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3 weeks ago I was diagnosed with shingles from stress. Shingles is a condition that can give you a lot of pain and fatigue. Although a typical bout of shingles can last ~4 weeks, it can take a lot longer to recover in some cases, and about 20% of people affected will develop chronic pain that can last months or years, which I really want to avoid. Most doctors recommend getting as much rest as possible in order to recover quickly and avoid the long-term pain.

My condition seemed to alternate getting better and worse, so it was hard to know if I should keep working, work part-time, work from home, or just stop work altogether. My employer said they would support me whatever I wanted to do. What I chose to do so far. Here is a week by week summary of the events related to my condition.

  • Week 1. I am working from home part-time, with breaks.

  • Week 2. I went back to the office, but by Thursday the pain came back and I was so tired I had to call in sick the rest of the week.

  • Week 3. I am working from home, with breaks.

Now I'm at week 4 and still in pain and tired, and worried that I might develop the long-term pain. I'm considering asking to just take the entire week off, not working at all.

The workplace is a bit intense right now, with a busy schedule, company politics and possibly impending layoffs, and probably was a big contributor to why I got shingles in the first place along with other personal factors. So I've been reluctant to take time off. But it seems like it could be worth trying for my long-term health.

I'm wondering, if I now ask to take a week off sick, what are the risks? At some point do I need to declare it as long-term sick leave, or go through an HR process to justify my absence? Could my job be at risk if I'm perceived as having too much time away?

If I do get the long-term pain, I would also consider asking for a voluntary reduction in responsibilities, if it's something they could accommodate, although again I would be afraid of what the risks are of asking for this.

I live in Ontario, Canada, and I'm not sure what the rules are around sick leave.

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I'm wondering, if I now ask to take a week off sick, what are the risks?

It sounds like your company is pretty open-minded so far, so the risks are probably not as bad as they might be in other companies, but at the end of the day this isn't really something we on the internet can assess. It will vary according to company policy and the patience of your direct reports.

At some point do I need to declare it as long-term sick leave, or go through an HR process to justify my absence?

These sound like excellent questions to ask of your employer. They said to do what you need to do, so it sounds like they're supportive of your special needs while you're ill.

If you think there's a reasonable risk that you'll need long-term sick leave, it's probably worth getting the answer to that one out in the open now, so you'll know what to do if it's needed.

Could my job be at risk if I'm perceived as having too much time away?

I don't know exactly what the law is here, but it's a possibility. However, once again, your employer seems supportive and understanding so far. I wouldn't expect them to just do an about-face and fire you without any warning. I think there would inquiries from them and mention of needing to take things farther if they were thinking of terminating your position.

My advice

Firstly, I'd go ahead and call in the next week sick. It sounds like you really need it. Secondly, schedule a doctor's visit and get some sort of doctor's note, just to keep your bases covered. Thirdly, contact your employer (either your direct boss or HR) to ask about the policy surrounding long-term leave. (Maybe also ask your doctor about that, and whether he would recommend it or not.) Fourthly, take it easy and try to get some rest!

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