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I deal with many enquiries from women who are considering returning to work whilst or after suffering from postnatal depression. Furthermore, there are also those who return to work and are then diagnosed with the condition.

This is unfortunately a regular occurrence and unlike when you are pregnant, there is no specific protection for employees who are sick once they have returned to work following maternity leave. If it is that you are in this unfortunate position, and you are too unwell to work due to postnatal depression, provisions relating to sickness absence will apply. You will therefore be expected to follow any sickness absence policies that your employer has in place – notifying your employer of sickness within required timeframes and providing self-certifications forms or fit notes, where necessary. If your entitlement to maternity / parental pay has been exhausted at this juncture, you will be entitled to pay in line with your contract of employment, which will be statutory sick pay, if there is no enhanced contractual provision.

If it is that you are absent for a significant period of time, your employer may look to implement a sickness absence procedure. This may involve them contacting your GP, or referring you to an Occupational Health Physician for an assessment, in order to determine if / when you are likely to be able to return to work and whether any adjustments to the role could be made to help you to return sooner. Unfortunately, if the medical evidence points towards the fact that you are not likely to return to work in the foreseeable future, your employer can make a decision to terminate your employment on capability grounds, so long as they follow the correct procedure.

Do I have any employment rights?

If you are suffering from postnatal depression you might be entitled to certain rights under the Equality Act, depending on its severity and length. To qualify, your condition needs to have lasted, or be expected to last, at least 12 months and it must also have a substantial impact on your day to day activities. Whilst most women suffering from postnatal depression are not likely to meet this test at the point when they are due to return to work, in some circumstances, individuals may qualify. If this is the case, your employer will be under a duty to consider reasonable adjustments, if these would assist you and enable you to return to work. Reasonable adjustments may include being able to work reduced hours, on a part-time basis or returning to a less stressful role. You will also have the right not to be discriminated against because of your disability or because of a reason arising from the same, unless this can be justified.

When to return to work?

If you are suffering from postnatal depression, and thinking of returning to work, you need to seriously consider all the options open to you. You are entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave and although the last 13 weeks are unpaid, some further time off work (whether paid or not) may assist recovery. Many women do not realise that they accrue holidays whilst on maternity leave and you could therefore speak to your employer to see whether this can be added on to the end of your maternity leave, meaning you do not have to return to work as soon as you previously thought. You can take parental leave, which is usually unpaid although some employers do pay employees during this leave. You can also make a flexible working request, to ask your employer whether your hours or working days can be reduced, in a way which would assist you. And, as I said above, if you have taken all other leave available to you and you are not well enough to return to work, you can take sick leave.

If you are experiencing discrimination in the workplace, maternal or otherwise, speak to one of our expert Employment Law Solicitors who can advise you on what the best course of action will be. Contact our Employment Law team on 0161 930 5151, e-mail employmentteam@gorvins.com or fill in our online form and we will call you back.

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