M.E. is a complex illness and each person experiences the condition differently.
People with M.E. do not necessarily look ill – it’s referred to as an “invisible illness” for a reason – and the severity of symptoms varies from person to person and on a weekly, daily or sometimes even hourly basis.
Severe and persistent fatigue or exhaustion most, or all of the time, is one of the main symptoms of M.E. This feels very different from ordinary tiredness. Simple physical or mental activities, or combinations of activities, can leave people with M.E. feeling utterly debilitated. They can also experience an increase in other symptoms.
The impact of this may be felt straight away but it can typically take a day or two to kick in and is not significantly improved by resting. This is a key feature of the way M.E. affects people and is known as post-exertional malaise (sometimes called 'payback’).
So it’s really important to remember that if your employee appears better (or worse) at a given moment this does not necessarily indicate a change in their overall condition.
Because everyone with M.E. experiences different symptoms, it’s best to speak to your employee about how you can best support them as an individual. They are their own expert, and shared-decision making is the most effective way to help them move forward.
When an employee is genuinely experiencing difficulties in carrying out their job because of their symptoms or frequent bouts of sick leave, this as a capability issue – not a disciplinary matter or poor conduct.
An employer who fails to follow fair and proper procedures, and subsequently dismisses an employee, may be liable to legal action.
People with M.E. often feel under pressure to continue working when they first become ill or when their symptoms worsen. Unfortunately, trying to ‘push on’ through this illness can be counter-productive and damaging, potentially causing longer absences and slowing recovery.
If you take a flexible supportive approach, make reasonable adjustments and support an M.E.-appropriate phased return to work, it is far more likely that your employee will be able to continue working.
SEE M.E. (Support, Empower and Employ people with M.E.) is an exciting pilot project designed to provide an innovative, integrated health and employment service for people with M.E./CFS living in Bristol, North Somerset, Gloucestershire and South Gloucestershire.
Through delivery of SEE M.E., running from April 2015 to June 2016, we aim to demonstrate good practices in integrated support, and develop a compelling case for positive changes on a wider scale so that people with M.E. get the right employment support at the time they need it most.