Workplace Bullying or am I over reacting?

Hi everyone, my name is Jo. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2022, started treatment in February 2023, and received the good news of a positive clinical response by May 2023.

I underwent a mastectomy in July 2023, followed by five days of radiation in November 2023, and returned to work in February 2024. I love my job as an Admin Assistant, a role I’ve been dedicated to for almost 30 years.

Upon returning, I had a meeting with Occupational Health and began a phased return to work. After four weeks, I resumed full-time duties. Part of my return involved requesting two reasonable adjustments: finishing work at 4:30pm instead of 5pm due to bus schedule conflicts and residual neuropathy in my legs, and the opportunity to work from home occasionally, especially during post-op recovery after my reconstruction surgery scheduled for July 30th.

Initially, my manager refused my request to finish at 4:30pm, citing business needs. After much back and forth, HR intervened, and she had to comply. However, she falsely claimed she agreed from the start, despite evidence to the contrary. Since then, she has imposed unreasonable restrictions, such as not allowing me to build up flexi time or record early start times.

Regarding hospital appointments, she suggested they come out of my annual leave. I informed her they are part of my reasonable adjustments, and HR confirmed they should be recorded as sickness without triggering any negative flags. Despite this, she repeatedly questioned my appointment times and arrangements, seemingly trying to create confusion.

For example, I communicated on June 17th that my appointment on July 8th would take the whole day. I even suggested working from home for part of the day to accommodate my appointments. Despite my efforts to cooperate and be flexible, she appears determined to misunderstand and complicate the situation.

She also asked how long I expect to be off after my surgery on July 30th, a question I find impossible to answer accurately as I’m having extensive procedures done. This ongoing behaviour is making me feel harassed and stressed.

Furthermore, I am subjected to passive-aggressive comments and suggestions about needing more training, which I find insulting given my impeccable work record. My colleagues and manager are discussing issues behind my back, leading to misleading accusations about my performance.

As I approach my surgery date, I am seriously considering raising a grievance due to this treatment. However, I want to ensure I am not overreacting due to pre-surgery stress. Can anyone here advise or share their thoughts on this situation?

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Hi, sorry to read this. It is all you need on top of your diagnosis and ongoing treatment. I read that a cancer diagnosis is classed as disability. Therefore employers have to make adjustments. I would certainly take this further to a union rep.
My employer was brilliant. I basically just had to tell them what time off I needed. I was given lighter duties for 6 months.
Hope you get better flexibility x

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Hi @boe718,

I’m so sorry to hear how you are being treated - you do not need that stress on top of everything else you have going on.

If you have breast cancer, employers are required to make reasonable adjustments to help you continue to work, return to work, have time off for medical appointments or for continued treatment and recovery. Your employment rights are protected under the Equality Act 2010.

You can find information about your rights at work on the Macmillan Cancer Support website.

Macmillan also have a work support line on 0808 808 00 00, they should be able to offer advice and advise how you should proceed.

I really hope that your surgery at the end of the month goes well, and that you are able to recover in peace without the extra stress of your workplace.

All the best,

Alice

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Thank you Alice, I spoke to Macmillan funnily enough just to make sure I wasnt over reacting due to post op stress.

The last thing I want to do is have a knee jerk reaction before calmly assessing the situation first.

Since I spoke to them I received an email from my manager advising me she had volunteered me to help support the year end finance team. I wrote back to my manager advising her Im not in a position to take on any extra duties, Im overwhelmed at the moment due to the upcoming surgery and appointments leading up to it and I politely declined but said I would be more than happy to help whenever I can after I have recovered

My manager has since responded with this:

Its placing orders as you do in your normal role and the school require our help for year-end. So its not new tasks that you need to learn.

This is a requirement so I will need you to help.

There just doesnt seem to be a considered approach with my boss, knowing full well I have further cancer related surgery I dont see evidence of a duty of care.

I really feel bullied and stressed out.

Thank you I need to join a union, I was only employed at my new role for 8 months before my diagnosis so never got a chance and I certainly didnt think my manager would be so inconsiderate and that I would need representation. Honestly its as if Ive just had a common cold the way she is behaving lately.

Hi @boe718 I do feel for you. As a young lawyer in employment law many years ago, I soon realised that issues over sickness was the main cause of individual disputes in the workplace.

The fact is the law is on your side however there is a big difference between implementing the law on reasonable adjustments and the actual employment relationship which is based on the principle of trust and confidence. From what you’ve said, that trust and confidence between you and your manager is not in a good way and could be irreparable.

In preparation of raising a grievance, if indeed you do, can I suggest, if you haven’t already, keep a contemporaneous record of everything that is said or done which is to your detriment. Date, time, people involved and actual quotes if you can remember them. Write them in a book or make a note on your phone as soon as you’re on your own. That includes any conversations that you have with HR. You will have a much better case if you don’t have to rely on memory alone.

Could HR facilitate mediation (with a qualified mediator) in which your manager and you get to air your perspectives in private with a view to understanding each other’s positions and coming to a compromised solution?

Is the company large enough that you could transfer to a different department? I completely understand that you may think ‘why should I be the one to move when I’ve done nothing wrong’ but you need to be pragmatic if the manager won’t change her position.

You have employment protection based not only on the Equality Act but also your 30 years service. It would be very expensive for your employer if they were to put you in an untenable position but it is hard and unpleasant to go through such disputes even when you are in the right. A good resource to speak to is ACAS on 0300 123 1100. Good luck.

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Hi, a lot of people just dont realise what we go through. If not in a union, you could also try citizens advice who have people trained in employment law. Keep fighting for what you are entitled to - dont give up x

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