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Feeling sick

Disciplinary proceedings at work are stressful. If you’re facing disciplinary proceedings, it can be tempting to go to your GP and get signed off work.

Unless you really are too ill to go to work, this is a bad idea. The disciplinary proceedings themselves may or may not be well-founded, but your employer is entitled to investigate any allegations and conduct a disciplinary hearing. If unfair dismissal proceedings are on the horizon, you need to behave all through the disciplinary process in a way that will engage the tribunal’s sympathies on your side, not your employer’s. If you go and get a sick certificate at the first sign of trouble, and then refuse to have anything to do with your employer’s attempts to conduct a disciplinary process – worse still, if you refuse to cooperate with their attendance management process as well, fail to respond to messages, miss OH appointments and so on –  you’ll engage the tribunal’s sympathies on your employer’s side instead.

So it will normally be better to grit your teeth and cooperate with the disciplinary process. After all, if it’s the process itself that you’re finding stressful, why should it be less so after you’ve been off work for a few weeks months? And ultimately, if you stay off work with stress for long enough, you’ll hand your employer a cast-iron excuse to dismiss you for poor attendance instead of whatever they want to discipline you for.

11 comments

  1. Douglas

    Naomi
    I find this posting alarming….
    How do you get signed off from work by your GP???
    If your not too sick to go to work????
    Staying off for weeks with stress, low mood, depression, anxiety etc etc is a long term disability and deserves respect.

  2. Paul Cardin

    Whoops. Naomi may not have worked in a stressful job. She may not have worked for an employer with directors who’ve got no regard for their legal HSE obligations; their roles and responsibilities to act, champion and tackle stress in employees.

    http://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/furtheradvice/responsible.htm

    So she wants us to battle through against the most sickening conduct, often engaged in by malpractising, crooked employers who breach their own internal policies and procedures at will…. and to hell with the health and wellbeing of their employees.

    Somebody’s losing it I think…..

  3. Mark Benney

    A complex area, as the other posters have confirmed. Stress can take many forms and manifest itself in many different ways. For example, let’s say you have already been convicted of a disciplinary offence and given a “final written warning”, on what appear to be trumped up charges supported by dodgy evidence. You fear that you are being set up for dismissal because any further offence could result in instant termination (no doubt after a further, brief kangaroo court). Can that fear cause clinical stress? Almost certainly. Would you be fully justified in going to your doctor at that point? Very probably. And of course being signed off for work related stress does not necessarily preclude taking part in an appeal process, up to and including an appeal hearing. Such processes are outside the normal “work” experience and the Tribunal will quite understand your determination to try to reverse the disciplinary decision, even if you are not at your best. You might of course have the assistance of a work colleague or trade union representative, a circumstance that is not usually the case during the normal rough and tumble of the ordinary working week. If in doubt, tell your employer that the fact that you want to take part in such a process does not mean that you are not genuinely suffering from stress. If he refuses to acknowledge this, indicate that you propose to conduct the proceedings in writing and that you are unwilling to attend any hearing in person.

  4. Naomi

    This one has aroused strong feelings. The bit of the post that seems to have been overlooked is ‘unless you really are too ill to go to work.’

    Of course employees are sometimes so badly affected by workplace stress that they can’t work; and if that’s the case, they shouldn’t try to. I wouldn’t dream of suggesting otherwise. But sometimes when employees are accused of wrongdoing, they ‘throw a sickie’ as a delaying tactic. My point is that that’s a bad idea.

    The reason I care about it for the purposes of this blog (which is after all written as a free service to claimants in employment tribunal claims) is that it will tend to increase the tribunal’s sympathy for the employer, and decrease their sympathy for the employee. In other words, it’s the sort of bad idea that can wreck an otherwise good case.

  5. Douglas

    Throwing a sickie.. is not the same as being signed of by the GP..
    From my own experience I would say, if you go and see your GP under these circumstances and the GP considers you unfit for work. Make sure the GP gives the full reasons for the decision on the fit note and a realistic time for a full recovery for work, if you are fit enough to agree make sure the diagnosis is correct. Make sure it says so and lists any impairments that make you unfit for work.. Make and take an appointment with practice councilor for extra help and a 2nd opinion. Your employer and later if it gets that far the tribunal need to know these facts. If you’re not fit enough to agree with or understand your GP call an employment lawyer.

