Employee off with 'work stress'

Discussion in 'Employment & HR' started by CitySlicker, Aug 28, 2013.

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  1. CitySlicker

    CitySlicker UKBF Newcomer

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    We have a young female employee who we helped out considerably last year in terms of giving her unpaid leave and allowing her to bring holidays forward etc to fit in with her personal circumstances at the time.
    At the start of the year she signed a contract agreeing to work to agreed hours (as everyone else did).
    Over the last year, despite being in a supervisory role, she has had a poor attitude to her manager (going off in a bit of a strop when asked to do things). She has also shown signs of being bulimic, not eating and even not drinking on the hottest day of the year.
    3 weeks ago she requested a reduction in her hours, something we could not agree to due to operational reasons.
    Within a week she had been signed off with 'work stress' for 2 weeks, and she has now been signed off for a further month.
    A friend of hers on Facebook (probably for not much longer!) has shown me pictures of her on holiday with friends, smile on her face, looking very happy (we are now 3 weeks into her 'illness').
    I want to conduct an disciplinary investigation and put it to her that I think she isn't really sick and that she is just behaving like this because she couldn't get her way.
    Anyone with any advice about how I should proceed? Am I right in going down the disciplinary route?
    Many thanks
    Posted: Aug 28, 2013 By: CitySlicker Member since: Jul 17, 2013
  2. Anonymouse72

    Anonymouse72 UKBF Big Shot

    765 158
    how long has she been employed? was the earlier incident of poor attitude dealt with at the time it happened?

    i'd be be very careful taking the line you seem to be suggesting, casting doubt over someone signed off with stress due to 'happy' looking photo's online?

    hopefully an employment bod will be along but there should be some useful guidance here in the meantime.
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2013
    Posted: Aug 28, 2013 By: Anonymouse72 Member since: Jun 16, 2012
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  3. CitySlicker

    CitySlicker UKBF Newcomer

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    Thanks for reply. Poor attitude not really dealt with at time unfortunately. Forgot to mention that 2 days after she was first signed off she was seen out at a restaurant in town looking fine and relaxed (although not sure how much she was eating due to prob mentioned earlier).
    Posted: Aug 28, 2013 By: CitySlicker Member since: Jul 17, 2013
  4. Psl

    Psl UKBF Legend

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    Aren't holidays supposed to relieve stress?

    I didn't realise that anything an employee posted on a personal page/profile of a social network site could be used against them?

    If a Dr has signed her off sick with 'work stress' are you now questioning the Doctor's professional opinion?
    Posted: Aug 28, 2013 By: Psl Member since: May 4, 2010
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  5. SnappyJen

    SnappyJen UKBF Contributor

    96 19
    A long road awaits you I'm afraid.

    Firstly, yes you can use comments on a social media site as disciplinary, however not her looking 'happy' in holiday snaps. More things like inappropriate comments which have a bad reflection on the business.

    You will need to wait until she comes back to work and make sure you are seen to be doing everything you can to minimise her 'stress'. Ask her to be specific about what is stressing her out and if it is an essential part of her role, you might have to let her go on the ground of not being fit to work.

    Document everything - every meeting, every comment and make sure she is disciplined appropriately for her demeanour (verbal, written one and written two).

    Make sure all weekly meetings are documented.

    When she comes back, say you take stress very seriously and as a responsible employer, you feel it is important to have specific and defined tasks for her to achieve each week. Say that you are willing to discuss what those are and let her feel as of she has a say. Do not let her completely decide - you have business objectives remember. Have targets for each objective. Get her to sign to say she is happy.

    If she does not achieve her agreed targets, again go down the disciplinary route (verbal, written, written).

    By the way, depending on when she was employed, you could let her go without any of this if she falls within the first/ second year of employment.

