Ask the expert: bullying and days off

I have had a lot of time off, due to illness [me and my daughter] and my dad’s funeral [I was only allowed time off for the funeral, leading to stress and illness]. My boss is not happy and I feel he is bullying me. However, he has good grounds. He wants to get rid of me now. Can he?

You have been with your company at least three years so this would mean that you do have full protection in the law against being unfairly dismissed. If your employer wanted to terminate your employment, legally he would have to follow any company procedures that were in place around sickness absence and dismissal. If your company does not have any process in place, then your boss would need to follow the statutory disciplinary process to end your employment. Ultimately, your employer would have to demonstrate that you were not capable of fulfilling the requirements of your employment contract due to the amount of sickness absence you have taken. If this occurred and you felt that the process was not being carried out appropriately you might have a legal case for unfair dismissal which might be strengthened by the fact that you say he has bullied you about your absences.
I understand that you do have some sympathy with your boss getting frustrated with the amount of time that you have had off. However, bullying in any shape is not acceptable in the working environment and is probably contributing to the amount of time that you have taken off. According to ACAS, bullying is ”offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power…. intending to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient”.
I think it would be worth trying to have a conversation with your boss to discuss the whole absence and bullying situation. You could point out that in terms of having to take time off when your child has been ill recently, that Dependants Care Leave exists. This is usually unpaid and requested/approved for “one off” & unplanned situations, such as having to take a child to hospital or time off to arrange care of a child or a funeral of a close relative. This is not a legal right and still has to be requested and is available subject to not having an adverse effect on the employer’s business, but because it is normally of an urgent, emotional nature it is normally deemed unreasonable for an employer to refuse. Using this would certainly have been helpful when your father died.
In terms of your absence levels, to demonstrate that you do want to work and that you are willing, perhaps agree for a trial period that after x number of days sick in a rolling 12 month period you would not get full pay. However, I think this would have to be on the understanding that his bullying stopped.
If the bullying continues, I would suggest that you talk to HR (if there is one), another line manager or if you feel that this would not be appropriate (company too small for another suitable line managers to be available) then you need to put in a formal grievance about it. At least then if you were ever unfairly dismissed, you could show that you had used appropriate channels to try and stop his behaviour.
All the best.
While every care has been taken in compiling this answer, WorkingMums cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions. This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific legal advice.

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