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Background:

I am on sick leave because of my manager: mental issues, specific problem discussed with MD and HR. I am trying to stay away from work-related emails.

Meanwhile, I am sick and all my projects are blocked (official sick leave for 3 weeks, declared not fit for work by medical doctor). These projects all affect the entire company, and there are external collaborations included as well.

Several departments are asking me for help, but there is only me in my role and I couldn't sleep because of my manager.

I feel that I should save the situation, but at the same time I have been declared not fit for work. I am getting even more stressed now.

Question:

Am I supposed to reply to urgent work emails even if I am not fit for work?

  • 43
    Thanks for pointing out its a mental state, not a physical injury. I remember being bored while recuperating from a ladder accident, doing remote work gave me something to do. However this is completely the opposite. – Criggie Sep 17 '15 at 0:20
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    @Monoandale then you can sue the ass off your manager for doing that, get a big compensation, and leave the company. It's a win/win for you, IF you STOP DOING WORK. If you insist on doing work when a medical professional told you otherwise, then you're bringing this upon yourself. – Nelson Sep 18 '15 at 3:54
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    From the whole community, get better soon! :) Also, think about looking for a new job... It's not worth it. Value yourself. – Hugo Rocha Sep 18 '15 at 11:58
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    1. Would you be comfortable telling us what the specific mental issue(s) is/are? 2. What does "I couldn't sleep because of my manager" mean? Please edit the question and clarify. – unforgettableid Sep 18 '15 at 14:10
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    @Monoandale please edit your question with updates - comments are temporary and not intended to contain that sort of information. Thanks! – enderland Sep 18 '15 at 19:59
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Question: am I supposed to reply to urgent work emails even if I am not fit for work?

No.

You decided you weren't fit enough mentally to be working, and your doctor and HR agreed to put you on leave so that you could not work, and so that you could spend your time recovering.

So stop working and recover. Stop checking emails. Doing anything else risks losing your leave privileges in many locales. ("I'm well enough to do some work from home but I'm still not well enough to really work" is a suspicious argument for many.)

@Murphy wisely suggests setting up an auto-reply with the date you'll be back noting that you are unable to check email and then not looking at it for 3 weeks.

Once your remaining 3 weeks are over, find a new job so you won't have these issues.

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    +1 "Doing anything else risks losing your leave privileges" I am not sure that this is the case everywhere but at least pretty much everywhere in the EU. – WoJ Sep 16 '15 at 15:21
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    There is some movie or series involving military, where the MC is refusing to sleep and the CO yells at him: "Getting a good night's rest and staying on top of your game is also part of your duties, soldier. Now haul your ass to bed and catch some Z's ASAP." - resting and getting fit for work is also part of OP's duties. – Mindwin Sep 16 '15 at 15:45
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    This. If the company doesn't have a "hit by a bus" plan for covering your role, that's their own fault, not yours. It speaks volumes about their business ethics, so I completely agree you should be shopping for a new job for your own sake. – thanby Sep 17 '15 at 5:55
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    Furthermore, if you're mentally not fit for work, you could theoretically become a liability if you start responding. Not saying you would actually do this, but it's believable a person in such a state could, for example, go "off the hook" and say/do things to damage the company's reputation, hence why you should not be expected to communicate at all until you have recovered. – thanby Sep 17 '15 at 5:59
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    @thanby : while you are right about the liability issue, it is in general most likely due to making a mistake by omission etc., than by "going off the hook" . "Mental health issues" = "being aggressive" (physically or verbally) is a harmful stereotype, and should not be propagated, since it contributes to upholding the taboo that causes many afflicted to not seek professional help out of fear for ostracization . – mikołak Sep 17 '15 at 9:20
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am I supposed to reply to urgent work emails even if I am not fit for work?

If you are on sick leave, you are not supposed to check emails. You are on sick leave, not on standby.

