect that if remain on sick leave for much longer then they'll be looking for ways to dismiss you, either so they can hire a replacement, or (more likely) because you've been off for so long your work has been taken on by others, making you effectively redundant.
But if you cannot work alongside some individuals even if adaptions are made, then your employer may left with something of a binary choice - you, or them.
I'm sorry if that's harsh or not what you want to hear.
You mention there are work-related factors, if you don't mention these to your employer then you cannot expect them to act on something they are unaware of or could not be reasonably expected to know about.
You have made reference to severance, its been touched on by someone else but to be clear there is no redundancy payable (or another similar amount) for a capability-related dismissal., your statutory entitlement is to a week's notice pay per year of service up to a maximum of 12 weeks. your contractual notice period maybe longer but only statutory notice needs to be paid by law (your policy or contact may permit to pay for all notice).
If you won't tell them what caused you to need to take time off, they can't do anything to address it. If that means you can't return to work then you could be dismissed as not being capable of doing the work required.
They would need to give you statutory notice (one week for every complete year of employment up to 12 weeks) or contractual notice if longer. I believe that should be at full pay.
If you want things to improve, you have to discuss the situation with them openly.
I suspect your manager feels rather frustrated by this, and so will HR. I know this is going to sound harsh, but how do you expect them to resolve YOUR problems if you will not tell them what they are?
Is that what you want? You haven't said anything positive in your post, about returning to normal life and work.
I too feel less capable these days, but you must make progress.
You've used the phrase 'tight lipped' several times, but if you replace it with 'I refused to tell them', you might get a better idea of how impossible it is for your employer to help with any work related mental health issues. If you ignore the point your manager has made, then how do you expect anything to change, let alone improve for the better? A transfer might seem highly unlikely, but if you continue to conceal what is exacerbating your problems, there's no chance at all of a transfer because nobody knows that might be an adaptation which would help.
How do you know you'd have to work alongside them? If they are the real issue and your employer is sufficiently keen to keep you, then a transfer would surely be a conversation worth having.
Of course you fear that; in your present state you are doubtless feeling negative about everything - but that doesn't mean your fears will be realised.
They can sack you on grounds of (in)capability, but that doesn't inevitably mean they will. At some point you are going to have to swap your tight lips for gritted teeth, and speak up about what you feel is the root of your work problems. If the environment is as toxic as you suggest, and you feel you have to confront people yourself rather than following the route of letting 'management' get involved and shoulder their responsibilities, you are in danger of engineering a self-fulfilling prophecy if you don't share your anxieties with someone who is in a position to do something to help.
It's very easy to believe that 'if only xxx wasn't there/wasn't happening...' all would suddenly look much brighter, but sadly that sort of magic wand is all too often an illusion. If you can bring yourself to have a much more open dialogue with occupational health and your employer, that could be the first step on a happier path. The first step is never easy - but it could be a risk worth taking, if you contemplate the alternative.
That said, some employers would consider a legally binding settlement agreement with some modest compensation in exchange for you signing away all rights (as far as the law allows) to any further claim. You have to receive legal advice for such an agreement to be valid.
The sick pay arrangements you mention (6 Months full followed by 6 months half pay) suggest you work either in the public sector or education or similar? If you have a hard and fast contractual entitlement to the sick pay (check carefully, if it is an older scheme you MAY do but most newer schemes are "discretionary") then there is little financial benefit to them in dismissing before this runs out as you would have a legal entitlement to the money. There is case law to support this)
Remember half gross pay amounts to significantly more than half net (i.e take home) pay due to lower tax and NI.
When the statutory sick pay entitlement runs out (28 weeks) which is included in your full company sick pay you may be entitled to claim ESA (or whatever it is now called) which is paid directly by the government over and above any company sick pay. Some years ago that was certainly the case but it may have changed and I am getting a bit out of date.
If you are not in a union then see if your house insurance provides any legal cover or at least access to a helpline.
I don't think you'd hear anything we haven't said here, but it could be useful to hear it in a setting where you can respond, and explore your options, limited as they are.