    • Botevyle

      When your GPS confirms to your employer that you attended an appointment suffering from a severe asthma flare you don’t expect your employer to claim you attendance as and act of Gross misconduct Theft and Fraud.but it happens. What you can prepare for is finally getting your case to ET and issues clarified at preliminary hearing or CMD, 12 months of employer denial of any knowledge of wrong doing. 3 different judges then making allowances and showing leneancy to the employer; then coming before 3 further people (1 Judge) who have absolutely no idea what happened, when and how but make a judgement (on what they understand, know or believe) They often miss or ignore the law, the evidence, and given my eperiences I wonder if they have ever heard of the the Equalities Act, Data proctection Act or indeed the ACAS code of practice.

  6. Paul Cardin

    The general thrust of this post was ill-advised (like the April 1st offering). It seems to suggest that most of us out there in the wild blue yonder are throwing sickies.

    “Cause and Effect” however tells us that crooked employers who breach not just their own internal policies and procedures, but their director obligations to employee wellbeing (see above) and their duty of care for us under the Health & Safety at Work Act are the primary CAUSE of work-related stress, anxiety or even clinical depression.

    I was a whistleblower who was rewarded with trumped up charges and forced to resign.

    In a later job I was a complainant who was rewarded with trumped up charges and separated from my livelihood.

    The ultimate EFFECT was unemployment for me.

    http://www.about.me/paul.cardin

    This is not six of one and half a dozen of the other. From my experience, employers are generally crooked because there’s nothing of substance to deter them from “filling their boots” and wrecking people’s careers and sometimes lives.

  7. Jason Mountford

    I read this post, thinking it was extremely sensible and good advice from somebody who is plainly on our side (ie employees). I then read down the comments with increasing astonishment. There is a plain misreading of Naomi Cunningham’s argument, and I find it hard to resist the suspicion it is a deliberate misreading.

    Nobody does themselves any favours by lying, including lying about being ill. And if “crooked” employers are determined to dismiss somebody on “trumped-up” charges, which undoubtedly happens, I can’t see how an employee can make their position any better by claiming to be insufficiently well to defend themselves.

    This is not to denigrate the people who develop genuine and serious symptoms of psychological illness. But those people are in the minority. Everyone gets stressed, upset and scared during a disciplinary hearing. It’s inherent in the process. Stand up and fight. Don’t sit back and get trampled on.

    • Douglas

      Jason
      I must be very naive, I don’t recall throwing a sickie in 27 years on the contrary I went to work many times when I was very unwell. In a separate incident, one day I was bullied and mentally broke down. I raised a grievance as invited, stood up and fought full of anti depressants, Valium and beta blockers. In the end I went to the ET.
      I was classified as significantly disabled by 10 doctors and the DWP I have succeeded with claims for housing benefit, ESA & IIDB – at times a hospital case.. The ET, the EAT and the court of appeal don’t accept that I am disabled or a single one of my claims. Like me now my case was totally without merit, I wasn’t dismissed or subject to disciplinary proceedings. I raised a grievance about bullying becoming clinically depressed during the process, in current employment neither seem to be allowed, the result, I was systematically demolished by my employers, their lawyers and the judiciary. If you can cope? age old advice “put up and shut up”. As I did for 27 years.

      I apologise but Naomi’s comment implies “demanding or deceiving the GP to sign you off work” which I agree that is not a good idea. If you’re doing that then you are probably deceiving everybody. If this is normal behavior you are probably unemployed. If not it is time for help see your GP or perhaps tell your boss you need a holiday or ask to see the company Doctor, if all that fails you your GP will probably need to sign you off work with stress..hmmmm

      PS I am the proud owner of “the book”

  8. Richard Essery

    This is a classic lawyers argument…and wrong in law. Disciplinary activities are by definition part of ‘work’. If you are signed off as being unfit for work then this includes disciplinary activities. What part of ‘unfit for work’ do the lawyers NOT understand?

  9. Douglas

    I just thought I’d post here something I read in documents recently released in the USA.Those documents are from the 1950’s and refer to the infamous spy, traitor Guy Burgess they give a list of reasons why he should have been dismissed. The one that drew my attention was “having frequent nervous breakdowns” I can see now, why Naiomi would offer the above advice! No matter how cruel, historically employers have, can and will sack employees who have nervous breakdowns, on that basis the tribunal have no choice but to accept the employers arguments.

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