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Potential Sickness Warning Concern


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My wife works for a local government authority in November she developed a problem that the doctor diagnoses as sciatica. In general this is expected to improve after about six weeks but after two months there was no improvement and my wife was in agony.


However, she still went to work despite the pain. Her GP sent her for an MRI scan and it showed that she had a slipped disc. She was prescribed medication and extremely strong pain killers - tramadol - which still didn't resolve the pain and merely zonked her out. Eventually, she couldn't continue to go to work and two weeks ago she reluctantly accepted a sick note from her GP. Not only is the slipped disc getting her down but she feels she's letting her colleagues down.


She has now got an appointment to see a specialist and has been informed that she may need injections and possibly surgery. I've seen her crying with pain and her mental health is definitely suffering. Another concern is that her employer uses the Bradford Scale when dealing with absences and she is concerned that she will face a warning for her sickness when she eventually returns to work.


I've tried to reassure her but she is such a conscientious person that she can't help worrying.


Any advice on how she should proceed if she is faced with a disciplinary when she is finally able to return to work? Many thanks in advance. DJ67

Edited by citizenB
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The Bradford Factor system is very common, but is a blunt tool which measures frequent short term absences but has very little leeway for common sense.


Best thing that your wife can do is to speak directly to HR and to express her concerns to them, giving full details of her condition, pending and likely future treatment and prognosis - so far as she is able to based on current medical opinion. Ask whether it is possible to be taken out of sickness monitoring for the duration of this event.


That said, if the employer wants to be nasty and unfeeling, there is no obligation for them to do this and if a warning were to result then a grievance might be in order, but it should also be noted that sickness is not necessarily a barrier to disciplinary action, which is quite lawful as a matter of capability.


Your wife MUST though put her own needs and long term health first, rather than worry too much about being off work. I hope that the treatment is successful and relieves her pain soon.

Any advice given is done so on the assumption that recipients will also take professional advice where appropriate.






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Hi DJ67,


Firstly, my sympathies to your wife. I know exactly how she feels as I was in exactly the same situation.


I had back pains/sciatica for 8 years before they finally sent me for my MRI which showed a compressed slipped disc. I had major back surgery last May and apart from some residual nerve damage am fully fit and back at work (hard physical work)


My only advise for your wife, is to worry about herself and not work. I was suicidal until I was finally diagnosed and at least she knows what the problem is. I was off work for a year and the Dr was exceptional just signing me off.


Remember if she is taking the medication and driving, she may well be over the drink/drug limit. Tell her that work isn't everything and she needs to get herself fixed.



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Another +1


Hurt my back a week after starting a new job and went through exactly the same process of meds, physio, scans and eventually surgery. Like 'stella I'm pretty much back on my feet with some residual nerve damage.


The bradford scale has been shown to be outdated and potentially discriminatory against people with disabilities. I'd second the suggestion of an honest and open meeting with the HR dept to discuss what's happening.


Where I did differ a bit from 'stella was that I have a Gp who's more reluctant to sign people off, instead we were very aggressive treatment wise trying lots of different things until something started to help. If she's not already on (amitripyline / gabapentin / lyrica) anti-neuropathic pain medication then get her back to the GP and start making a bit of a noise. I tried everything from paracetamol to morphine and only the lyrica made any difference. The issue is it's expensive, so be prepared to try the other two first.


My episode ended with a trip to the (not so) local specialist neurosurgery hospital. I was in for 4 days, back on my feet the evening of the surgery and back at work within 4 weeks. It's a very unpleasant experience but there's most definitely light at the end of the tunnel.

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Hi, sorry about the delay in responding.

So glad that you both got sorted and it must have been hell to suffer for 8 years.

She was put on gabapentin and had really bad side effects so is now on lyrica. Not too sure how effective the lyrica is at the moment as she is still in constant pain.

I agree with you on the Bradford Scale and once she has seen a specialist on Friday (19th) she'll see about meeting with HR.

Thanks so much for all your advice and support. You folks are amazing.

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