On the ground: recovery in jeopardy

A doctor’s post-operative recovery and return to work was blighted by a manager’s insensitive approach

Location: UK
Published: Friday 21 January 2022
teams lap top

A consultant felt stressed and threatened when she was recovering from an operation, because of the intrusive and insensitive approach adopted by her manager.

The doctor needed an extended period of time off work for an operation and her subsequent post-operative recovery.

The trust’s guidance for managers is to be ‘sensitive and supportive’ when contacting staff who are taking sickness absence.

However, this was not our member’s experience. Instead, the manager contacted her to arrange hour-long Teams meetings, which she found unnecessary.

The doctor had an extended phased return, which was helpful. However, upon her return to work, the manager informed her that her ‘Bradford Score’ was too high. This is a tool commonly used by HR departments to monitor absence.

It is geared so that several, shorter absences generate a much higher score than a single, longer one of the same overall duration. It has been called a ‘blunt instrument’ (and worse) by employees.

While it was designed to highlight regular callers-in-sick, it can penalise those with disabilities or who need long recovery periods, particularly if used by managers who fail to take any other factors into account.

In this case, the consultant was advised by the manager that he would continue to monitor her with regular fortnightly meetings until her score dropped below 100, and that one more absence would trigger a formal process.

This was never put into a written warning, however. There was further confusion in that the manager’s version of the return-to-work form included her Bradford Score on it while the one available to staff through the intranet, did not.

When the doctor contacted the BMA for advice, she indicated that she felt completely unsupported upon her return to work and that she was anxious and uncertain as to what, if any, policy the manager was following. As a consequence of this contact, the BMA adviser and IRO (industrial relations officer) met with the HR department, and the response from them was reassuring.

There was recognition that the policy needed to be reviewed. It was agreed that more training for managers was required. Specifically, it was accepted the Bradford Score was only one of a number of indicators, which was not appropriate to use in all cases, and should not have been used in this one.

Following the meeting with HR, the IRO, who leads on policy negotiations and takes on collective cases, is working with the local negotiating committee at the hospital to ensure the necessary changes take place.

It means the case is not just being dealt with as a one-off, but steps are being taken to ensure other doctors are not treated in the same way in future. For the adviser and IRO, this was also about giving the doctor confidence to speak up in future.

She had not felt able to question or challenge her manager until she had met with the BMA, and had affirmation from them that his approach was unacceptable.

She received friendly, expert support at the time she needed it most.

To talk to an adviser about work-related issues, contact us.