Wednesday 30 January 2019
If you’re suffering from a chronic health condition, the last thing you need is your job making things worse. One FDA member tells Tommy Newell how the union became her “only refuge” at a troubling time and helped get her working life back on track.
Despite priding herself on her mental resilience and her conscientious work ethic, one FDA member found herself struggling after being diagnosed with a chronic condition that caused her severe pain and discomfort.
Following her diagnosis, she found her condition was having an impact on her work and personal wellbeing: “The effect on me of both the medication and the pain was fatigue. I wasn’t particularly clear headed at the time and also it affected my resilience, particularly my ability to deal with stress.”
The role she was working in could be high-pressured and required her to potentially work outside of normal working hours, with some overnight working. A specialist consultant had advised that doing this would exacerbate her health condition and wrote a letter to this effect. Unfortunately, her line-manager didn’t offer any support or make any reasonable adjustments to help the member manage her work.
“I can’t describe the stress that put on me,” she recalls. “I don’t usually suffer from stress but I didn’t have the resilience to deal with this.”
Going through this stressful time, the member described FDA National Officer Jane Cockram as her “only port of refuge”.
“She actually understood the condition I was going through and the effects of both that and the drugs. In one sense I think she helped me keep my sanity because I was speaking to somebody that understood and recognised the problem. I wasn’t getting that anywhere else.”
As well as offering a compassionate ear, Jane supported the member to win the reasonable adjustments she needed to get both her health and working life back on track. The main way of achieving this was through a formal request for an occupational health (OH) assessment, which Jane then helped the member to navigate.
“In my state of not being entirely clear headed or particularly resilient, having somebody that understood those procedures and was able to talk me through them and show me where it was going was fantastic,” the member explains. “She really helped me identify the best way of putting the right words down to explain my situation, and also what questions I needed answering to get the reasonable adjustments I needed.”
The OH assessment resulted in all of the member’s requests for reasonable adjustments being accepted, including working on an 80% workload and being taken off the overnight rota.
Another recommendation was for a temporary move to a different job until her health improved. However, when the employer claimed this would be difficult to achieve, the member was happy to accept a permanent move as an alternative.
With the support of the union, she settled into a new role that was more suited to her, and allowed greater flexibility to manage her condition and look after her health.
Since the reasonable adjustments were put in place the member has noticed a marked improvement in her productivity, even earning a bonus in the first couple of months following the move.
Although clearly frustrated that adjustments weren’t made sooner, her health is now improving as a result of the move and she is happy in her new job: “My pain days get less and less but I do have periods where it’s bad, and my new employer is really good with it. It’s just completely different, I feel valued and did not feel valued on my old team at all.
“Jane made me be able to stand up for myself at a time when I really couldn’t. I needed somebody’s help until I was better enough to be able to cope.
“She was a godsend. I don’t use that word lightly, and I really do mean that.”
Tommy Newell is an FDA Communications Officer and staff writer.