Fast Track: `I feel as if I might crack up!'

Help Desk: Your Career Problems Solved By The Experts

I AM the head of a small department with a long-term absentee employee, which is making my workload intolerable. Senior management seem completely uninterested and have refused to have anything to do with the situation, although I have almost begged for support.

The member of staff in question is litigious and wholly unconcerned about the effect her lengthy and frequent absences have on anyone else. She has been diagnosed as having a mild form of an untreatable illness and is unable to function efficiently when she is at work. I'm being made to feel lacking in compassion when actually I feel as though I might crack up!

The senior management have recently been strongly criticised for the non-existent staff development on offer, and I am strongly aware that "holding the fort" has prevented me from pursuing and developing all sorts of projects.

Am I being unreasonable? I have recently applied for another job, but I actually feel as if I'm being forced out. Virginia, Wokingham

Give yourself the best opportunity to manage the situation by facing it directly now. Obtain as much information as possible regarding company policy/practice regarding sickness/absenteeism. Request an independent specialist doctor's report on her condition and the effects on her work. The onus is on the employer to behave reasonably, and on the employee to co-operate with an investigation of this type.

Demonstrate compassion openly while also addressing the issue fairly yet firmly in accordance with policy guidelines. Tell the individual that you are concerned about her absenteeism; that you are monitoring it and that you want to work with her to find the best solution. Tell your line manager that you want support and insist that you meet regularly to discuss/report progress.

Depending on the doctor's prognosis, some options to explore might be counselling, special equipment, or part-time work in her present role; helping her to find another more appropriate role internally or externally; early retirement due to ill health; or a disciplinary process, which could eventually lead to dismissal. The key is to record information throughout e.g. everyone's absenteeism rates, and all your discussions on the topic.

Hilary Walmsley, Human Resources Partnership, author of Transform Your Management Style (Kogan Page 1998)

There are three related problems in this situation. The first is the sick employee. Absence should be treated consistently throughout an organisation, but that does not mean that an employer cannot be more generous, especially to an employee with an untreatable illness.

The second is the additional burden the absence is placing on you. The Employment Appeal Tribunal decided in Whitbread plc t/a Thresher v Gullyes 1994 that an employer who did not provide sufficient support for a manager, and so made her job very difficult, was in breach of his implied duty of mutual trust and confidence, which would enable the employee to bring a successful claim of unfair dismissal. Obviously this is a question of degree. Even if your own difficulties are great, your first step should be to raise the matter with your manager, formally if informal attempts have so far failed, and to seek a practical solution to your difficulties.

The third problem is your health. If your health is affected, or likely to be, this too should be drawn to your manager's attention. Your employer has a duty to take reasonable steps to avoid or minimise stress caused by your work - but must be aware of the problem first.

Olga Aikin, Senior Partner, Aikin Driver Partnership, Employment Law Advisers

First of all, try to get more information from your member of staff. Have a meeting and let her know that you both need to recognise there is a problem and the situation can't continue. Then discuss some possible work solutions - perhaps she could have more flexible working patterns which will allow for the ups and downs of her illness, or she could be transferred to a less demanding job within the company.

Ask for temporary help to bridge the gap when she isn't around. Are senior management ignoring the problem because they feel there is nothing they can do about her? This may not be the case. You will need legal advice, but it is possible to dismiss someone on the grounds of incapacity. It may sound harsh but if her illness is never going to get any better and she can't fulfil her contractual obligations to you, it is not fair to her or your company to expect her to perform in a job.

Angela Barron

Institute of Personnel and

Development Policy Advisor

If you have a work problem and want expert advice, write to Carmen Fielding, Fast Track, Features, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL; fax 0171-293 2182; e-mail c.fielding@independent.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
Kristin Scott Thomas outside the Royal Opera House before the ceremony (Getty)
film
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Channel 4's Indian Summers
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West found himself at the centre of a critical storm over the weekend after he apparently claimed to be “the next Mandela” during a radio interview
music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig and Rory Kinnear film Spectre in London
film
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor