Signed off with stress

Signed off with stress

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Hello All

we have an employee who has been signed of with 'anxiety, stress - work related' (to quote fit note) for a month.  This came entirely out of the blue as he had not raised any issues and there has not been an issue with the quality of his work.

My question arises from the situation that this employee has been seen out and about, by me and others, shopping, taking children to school etc.

Is this an issue?  I don't expect the guy to be bedridden, but it is a bit galling that he is well enough to continue a 'normal' life in the meantime.

I want his manager to ring him next week to discuss how we can get him back to work and what we can do to support him, but should I do anything about the fact that he is visible?

Thanks for your help.

Replies (6)

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By Clare Anderson
28th Sep 2010 13:53

As someone who was signed off with stress for 2 weeks some years ago I must admit to being slightly disappointed to read your post.  The employee needs to eat, his children need to be brought and fetched from school, his family cannot put their life on hold because he's signed off as sick just as they wouldn't if he'd broken a leg or undergone a major operation.  Activities such as the school run (if it can be done easily) might count as a recouperative activity which could actually help with his recovery.  Perhaps he didn't have the chance to do this prior to his illness and feels it's something he would have liked to do.  For my part I spent time with my mother and did some activities which I wouldn't ordinarily do on a weekday since I would be working.  The time to look at a return to work is nearer to when the fit note expires and the doctor has assessed the employee's ability to return.  Please save the heavy-handed approach for when there is due cause for concern.  In my case the two week break largely helped with my recovery, the same might apply to your employee. 

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By lperkins
28th Sep 2010 14:02

Thank you for your reply Clare.

I am tempted to think that there is not a definitive reply to my question which was the reason for posting.  Should I take action or not?

Personally, I am not convinced of his reasons for absence.  There is currently a police investigation for fraud ongoing in this guy's department and as well as being the last person to handle the cheques which have gone missing and been cashed, he has been main liaison with the police and following their 2nd visit last week, he called in sick for 2 days and then was signed off for a month with stress.  I don't want to make any accusations but I think he could be circling the wagons.

My sincere wish is that he is totally innocent in this situation and we get to the bottom of the fraud and his reason for absence.

I'm pleased that your time away from work dealt with your stress and I hope this is the same for our employee.

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By frontiers
28th Sep 2010 16:41

First of all I wouldn't be surprised that you didn't know about this guy's anxiety. Any stress reaction is still considered a sign of failure & my experience as a stress management coach is that people hide it in case it puts their job at risk. Anxiety & depression are now a big problem for businesses & you cannot argue with a GP.  Also he may be able to cope with the kids & shopping but something is happening at work which he can't cope with. You could even look on it that he could be back soon & being out with the kids is a good part of his therapy. I've had experience of people who've been in a clinic for 2-3 months with anxiety & are nowhere near improved enough to come back to work when they do. Anxiety is an illness. Their employers didn't know how sick they were.  I think it's a good idea for his manager to call but not to check up, ridicule or accuse but to show care & support & ask if there's anything the company can do. When he's back you could also see him & develop an action plan to prevent this happening again. Employers have a responsibility under the Health & Safety at Work act to protect staff from stress & just asking what they can do to help can really aid their recovery.  The CIPD has recently launched a useful guide 'Work-related stress. What the law says' if you need more information or I'm happy to have a chat with you

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By alisonrbcm
02nd Oct 2010 17:23

Perhaps a slightly different view: I wonder how much of the obvious frustration coming out in your initial question and subsequent response is about your desire to get the fraud investigation completed as it is how to handle his absence. Would your question and current response be different if the fraud investigation was not taking place?

If so: then I’d act towards him as you would without the investigation - taking into account Susan’s and Clare’s advise. You just then need to resolve your own reaction to not necessarily being able to resolve the fraud.

If not: then I’d still follow Susan’s and Clare’s advice. Until you have any real evidence to the contrary then I agree with Susan – the evidence by way of the Dr's note suggests he’s finding something at work stressful. Adding to that stress won't resolve the situation.

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By kansel
09th Nov 2010 13:27

I agree with all of the advice laid out above, but feel you need to be really careful about making assumptions.  Many people who are completely innocent but were the last person to handle financial information implicated in a fraud case involving the police may too feel pretty anxious and stressed. 

The employee's reaction doesn't automatically indicate guilt, but it is apparent to me that you believe this employee to be "guilty before proven innocent"!  There's no wonder then that the employee has failed to seek support for his stress or anxiety if that is the culture within the organisation.  I too may think twice in similar circumstances!

Have you conducted a wellbeing telephone call just to see how the employee is doing?  Have you pointed them towards some form of support service e.g. an EAP if your organisation provides one?  Have you sent them a letter to acknowlede receipt of the fit note, make sure they know they are supported and who to contact for further help?

I would suggest your focus at this stage should be to provide support necessary to the employee and help him get back on track, regardless as to whether you suspect his involvement in the fraud.  After all, unless the police tell you otherwise, they are at this stage only your suspicions.


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By lperkins
09th Nov 2010 14:48


having read my post you have come to some pretty interesting conclusions about me and the company I work for.

Firstly, I do not believe this employee to be "guilty before proven innocent".  In fact I do not believe him to be guilty at all and I am glad that he is not.  Prior to him being signed off, me, his own manager and other senior managers were at pains to confirm to him that he was not under suspicion.  As you will notice, my post was some weeks ago now and this is done and dusted.

Our company does not have a culture of treating employees with suspicion - quite the reverse in fact.  We have an open, caring paternalistic culture.

"Have you pointed him towards some form of support service eg EAP" - of course I have. Details of our EAP were contained in my first letter to him.

"have you sent them a letter to acknowledge receipt of the Fit Note, make sure they are supported and who to contact for further help?" - of course  I have.  I have sent a letter after each fit note acknowledging receipt, advising of our support and contact details, suggesting pre-return meetings and to discuss a re-entry plan

"Have you conducted a wellbeing telephone call just to see how the employee is doing?" - No, I didn't do this as when I made the suggestion in my first letter he replied that he did not feel well enough to speak to anyone from the company on the phone and we have respected his wishes.  When you have more experience in HR Kansel, you will learn that there are appropriate ways to approach issues and current advice is not to contact those signed off with stress in order not to add to their situation.

So, as you can see, we are providing every support to this employee and he is being handled very gently. 

As it is, I have received a letter from him today stating the reasons for his stress and apologising for not bringing it to the attention of anyone. He states that he was too proud to speak to anyone and believed that he could sort the situation himself.  YOu will no doubt want to comment at this stage that this reluctance was down to company culture and that his manager should have noticed the signs, however, there were no signs. Even his closest colleagues had no idea of the strain he was under and there were no issues with the quality and quantity of his work.

Thank you to the experienced colleagues who were able to give  useful advice to my query.  However, the situation is now solved and the query is closed.

Thank you



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