Recently, I underwent under heavy surgery. My doctor said my recovery would take a few weeks.

My last week was supposed to be this previous week, but my surgeon gave me an extra week (this week) of medical leave because I'm still not at 100% (I'm roughly at 70-80%).

At work, we were a team of 8, but we lost four people recently. Now another one is leaving next week for another company. With my leave, that's 3 people, but one is leaving next week.

So my team leader is putting a lot of pressure on me to come back, calling me every day to have me confirm my return date. It is currently planned for next week.

The thing is that I've spoken informally with several other doctor friends and they all call my surgeon crazy for giving me "so little" recovery time, saying that surgeons are requested to give as little recovery time as possible. And these doctors all say they're ready to extend my medical leave, should I need it.

I miss working. I'm bored at home, but I physically can't work 8 hours straight without having to lie down for a few hours in between. That's just impossible right now and I strongly doubt I'll be able to do so by next week, just like the other doctors think. I know I can't because I miss so much programming that I'm working some time (given my condition, that means 4 hours per day, max, usually 2-3) on my personal (non-commercial) programming project, and I need to stop to go lie down for a few hours before continuing.

Given that one of my colleague is in his last week, the team planned a goodbye event on Wednesday and I agreed to come. I know I'll have a hard time explaining "hey, I can come for 2 hours to lunch with you, but I can't come back to work right now".

I feel like I'm stuck between several parts: my need to rest, my boredom, my surgeon saying I should go back to work, my social need to say goodbye to that friendly colleague, my "kind-of-need" to save the team (since 1 dev isn't viable at all for the good of the project), my project manager insisting on me coming back ASAP.

I've thought about requesting to work from home, but from experience, that's something my PM would say no to.

I'm a bit lost. What should I do? What should I say to whom?

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    Does your contract allow for partial days, or is it all-or-nothing (stay home or work 8+ hours/day)? Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 16:19
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    @MonicaCellio My contract is an all-or-nothing contract, unless discussed with HR. Nothing can be done without discussing with HR first.
    – anon
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 16:31
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    It sounds like you might have more leverage to request working from home, given the current conditions.
    – TMN
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 20:29
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    "I've thought about requesting to work from home, but from experience, that's something my PM would say no to." - It's quite simple: if he agrees, at least some work will be done; if he says no, no work will get done at all. If you feel coming into the office is a no-go at this point, it's a take-it-or-leave-it choice for the PM.
    – CompuChip
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 9:42
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    Surgery is a big deal. If you do not properly recover, you may run into much more serious long term health problems than your work issues with the nasty boss. I personally know (knew) factory workers in situations like yours. They came back to work too early, and had complications which required further surgeries.
    – user27051
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 9:56

6 Answers 6


Well, you seem physically incapable of performing your duties at the moment. That's the bottom line, really. Your health should be your primary concern.

Unfortunately, your health is not your manager's primary concern. His is getting the work done.

If I were you, I would make a few things clear to your manager:

  1. You are not ready to come back to work, and can't sit through a full work day.

    Either send him an email outlining what your current condition is, or better yet ask your doctor to weigh in either through email, or via a note of some kind. This guy needs to understand that you're not physically capable of sitting through an 8 hours work day.

  2. Him bugging you daily is not cool.

    You have the legal right to sit home and recuperate for another week, or longer. This guy is overstepping the bounds of common decency by trying to guilt trip you into ignoring your health, and coming back to work.

    I would block his number, and set your e-mail to auto-reply that you are recovering after a medical procedure and will review your mail at your earliest possible convenience (aka I may read your email sometime today, but don't hold your breath). Before doing this have a conversation with your boss explaining that you are going to do this because the added stress he is putting on you is having a negative effect on your recovery.

  3. You're not ready to come back to work full time, but maybe you can compromise.

    Have a talk with one of those doctors recommending you extend your medical leave. I would take them up on it, and have them give you another week or longer — your health is literally the most important thing in the world for you. Not your manager, not your job. Your health.

    However, also discuss with them (the doctors, not your boss) the possibility of returning to work on a part time basis over the next few weeks. Maybe you could work from home, or come in for 4 hours or so a day. If the doctors approve that, and give you such a recommendation in writing, then you might be able to reach some compromise with your boss

I wouldn't engage in this sort of compromise without the backing of a medical professional. If you are approved to stay at home, but go to your boss saying that you could work part time, you're opening the door to being accused of exaggerating the seriousness of your condition. If, quite the opposite, you've been approved for full time work, but claim that you can't return to the office for 8 hours a day, you will again be viewed as being lazy, or a lot of trouble — after all, the doctor said you should be fine. The best thing to do is have a medical note saying that you should be resting, but 4–5 hours of work a day should be OK.

It would communicate a willingness on your part to get some work done, but not compromise your well-being.

  1. The farewell lunch

    If you feel up to it, and if you really want to attend, I don't see why you wouldn't. There's a big difference between going down to a restaurant for a couple of hours, and sitting through a full workday. However, I won't lie — some people will equate you attending this "party" with you possibly exaggerating your condition (if he can party then surely he can sit on a chair and program!). It's up to you whether you feel confident enough to face this sort of social situation (you may hear comments about it —or colour people's opinion of you— even after you return to work).

    If your manager will be attending this might be a good opportunity to speak to him about how you feel, and what your doctors are recommending for your well-being (however, don't make any promises about returning to work).

