I was signed off work for stress after mum cancer diagnosis she has now died and struggling with return to work

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I have a high pressure job with a minimum hour and a half commute and little ability to WFH. After mums pancreatic cancer diagnosis at the end of June I moved in with her to help care for her and then I was signed off work starting 11/07 for 'stress due to family illness' then 'anxiety and low mood' from Nov.

The full details of our journey are on my profile but she basically needed full time care and though staged 1b passed away 18/11.

I feel that I haven't been supported nor has my situation been dealt with sympathetically. My long absence, lack of support and empathy along with my mums diagnosis, caring for her and now bereavement is also a barrier to me returning as I feel that the aim will be to performance manage me out.

During my absence I have had one formal heath review meeting call with my line manger on 15/09 then and informal call involving the HR partner, my line manager and second line which centred around the impact my absence had on the team and business.

There was discussion around WFH, though my second line raised that WFH for my role is not really viable, and reduced workload. I asked for clarity around what reduced workload would look like and the HR BP stated that I would still be responsible for the team performance and my targets and would remain the same. I therefore explained that this would not be achievable due to my current mental health. She started to focus on how the business could not sustain support for me for much longer though they sympathised with my situation which seemed to be hinting that they would be looking to dismiss me. When the informal call was closed I was told by HR BP that she would call in the next 2-3 days to discuss their thoughts moving forward which didn't happen. There has been no mention of Occupational heath referral or discussions around levels of contact with me to help support.

In October I realised I had not received pay. When I queried with my line manager I was told that I had been overpaid in September and owed the business so this had been taken from my October pay. I hadn't been informed of this by anyone and there was no attempt to discuss repayment with me. I spoke with a union rep on 9/11 who raised this with HR on 10/11 and it was agreed that there was a failing in process.  HR then raised with PAyroll 16/11 and attempted to call me to discuss. However, by 16/11 my mothers condition had deteriorated substantially and I was in no position to deal with the issue.

My mum passed away 18/11 and I informed my manager on 21/11 who replied that he was sorry to hear and said if there was anything they could do to let him know,

Contact other than the above since July to now has been strictly asking for fit notes and requesting equipment back from me.

I am very worried that on return to work I will be performanced managed for dismissal. I know that I will not be able to perform to the standard required of me and though I am sure they will do everything to make sure that they look to have made allowances on paper the realty of things will be different and I will struggle to be able to fight it.

I'm looking for advice on what my rights are and how to deal with the situation. 

I have an appointment with my GP on 20/11 and I expect they will suggest that I start depression medication, counselling and continued time off as they were suggesting medication before my mother died but I refused due to my concerns around the effect on my care for her and they have been highly aware and concerned regarding the situation I have  been in the past few months. However, my SSP runs out mid Jan and I am beginning to struggling financially.

Thanks for any help or advice

  • Hello  

    Thank you for your question. My name is Polly, and I am a work support adviser on the Macmillan support line. Please can I convey my condolences to you and your family during this difficult time.

    On the Macmillan Support Line we do offer emotional support if you feel you need to talk. Alternatively, I suggest that you reach out to Cruse Bereavement Support.

    It is true to say that when an employee is off sick long term the employer can dismiss the employee for health reasons (this is termed capability)

    To do this employer must follow a fair process which includes the following:

    1. They must investigate your health problems, usually by referral to occupational health.
    2. They must hold formal meetings where you are entitled to bring a union Rep or a colleague and you are warned beforehand that you could be dismissed at this meeting. It is usual for there to be at least 2 formal meetings.
    3. At these meetings they must consider three questions:
      1. Is there a foreseeable return to work date?
      2. Are there any reasonable adjustments they can do to help with a return to work?
      3. Is there an alternative role that you can do?

    You have had one formal meeting with your line manager and second line and it appears that these issues were not discussed.

    In addition to this protection from unfair dismissal you may have a recognised disability under the Equality Act 2010 or the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 if you live in Northern Ireland. This is because you have identified that you suffer from mental health problems including anxiety and depression and although it is not automatically protected you may be considered disabled if you have a health problem that has a substantial effect on your daily life which has lasted or is likely to last for 12 months or more. Please see the information on the ACAS Website

    My impression from your comments is that the employer has not reached a decision about your future yet and I suspect they are sympathetic to your emotional difficulties. In addition, they must tread carefully because of your illness and your protection from discrimination by your association with some one who is classed as having a disability. Please see Working while caring for someone with cancer

    I also see that you do a stressful, target driven job. Employers have an obligation to their work force to provide a safe working environment. Please also familiarise yourself with the Law related managing work related stress. The Employer must carry out a risk assessment and take steps to prevent or reduce stress.

    You mentioned that you can do some work from home – perhaps this can be a starting point on your journey back into work. The employer is obligated to make changes to help you overcome the barriers to work and if your doctor issues a Fit Note that states that you need to work from home then they may need comply with this advice in the short term.  Team management is possible using a variety of communication tools on a laptop.

    You may also be interested in the Support offered by Access to Work.

    It is good to hear that you have Union membership and that you were assisted when you were overpaid your salary. This help will be invaluable as you get back to work.

    You mentioned that you are struggling financially. Our welfare rights team can help you understand whether you are entitled to any financial support. Please call them on 0808 808 0000- they are open from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM on Monday to Friday and between 9:00 and 5:00 at the weekend.


    Work Support Advisor
    Remember you can also speak with the Macmillan Support Line team of experts. Phone free on 0808 808 0000 (7 days a week, 8am-8pm) or by email