As you are not checking emails, you cannot reply, no matter how "urgent" it may be.

  • 16
    Worst yet, the O.P. was deemed "not fit for work". This is the most definitive "NO!!!" the O.P. could get. Joining both your answer and this bit of information is already enough to answer the question definetivelly. – Ismael Miguel Sep 16 '15 at 14:45
  • Any absolute prohibition should be in the employee handbook, I think. For example, if HR uses email to communicate about the absence, that probably means they think you're checking email even though you aren't reading it in full or responding to work requests. Whereas if you're supposed to have unlinked your phone from your work email etc, then they'll call you instead (or send a letter). – Steve Jessop Sep 17 '15 at 9:52
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    @SteveJessop if the doctor says he is not fit for work, then to hell with what the employee handbook says or what coworkers/supervisors think. Most locales (that I'm aware of) have legislation that prohibits retaliation based on medical leave; if the company thinks he's checking his email, then that's their problem, not the OP's. – Doktor J Sep 18 '15 at 1:46
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This will depend on local and company customs (and any laws/regulations where applicable). In my opinion:

No, do not answer (most) mails.

Answering mails (or communicating in general) is work. You are officially unfit to work, so you don't.


To address your points:

I am sick and all my projects are blocked. These projects all affect the entire company, and there are external collaborations included as well.

That is not your problem, but your manager's. It is a fact of life that anyone can become unavailable at short notice (suddenly quitting, servere illness, serious accident...). If there are no contingency plans for that event, that is not your fault.

Several departments are asking me for help, but there is only me in my role and I couldn't sleep because of my manager.

See above - your manager should arrange for someone else to take over.


That said - if your manager or the person(s) taking over for you have specific questions so they can better pick up your work, and there is information that only you have, you might want to help. To cite an extreme case, if you are the only one who knows some admin password, you should definitely answer mails about that.

Even better, if you feel you are able to, you could volunteer the information you think is important (by phone or in writing, as you like) and pass it on. That shows that you try your best to help where you can.

Also, the mail where you volunteer the information is a good occasion to explicitly point out that you will not read your work mail during your illness. :-)

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    +1 for "If there are no contingency plans for that event, that is not your fault." – CodeMoose Sep 16 '15 at 14:57
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    but how would you know they have specific questions, since you are not to check your email? – njzk2 Sep 16 '15 at 15:52
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    "the admin password" isn't different from everything else: they should have arranged that beforehand. It's their problem now. – o0'. Sep 16 '15 at 16:03
  • @Lohoris: True. However, I'd say this is a case where the major hassle for the company (cracking a PW) outweights the minor inconvenience for you (just telling them a single PW). Also, if you never passed on the PW to anyone, you probably bear some blame, too. Anyway, I only mentioned it as a detail, I think it does not change the overall answer. – sleske Sep 16 '15 at 16:08
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    @sleske it's not a minor inconvenience if you have to check the mail and read it in order to know if they are asking you that. – o0'. Sep 16 '15 at 16:15
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Question: am I supposed to reply to urgent work emails even if I am not fit for work?

No. You are not even supposed to read emails, much less to answer them.

I know, it's hard not to, but really, it's not your task. Now your only duty is to get better.

I would set an autoreply like «I am on sick leave [for at least X weeks]. I will be periodically reporting with HR how I am going, please discuss with them anything you need.»

Note that it may be illegal for your company to ask you to work while you are on sick leave. By pointing people to HR, it is their task to tell them: "No way, he is sick and not fit to help" (not you), decide it's a trivial matter they can ask you (but decided by the HR department, not some random employee), if they should hire someone on the meantime to cover up for you, etc.

Also, interposing an intermediate layer and an expected long delay for the answer, you will find that they will be able to solve by themselves some "really hard urgent problems that needed you" in a perfectly acceptable way.

