Can Work Contact Me When Off Sick With Stress or Depression?

If you’ve been signed off work due to mental health then you are not in a good place. You may be distressed and wondering if work can contact you when off sick with stress or depression? This will be a particular concern if your job has been affecting your wellbeing.

There’s no law to prevent an employer contacting a worker who is off work ill with stress. Many workplaces will be genuinely concerned for the welfare of a sick worker. They may also have a duty of care if the illness is work related.

However, any contact from your employer must be reasonable. Excessive calls or emails may aggravate mental health issues. If your employer engaged in excessive and unnecessary contact which made stress or depression worse, it might mean you could claim constructive dismissal.

Read more on how often an employer can make contact when off ill at Landau Law.


Work Related Stress, Depression & Anxiety is on the Rise

Looking after our mental wellbeing is as just as important as dealing with any physical illnesses. Mental health conditions directly related to the workplace are on a worrying uptrend.

An estimated 822,00 employees were affected by work related stress, anxiety or depression during 20 / 21.

HSE Work-related stress, anxiety or depression statistics in Great Britain, 2021

Stress or depression can be a lot to deal with without any additional pressures such as work calls. The stress itself may be caused by your job. If this is the case you need space to get better.

When you are off sick with a mental illness it can impact you negatively if work keeps ringing you. What’s the deal when you are off sick with stress, can work contact you?


Contact and Work Related Stress

If your stress or depression is partly or fully due to problems in the workplace then it is the responsibility of the employer to take steps to address the situation.

They may need to do a risk assessment and ask you some questions on how staff can be better supported. If they fail to keep open the lines of communication there is a risk of the situation deteriorating beyond repair.

Wellfare checks may also be made, so that your workplace can make sure you are OK. Work related mental health problems are sadly on the increase across the UK. Managers have a duty of care to support their staff when it is needed.

They may ask to check in with you from time to time, either over the phone or face to face.


How Contact When Off Sick Can Make Stress Worse

When an employee is signed off sick with stress, contacting them can aggravate their stress despite good intentions.

It is so important to tread carefully in situations where mental illness is involved. Each situation should be assessed on its own set of circumstances.

Employers should consider:-

  1. What is the cause of the stress or depression? Has the employee got things going on in their personal life or is some of the illness down to the work environment?
  2. Does the call need to be made right now or can it wait a little longer? Sometimes, especially in smaller businesses, staff are heavily relied on for a source of information. Only make the call if it is necessary.
  3. Make sure duty of care obligations are met without putting the staff member under any additional pressures.
  4. Consider the least intrusive form of contact wiht employees while off sick. Sometimes an email might be best. The worker may want time to consider a reply and it will be less stressful than a call.
  5. Others might appreciate their boss reaching out at a time when they might feel lonely. It’s about assessing each situation as it arises and it is also about knowing your staff. In big businesses, sometimes the manager may not even have met the staff member. It might be more appropriate for someone familiar to reach out.

What Contact is Reasonable When Off Sick with Stress?

Employers do have the right to check in from time to time. The frequency of contact can be agreed upon between you both.

There are no laws about frequency of contact. However, it should be reasonable and they should be mindful about the impact on your mental health. If the level of contact affects your recovery, it may cause you more time off work.

When you are first off work sick, there may be practical issues to consider. These can include finding a temp to cover the absence or increasing the workload of other employees. HR may need information from you such as sick pay paperwork. This will require a fit note when the absence is for longer than 7 days.

Types of contact an employer may adopt include:

  • Emails (perhaps where stress is bad and entirely work related).
  • Telephone calls.
  • Semi regular face to face meetings.
  • Return to work interview.
  • Employers often want to find out what reasonable adjustments can be made.
  • Welfare checks may involve some filling in of forms.

You should bear in mind the importance of staying in touch while ill. It may be the last thing you feel like doing but try to follow procedures. Making yourself unavailable and not responding to calls might make things worse.

Some employers will take disciplinary action when sickness procedures aren’t followed.


Stress at Work & Employer Duty of Care

Employers must make sure they comply with all UK health and safety legislation and this includes managing stress in the workplace.

Stress in the work environment should be treated like any other risk. Strategies should be in place to prevent it from happening in the first place. Support should always be readily available for staff, particularly the case in stressful environments.

If an employee has become ill with stress or depression then an employer must take appropriate steps to support them. They should not feel alienated from the workplace and their colleagues. At the same ttime, the employee should not be pressured to return before ready.


What if the Stress is Work Related? Your Rights

If your stress is work related then you have additional rights and protections. This is why the employer must be able to demonstrate they’ve fulfiled their duty of care.

You may have right to make a claim for work related stress at an employment tribunal. These are made when your illness has come about as a direct result of the conditions in the workplace.

Employees may also have a case for constructive dismissal if they feel they have no alternative but to leave their job.

The Equality Act recognises stress as a disability in its own right. and as a result, employers should take the necessary steps to make reasonable adjustments. Failure to do so can result in employees claiming disability discrimination.


Common Reasons For Stress In The Workplace

There are a lot of reasons which can lead to taking time off work due to stress. But a lot of the time it comes down to the work environment itself.

Stress in the workplace is often caused by:

  • Increased workloads.
  • Increased work hours (if employees opted out of the working hours regulations).
  • Unhealthy work environment.
  • Bullying at work.
  • Staff feeling isolated or not included.
  • Bereavement of a colleague.
  • Lack of support.
  • Changes within the organisation.

Further Reading


FAQs

How to get signed off work with stress?

You can self certify for the first 7 days of any illness, including stress. After this point, a doctor’s note is required which your workplace will ask for. You will normally require an appointment with the doctor to receive this.

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