Harassment While on Sick Leave – What’s Reasonable When Contacting Employees?

It’s a hard balance for employers to strike when communicating with staff who are off sick. Too little contact and the employee may be left feeling isolated and detached from the team. Excessive contact can quickly feel like harassment to an employee on sick leave.

At times, the feeling that the boss is overstepping a line is justified. When you are off work sick the last thing needed is constant check ins and questions about your return.

On the other hand, you should expect some level of communication while you are off work. It is unrealistic to want no contact with your boss for the duration of your illness.

Being Contacted by Work When Off Work Sick – What is Reasonable?

When you are contacted while off sick, some communication can be considered reasonable. It is important to remember that your employer still has responsibilities both to you and the business.

Employer’s Duty Of Care

Firstly, you might be contacted as part of your employer’s duty of care procedures.

Your workplace may contact you from time to time to check in on your wellbeing. How often this will happen will most likely depend on the illness and how long you expect to be off ill.

If you are not comfortable with the level of welfare checks, or you are off because of work related stress, it would be reasonable for you to set boundaries with your employer. We suggest you have a conversation where you agree a level of contact that works for both parties. In most cases, the last thing your employer will want to do is add to your distress.

Staff Queries

You may need to be available for queries from other staff members to meet the needs of the business. These will hopefully be kept to a minimum and done in a manner which suits you best.

Obviously if you are too unwell to respond, then it would not be reasonable for your employer or colleagues to expect communication.

Welfare Meetings

You may well be contacted and asked to participate in a face to face meeting. This will depend entirely on the nature of your illness.

If you are off sick long term, a welfare meeting may be conducted. This is intended to help your employer understand your needs and plan for reasonable adjustments on return to work.

You may also be asked to fill in welfare checks from time to time. These forms help keep data up to date in the HR department and also help them understand the implications of the illness.

See Also: Long Term Sick Leave – your rights when off work long term.

Risk Assessments

A risk assessment may well be needed if the sick leave is work related. For example, stress or depression are often triggered by the work environment.

When this is the case, it is the employer’s responsibility to assess the situation. They will need to ask you some questions and perhaps ask for some feedback to improve the environment.

This will also be the case if you had an accident while at work and have consequently been signed off.

Keeping Staff Included

In the case of mental illness, employers need to show they are offering support and promoting inclusion.

This can mean opening those lines of communication regularly to keep staff feeling involved and supported. You may also continue receiving generic emails as part of the office communication such as newsletters.

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Two Way Communication is Key

Your employer may need to contact you when your self certification period comes to an end. Again, this is perfectly reasonable as they will need a doctor’s note to cover your sickness with HR.

When you are stuck at home ill while everyone else is in the office it is easy to feel isolated. This can lead to losing a sense of perspective.

You should bear in mind that employers have to show concern and check in every now and again. They may need to hire someone to cover your absence and need an idea of the timescale.

It would be unreasonable to expect an employer to completely neglect to check in on you.

Harassment & Unreasonable Requests While Off Sick

There comes a time when communication from work spills over into harassment and can affect an employee’s recovery.

Employers should always consider the nature of illness before deciding how often to communicate. Other things that should be taken into consideration include the roles of the employee, their relationship with them, how best to communicate during their absences and how often this should occur.

Lets take a look at what expectations are unreasonable when on sick leave:-

Pressure To Work

You should never be pressured into working from home if you are unable to do so.

In some cases, you may be happy to do some jobs remotely to try and help the team. However, most of employees who are sick need time and rest to recuperate.

Should your boss be hassling you to meet deadlines and complete tasks then you are right to feel harassed.

Keep Contact To A Fair Amount

When you are off ill, contact should never be excessive. Where possible, it is good practice to ask the employee how often and how they should be contacted.

Some may enjoy twice weekly check ins, others may find this too much. At the same time, phone calls will be feasible for many but too daunting for others. Employers should assess the situation on an individual basis and go from there.

Unannounced Home Visits

Whatever the circumstances surrounding your illness, it is never acceptable for your boss to turn up at your door unannounced.

If this has happened to you then you have the right to feel uncomfortable. It doesn’t matter how well-intentioned the visit is or how good your working relationship is.

Threats of Disciplinary Action

An employer should never threaten to dismiss or discipline employees on sick leave unless there is a sound reason driven by company policy.

There will usually be steps before this last resort such as meetings. In most situations, these should not happen whilst an employee is on sick leave.

Dismissal should never be used as blackmail to get an employee back to work.

No Pressure To Return

Once you have been signed off, there should be no pressure from your boss to return before you are fit enough.

This may involve getting a fit note from the GP or attending back to work interviews in the workplace. Your boss should not be hassling you for a return date constantly and should not be applying excessive pressure to return.

An employer should tread very carefully when it comes to time off due to mental health. This is more so the case if the mental health illness is due to the job itself. There is an extremely thin line between support and putting people under additional pressure.

Attending a Meeting While off Sick

You might be asked to attend a meeting while you are signed off sick. If this is the case, be prepared for what is and is not reasonable in terms of expectations.

You might be asked if you can physically get into the office for the meeting, this is quite normal. However, if you are not able to then other arrangements should be made, such as a home visit. These meetings should be only as often as required with no excessiveness in terms of length and frequency.

 As part of sickness procedures, you may be asked to fill in an employee questionnaire or welfare check form. This is often done in conjunction with returning to work as a way of effectively transitioning someone back into the workplace.

When you attend these meetings you should not be put under any sort of pressure. This means not being asked to do any work or asking for a fixed return date if this isn’t possible. The meeting should be based on employee welfare.

Disciplinary While Off Sick

Sometimes, there might need to be a disciplinary held while you are off sick so knowing your rights is important.

If you are off sick in the short term, then it would be in everyone’s interest to wait until you are back. That way you are recovered, in good health and mindset to listen and adhere to any disciplinary action.

However, if disciplinary action is required and you are on long term sick, then you may need to cooperate. Often, when an employee is off for an extended period then certain policies need to be followed.

This can include meetings, disciplinary action and maybe even being sacked if you cannot return to work. There will be steps taken before disciplinary action such as a face to face meeting.

If You Feel You Are Being Harassed on Sick Leave

If you are being harassed while on sick leave, contact ACAS to discuss your options.

You could also consider raising a grievance with HR if you work for a larger organisation.

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