    Good luck.
    Posted: Aug 28, 2013 By: SnappyJen Member since: Mar 20, 2013
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  6. simon field

    simon field Verified Business ✔️

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    So, any response to the question of how long she's been employed?
    Posted: Aug 28, 2013 By: simon field Member since: Feb 4, 2011
  7. CitySlicker

    CitySlicker UKBF Newcomer

    38 3
    Thanks for advice so far. Yes I am questioning the doctors opinion. There have been other incidents of requesting days off for 'very important and sensitive reasons' accompanied by much blubbing, we give in (thinking it must be a hospital appointment) and she's been spotted at a show on the day she wanted off. This lunchtime (since I write the first post) she has been seen in town. An employee told a manager who then told me (anonymously and in confidence) that she said she was looking for another job and would keep on getting signed off sick until she does. So yes the doctors opinion is in question. She is playing a very manipulative game and I ain't in the mood to fall for it!
    Posted: Aug 28, 2013 By: CitySlicker Member since: Jul 17, 2013
  8. CitySlicker

    CitySlicker UKBF Newcomer

    38 3
    she's been employed 3 years. unfortunately.
    Posted: Aug 28, 2013 By: CitySlicker Member since: Jul 17, 2013
  9. simon field

    simon field Verified Business ✔️

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    I don't blame you for questioning the doctors 'findings', because I know from experience that they'll dish out sick notes / happy pills at the drop of a hat when someone moans about 'work stress', 'anxiety' etc etc, which is otherwise known as 'life'. It's ridiculous!

    I feel for you, she sounds a total nightmare.

    I mean, come on. Work Stress? What is that? Is having a job where the boss expects workers to stick to their side of the deal stressful?

    If the roles were reversed and the boss suddenly said 'right, I'm having work stress, and therefore I don't need you for two weeks' I'm sure there'd be complaints aplenty
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2013
    Posted: Aug 28, 2013 By: simon field Member since: Feb 4, 2011
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  10. WFChris

    WFChris UKBF Contributor

    100 10
    Speak with a good HR consultant before you do anything as any action you take now (including comments on here) could make matters worse.

    If nobody on here comes forward I do know two good HR consultants in Sussex that can assist.
    Posted: Aug 28, 2013 By: WFChris Member since: Jul 2, 2013
  11. Vectis

    Vectis UKBF Big Shot

    782 203
    What's your sick pay policy? Is she on SSP?
    Posted: Aug 28, 2013 By: Vectis Member since: Jun 10, 2012
  12. CitySlicker

    CitySlicker UKBF Newcomer

    38 3
    we are a retailer. She sits on the tills and occasionally stacks shelves (when she can be bothered). Oh how I wish for that type of stress!!
    Posted: Aug 28, 2013 By: CitySlicker Member since: Jul 17, 2013
  13. CitySlicker

    CitySlicker UKBF Newcomer

    38 3
    she is on SSP only, not put her on any more than that even though with discretion I could.
    Posted: Aug 28, 2013 By: CitySlicker Member since: Jul 17, 2013
  14. simon field

    simon field Verified Business ✔️

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    Sounds awful, you utter bully - wearing someone down like that :D
    Posted: Aug 28, 2013 By: simon field Member since: Feb 4, 2011
  15. Psl

    Psl UKBF Legend

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    Good luck questioning the doctors diagnosis of her and all the rest you mention in the above quoted post is assumption and hearsay.
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2013
    Posted: Aug 28, 2013 By: Psl Member since: May 4, 2010
  16. CitySlicker

    CitySlicker UKBF Newcomer

    38 3
    I believe we have a right to question things that do not appear to be right. In my 4 years employment here we've paid a couple of employees for long term sickness (with occupational sick pay, not just SSP) and I had no cause to question their authenticity. I have suspicions in this case and feel justified in investigating. Why should she be allowed to get away with it?
    Posted: Aug 28, 2013 By: CitySlicker Member since: Jul 17, 2013
  17. Anonymouse72

    Anonymouse72 UKBF Big Shot

    765 158
    She shouldn't, but i'd really recommend getting specific advice from an expert due to the circumstances. The earlier link i posted, employment law clinic, is Karl who posts on here, he's very good! :)
    Posted: Aug 28, 2013 By: Anonymouse72 Member since: Jun 16, 2012
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  18. iArtist

    iArtist Guest

    0 0
    When I was Manager of a NHS Health centre, I had an employee off for two months with stress. She came back when I reminded her that under contract she was due to go onto stat. sick pay after those two months and her 'full pay' deal was ending. She was 'stressed' permanently. I can't hold that against her. Being stressed doesn't mean you don't laugh, sometimes you laugh a lot to cover it up! She certainly did. To be fair she'd been through a lot. I only reminded her about the pay because I knew financially she'd struggle on stat. sick pay. I had already changed the staff contracts to raise their one month full sick pay deal to two months to help not just her but two other staff members who needed extended leave for other reasons.