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    In the UK, I learned that you are not allowed to work at all after an operation if you are not fit to go back to work full-time. Working four hours a day from home could put your or your companies financial health at risk if something goes wrong.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 16:23
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    @gnasher729 although the question is tagged Belgium this is a good point. In Germany, being sick is usually an all or nothing thing as well unless your doctor prescribes a reintegration phase during which you'll build up from a few hours a day to your full workday within a couple of weeks. OP should ask his doctor friend whether such a thing exists in Belgium. Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 22:17
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    @AndreiROM they must be of the pointy haired types Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 2:03
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    Mind you, even if it's legally "not allowed" to work part-time during recovery, that just meas the government won't pay for the remainder. It just means the boss has to pay for 8 hours and get 4 hours of work in return. That's just like overtime, and can be a reasonable business decision exactly in the situation described (temporarily understaffed).
    – MSalters
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 8:00
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    In Belgium, If you return before the end of your leave and something goes wrong, your insurance is not going to cover you.
    – Jeremy
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 10:27

If you are too ill to work at a programming job, you are too ill to be doing personal programming projects. So just stop it. If your employer found out you were doing this, they would rightly want to know why you can't return to work. Likely this attempting to work on the computer is delaying your own recovery. So stop it.

Next, you have approved medical leave, don't let the project manager push you to work when you are not ready physically. You could seriously damage your health that way. Call HR and ask them to explain to your boss why you are not returning to work and why he should not be pressuring you to return before you are healthy. Your boss is creating a legal liability for your company by pressuring you. If you returned to work and then had a relapse because you were not strong enough to work, it would be the company's legal responsibility for pressuring you.

It is not your responsibility to save the team by going back prematurely.

Next, the PM is not going to have a choice about how you will need to return to work. If you need to work from home or work part time, that is what he will legally have to do for you if that is what the doctor tells you that you need to do. Get with your HR on a return to work plan after consulting with your doctor. The PM will have to do whatever they say he has to do. Personally from what you described, it sounds like looking into returning part time woudl be best for you. And it doesn't sound as if you even considered that as a possibility. And if you return part-time, DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, work on those personal programming projects until you are completely back to work full-time.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jane S
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 23:29

If you are confirming (again) your return date, make sure that your team leader knows that you are still convalescing and that you will need a couple of weeks to transition to fully available and able to work full time. Have a medical doctor back up what you say.

Contact your PM again, tell him you are due to get back to work on such and such a date but while you are returning, you are still convalescing. Explain to your PM that if you can work from home, it's several extra hours that you can spend on working rather than commuting and that you have only so much energy available. Let your PM know that this arrangement is temporary - say two weeks - and meant to help you transition back to work full time.

In terms of tone: be professional. You are not asking them for a favor or a special dispensation, you are telling them what your condition is and what you can do for them given your condition.

Your health comes first. If you don't have your health, you can't help yourself. If you can't help yourself, forget about being able to help anybody.


If you are in Belgium (as i'm lead to believe from one of the tags of your question), there are provisions for you to progressively get back to work. This could involve you working 50% (or even less) for a few weeks before returning to working full time. Ask your medical insurance about this. In this case however i would advise against this since it seems like your manager is likely to guilt trip you into working 100% from day one. Just remember that is not your fault nor your problem the team went from 8 to 3. Your manager would be better off using the time he's pressuring you to recruit replacements imo. Assuming you've sent him your doctor's note confirming you're unable to work, him calling you regularly is bordering on harrasment. Make sure your out of office reply is set and stop picking up his calls.


Zeroth: your health is more important than the deadline, the project, or your job. Deadlines can be missed, projects can be delayed, and you can always get another job.

First up, you need to talk to your doctor and get - in writing - what your condition is. In particular, things like "you can sit for a couple hours at a time max". Make sure you and the doc are in agreement as to what your current capabilities are without compromising your recovery.

Second, get a meeting with your manager and HR. The theme of the meeting is "I want to contribute as much as I can without compromising my recovery (as per my doctor's note) - what can we do to facilitate this?" Can I work from home (so I can lay in bed - take breaks as needed?). Can I come in a couple part-days a week to help out on the fires? The doc says I can't work full-time just yet, but I don't want to leave you hanging any more than necessary.

Basically, you're putting the onus on them to be flexible. You mentioned your PM wouldn't approve working from home - well, they must not need you so urgently as they claim, if they're not willing to accomodate your medical needs, right? (You'll notice I'm mentioning doctors and medical a lot - that's because you have a hard limit on what you can and can't do, backed by a doctor's note. Don't let them turn it into a question of "oh, you just don't wanna".)

Now, maybe your jurisdiction doesn't allow partial returns (mine actively encourages it). If so, then that's no fault of your own - that's just the way the world turns, and it's not your fault.


You are all over the board on this issue.

Why are you working on a personal project when you were told to recover by your surgeon and other doctors? Don't you think your working at home may be contributing to your lack of recovery progress? Working at home is simply working...it's NOT recovering.

If your departing friend is truly a friend, why can't that person visit you at home for a short time? And yes, I think it would be very foolish for you to attend a party at work. That makes no sense whatsoever.

Are you recovering or are you partially recovered or are you fully recovered? You need to focus on that fundamental question and proceed accordingly. Perhaps working part time would be acceptable to both your surgeon and your employer.

I think you didn't follow your doctor's orders and now you're in a bind.

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    My doctor's orders are not to "not do programming work", but are "don't stay up or go sit in a chair for too long". I think I followed that to the letter.
    – anon
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 16:47
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    They look like rhetorical questions to me, not requests for clarification. Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 0:53

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