Jim*, lawyer, QLD

Jim* is a lawyer in a large law firm. Not long after he was recruited he started to become unwell, suffering from depression, anxiety and panic attacks, particularly when he was asked to work at locations other than the office. He had long periods off work and while he did some work from home, his performance was unsatisfactory. His supervisor and the HR manager were aware of the situation and as they felt unsure about how to handle it, they allowed Jim to continue in this working pattern.

When a new HR manager became involved in Jim’s case, the firm tried to engage a rehabilitation provider but Jim was unwilling to work with them, preferring direct communication with his employer. He did give the firm permission to talk to his treating doctor but she was reluctant to give the firm any information. Jim continued to have problems, taking time off then returning to work, only to take more time off.

Jim has not been at work for the last few months. He now has a new treating doctor who is prepared to give the firm more information and considers that Jim is unable to work and that this may continue for some time.

Because Jim’s firm has salary continuance insurance Jim continues to receive a part of his salary while he is absent. His manager is happy for Jim to continue his leave of absence for the time being. The HR manager would prefer to take a more proactive approach and is now working with the supervisor to implement this.

*not his real name

Key learning points

  • Take a proactive approach and manage mental health problems as early as possible. Jim’s supervisor and HR manager should have taken action to manage Jim’s situation at an earlier stage.
  • Communicate with those in your organisation (or outside it) who can assist you. As a supervisor, managing staff with mental health problems can be challenging. Make sure you communicate at an early stage with those who can offer support.
  • Incorporate return-to-work planning as early as possible. Taking a proactive work-focused approach as soon as possible can help improve return to work outcomes.
  • Make the link between salary continuance and engagement with treatment. This may play a role in helping employees to engage with treatment when they are reluctant to do so.