    I really think you should try to disregard the happy photos, they do not prove anything.

    Being stressed by a job means you generally feel awesome when you're not there! She basically needs to find another job. Sounds like she needs some unpaid time off to do something in that regard, that or voluntary redundancy?

    My job in the NHS was horribly stressful, why do you think I now draw cartoons! Lol ..
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 28, 2013
    Posted: Aug 28, 2013 By: iArtist Member since: Jan 1, 1970
  19. Employment Law Clinic

    Employment Law Clinic Verified Business ✔️

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    Hi Richard,

    (Only looked in for a quick browse - didn't have time to be here today.)

    I don't particularly agree that you need to be cautious about what you say online when seeking advice, but as you want (not sensible) to challenge the doctor's professional opinion, and it's very easy to trace the fact you run a farm shop, perhaps toning down some opinions (which are only that - you haven't conducted any fact-finding meetings, with the employee, or others, yet) might be sensible.

    General questions for advice, and answers for information, are fine, but you both now & when making any decision have to forget about your opinions, and determine everything in future only on facts & conclusions reasonably available to you, or reasonably reached (that doesn't include any conclusion that she isn't suffering stress - you have no medical ability to reach this conclusion).

    At the moment, one fact is that a medical professional has said your employee is not fit for work. Unless you are qualified to challenge that, accept it as fact - even if she is putting on the facade of a smile for the camera in some random overseas place.

    Another fact is that your employee, being unfit for work, isn't working in accordance with her employment contract.

    Another fact is that people get ill; it happens, and all employers have to make a reasonable allowance for that.

    Another fact is that if this employee is signed-off for too long, her capability may be questionable - whether she can meet the needs of the job, long-term. (That's when options like dismissal enter the picture, but for capability, not disciplinary (the same procedure is normally used though): you'll be deciding on their ability to meet the needs of the job, not whether their doctor was acting deceptively as well as them.)

    At the moment, she's had two weeks off sick (unless there's more in the last year that you haven't mentioned), and with a further month off, she'll be entering the territory to warrant a verbal (or "first") warning - see http://employmentlawclinic.com/attendance-and-performance/bradford-factor/ for a calculator (which is only a guide, this should never supplant the role of your judgment).

    If the absence continues, you'll have options to step-up formal action, but at the moment, you have grounds neither to consider disciplinary action (except following this process for capability, which could very soon attract a first warning), and no grounds to consider dismissal, so forget both of them. If things don't improve (and this may require some reasonable adjustments, short-term, from your side), your options can develop rapidly, but you need to reach decisions about that only when those circumstances arise.

    If she really wasn't performing in her role, this may assist in hastening formal action, but that would need to be decided on a lot more than you could share on a forum.

    And for the record, employers can use information from social networks. A smiling face proves nothing though, and certainly isn't sufficient to challenge the medical opinion of a doctor!

    Karl Limpert
    Posted: Aug 28, 2013 By: Employment Law Clinic Member since: Aug 10, 2009
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  20. Blood Lust

    Blood Lust UKBF Ace

    899 116
    Disciplinary action never makes an unhappy employee happy. You need to conduct an investigation to see if theres something wrong in her work environment stressing her out and making her hate her job.

    I would advise checking out the following:
    Wages - Does she perceive her wages as fair or does she feel exploited?
    Colleagues - Do they all treat her properly?
    Managers - Do they all treat her properly?
    Work life balance - Is the job taking over her life?
    Promotions - Is the promotion system open, fair and transparent?
    Favouritism - Do managers have favourites or do they treat everyone the same?
    Politics - Has she fallen victim to any workplace politics?
    Recognition + Rewards - Is she given these when she performs well?

    You might not be aware of problems going on in the workplace. As an example of this her manager might be bullying her when you arent around to see it. My advice is to give her a form to fill in when she comes back asking her about any problems in the above 8 areas.

    Needless to say the problem may also be on her side. Maybe something in her past or personal life has knocked the wind out of her. She shouldnt be bringing outside issues into the workplace.

    First step is not discipline its to see if theres something wrong with her work environment and if it can be fixed. I hope I've been of some help.
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2013
    Posted: Aug 29, 2013 By: Blood Lust Member since: Sep 7, 2011
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