  • I agree, but would not give information about time of return in the auto-reply. Any reasonable colleague or manager, being told someone is on sick leave, and that they are consulting with HR, would infer that they cannot expect a quick response, or that they need to check with HR first if their concern is both urgent and important enough. The unreasonable managers and colleagues .... well .... they don't need any more information anyway. – Peter Sep 19 '15 at 23:47
  • @Peter, I mentioned it as a clear hint for /do not expect a quick return/, but I too was ambivalent on that, which is why I marked it in square backets meaning it was optional. And I should note that the unreasonable managers and colleagues are those you are most interested in putting off… – Ángel Sep 20 '15 at 17:07
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TL;DR;

Maybe, but talk to HR and a doctor first.


Am I supposed to reply to urgent work emails even if I am not fit for work?

You're almost definitely not required to respond and it may in fact be detrimental to do so. Emails you write while you are not fit for work due to you reduced mental (or physical) capability might cause repercussions later.

Consider an email which might read:

"We're having some trouble and asked us to email you for help".

And because you get angry or upset when thinking about the manager, you reply hastily with an insulting message or provide a "solution" that actually causes harm to your project.

I feel that I should save the situation, but at the same time I have been declared not fit for work... I am getting even more stressed now.

The last thing you want to do however, is make yourself worse. If you want (not feel required) to help and feel ready to start to return to work, consider talking to your doctor and HR about slowing returning.

A first step you might suggest could be replying to emails. You could work from home to avoid your manager, this will help you feel included at work rather than alienated or alone.

I urge you not to rush into this though. Only consider this when you actually feel ready, not when you feel compelled to return.

but there is only me in my role

This may be true, but the company would/should have the ability to work around this. They can hire somebody temporarily. They can retrain somebody else. They can shelve your projects until you return. They shouldn't be relying on you to work while you are on leave.

  • +1 for the last paragraph especially. If they have to rely on you, that's their own fault for not having a contingency plan. – thanby Sep 17 '15 at 6:16
4

I would say reply to the "We've changed your manager message", but not the others.

Reasons for this are:

  • Your company has made an effort to resolve the root cause of your illness, which is a positive sign. I'm not a doctor by any means, but it still is positive
  • For not responding to the other messages, you are still off work due to illness. If you reply to all of these, then you are basically working in the time that you should be spent recovering, which doesn't benefit you & provides minimal benefits to your colleagues
  • 3
    He hasn't received such a message... he was saying he'd like to receive it – Jon Story Sep 16 '15 at 14:28
  • It does not matter if the root cause was resolved. The damage is done, and he's gotten sick. He does not magically get well by removing the cause while he is absent anyway. (That is, assuming his manager actually is the sole root cause.) – mafu Sep 18 '15 at 8:44
  • @mafu: Read the question; half the OP's concern is continuing stress knowing that it'll all start up again when the leave ends. Knowing the root cause has been annihilated can only help with that, no? – Lightness Races in Orbit Sep 19 '15 at 19:57
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit Ah, I see. That could be, yes, so I'll retract my comment and make a slight edit to the answer to clarify. – mafu Sep 20 '15 at 15:28
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If you have been declared as unfit for work by a doctor, and your HR department has agreed and granted you a leave of absence based on that, then you should avoid the work. If you answer only urgent messages, then every message will soon become "urgent."

It appears as though your situation is not acute, but will last for an extended period of time (not really sick, but more akin to "disability" as it is known in the US). In this case, you need to assess whether you are capable of supporting communications with the company while you're out. If you can, set up clear boundaries with your HR department for what work you can commit to, and what work is still out of bounds. Any work you do, you should be paid for. Check your local labor laws for nuances.

No company is obligated to carry a non-working employee on the payroll indefinitely. You need to be honest with yourself and determine whether there is a future for you at this company. It appears you have at least some support in your company, since they're willing to allow you some recuperation time. But if going back causes you to delay your recovery, or relapse after you return, find a better place to work.

