Advice column: I'm being picked on just because I was off ill

Dear Ash

I have recently returned to work after a short absence due to ill health but I feel I’m being treated like a bit of a leper by some of the others in the team. One of them even commented, seemingly in jest, that he hoped I had had a nice holiday! There is clearly an expectation in our office that you should attend work even if you are really poorly, and normally I would never think of taking time off work, but as I contracted a really bad virus resulting in sickness and dizziness I literally couldn’t attend work even if I had wanted to!

Ash replies:

Our seemingly relentless working culture has made it virtually impossible for some people to take time off work even if it is down to a legitimate reason such as illness. There is a strong macho work ethic which seems to demand that employees make it into work, especially if the illness is of a viral nature. Terms such as “man flu” merely serve to minimise and deride the impact of viruses such as flu, which can as we know still be quite debilitating.

Despite medical advice suggesting that we do not go into the office and share our germs, the perception is that a mere running nose and temperature should not prevent attendance at work and that we should soldier on regardless. 

However, please do try not to let any negative comments have any impact on you. You were ill and you quite rightly took time out to recover fully and are now back ready and prepared to deal with your work. Commitment to your work is not and should not be gauged by how many hours you sit at your desk; it is about your productivity, your contribution as an individual to your team and your interaction with clients, and any good employer will also know this.

Those who belittle the effects of your virus will in any case no doubt at some point have to eat their words when they too are affected, as we all know that if there is one thing you can normally rely on it is that such illnesses have a tendency to make the rounds. What goes around comes around!

Send your queries to Ash

“Ash” is a solicitor who is willing to answer work-related queries from solicitors and trainees, which can be put to her via the editor:, or mail to Suite 6b, 1 Carmichael Place, Edinburgh EH6 5PH. Confidence will be respected and any advice published will be anonymised.

Please note that letters to Ash are not received at the Law Society of Scotland. The Society offers a support service for trainees through its Education, Training & Qualifications team. For one-to-one advice contact Katie Wood, head of admissions on 0131 476 8162, or by email:

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