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    "It appears you have at least some support in your company, since they're willing to allow you some recuperation time" what? "I'm sick" --> "You are fired" would bring in a pretty easy lawsuit in many countries… – o0'. Sep 16 '15 at 16:18
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    I will go further and state that under no circumstances should you even read the email unless you have consulted with HR and they approve. You are risking losing your disability status if you work at all. I would shoot HR an email from my personal account and state that you feel that you are being pressured to continue to work and let them handle it. – HLGEM Sep 16 '15 at 17:29
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    @Lohoris - I completely agree with you. However, "I've had a nervous breakdown because of working here and can't cope" may or may not be justification for 3 weeks off (either as sick time or short-term disability). So the fact that OP still has a job implies some level of support. (Though, I'll admit that maybe there are different laws in the UK and the employer had little choice.) – Kent A. Sep 16 '15 at 18:28
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    @HLGEM OP has only said it is "official sick leave." Unless those words mean the same thing as "disability leave," we cannot assume that there is any kind of disability benefit in place. – Kent A. Sep 16 '15 at 18:29
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    That's true but he said it would go on for weeks which is most commonly short-term disability. Anyway, you should not work if you are on sick leave either. – HLGEM Sep 16 '15 at 18:43
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As has been referred to in some comments, this may depend in part on whether you are on short-term (or long-term) disability or not.

If you are on disability (ie, you will get after ~6 weeks (give or take, depending on company/country/etc.) a check which is some percentage of your usual), then answering work emails may invalidate or delay the start of disability insurance, and make things very complicated for you and your place of work. Absolutely check with HR, first, before answering any work-related email that isn't from HR. The last thing you need right now is to suddenly find out the money you were expecting is delayed for weeks because you answered a couple of work emails.

Personally, I wouldn't answer the emails even if it were allowed - but that's really your choice (and something you should talk to your health professionals about). Answering said emails means you're really not on "leave", you're on something akin to "reduced duties"; that's a not unreasonable solution for someone who is overworked, but it is distinctly different from leave, and may not solve the problem - hence consulting with your health professional.


And a piece of unsolicited advice. Always have a short list of crucial pieces of information which you could convey to your manager within an hour or two at most, so that if you do have to go on leave for any reason - such as the above, or you get in a car accident, or who knows - you can remember all of the key details you need to convey so your manager can do what needs doing (or pass along to someone else who can do it). You're not likely to remember all of the little details - so keep the list of 'big' details so you can easily prompt yourself to pass them along.

Beyond those big details, your manager should have no problem going to clients and saying "I'm sorry, XYZ went on leave suddenly and didn't have a chance to pass on these details - do you mind having a one hour meeting so we can go over everything to make sure nothing slips in his/her absence?". This is common in business, and nobody should think less of you or your company for it.

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I would take a contrary view. Answer some emails.

You are not fit to work 8 hours/day. But you may very well be fit to work 1 or 2 h/d.

First, talk to HR to check if there are legal issues. (These vary from place to place)

Log your working hours. You should get salary and lose benefits for these hours. HR should know the details of how. Try not to think of work outside these hours.

Unsubscribe all mailing lists you are on, or make your mail client stuff them in a folder you aren't looking at.

Answer the easy questions. Delegate the hard questions. If you feel the mental problems flare up, STOP!

Some of the hard questions may be impossible to delegate, politely inform the sender of your sick leave and put them on hold. But, for your own sake, delegate as much as possible.

If your manager or anybody sends you rude or demanding email, forward them to HR.

If just reading the mail is too much, my answer is wrong for you. You have to decide that one yourself. Don't push yourself too hard!

The problem of going "cold turkey" is that it becomes very hard to return to work afterwards. You have had a good rest, but the pile of undone work will undo the effect quickly. And your bad manager will still be there.

Good luck!

  • Thanks! And you are right, my bad manager won't go anywhere probably... – Monoandale Sep 17 '15 at 13:14

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