Returning to work with a heart condition

returning to work, business meeting, flexible hours, health condition

Most people can return to work if they have been diagnosed with a heart or circulatory condition, such as a heart attack, abnormal heart rhythms or after a heart procedure such as a pacemaker or bypass surgery.

But it's natural to feel worried about how soon you can go back to work and whether you can carry on doing the same job you were doing before.

 

When can I return to work?

The following factors will decide how soon you can return to work:

  • the condition you have and its treatment
  • how severe your condition is
  • how long it takes you to recover 
  • whether your condition is stable
  • the type of work you do.

Your GP or heart specialist will help you decide when you are fit enough to return to work. They will also help you to decide whether you can return to full-time work straight away or work on a phased return basis and gradually build up your hours so that you eventually return to your normal work pattern.

Can I go back to the same job?

You might go back to exactly the same job you were doing before, or you might need to talk to your employer about making changes to your workload or role. This may be temporary or permanent.

If your job involves driving, you will need to check with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) - who provide advice on national guidelines for driving -about any restrictions that may apply to you. You should also let your car insurance company know about your heart condition, if you don’t your insurance may not be valid. 

If you have been diagnosed with a heart condition and you do manual work that involves lifting or moving heavy objects, you should discuss this with your GP or cardiologist. They will be able to tell you whether you are fit enough to return to work.

You might even decide to retrain for a job that will suit you better.

Do I have to tell my boss?

Medical information is considered to be ‘sensitive personal data’ under the data protection regulations and you cannot be forced to provide any information about your health/medical history without your consent. The only exception would be if an employer specifies for safety reasons that they will not hire someone who has a particular medical issue, for example the army do not take on those with epilepsy.

Your boss does have an obligation to make reasonable adjustments if you are disabled to enable you to carry out your role. It could therefore be useful to share details of your condition in order to work out what adjustments are required. If you refuse to answer questions about your medical condition, your boss would not be held liable for failing to make those reasonable adjustments.

You might not need much time off work at all – if any – in which case you can decide how comfortable you are with telling your boss and your colleagues about your condition. Or you may choose not to tell them until it becomes an issue and you feel your heart condition is affecting your work.

It may be helpful to let key people know, in case you need to attend a hospital appointment or take some sick leave. 

How do I talk to my boss? 

How long you’re likely to be off work depends on the condition you have and how you’re progressing. Again, it’s important to listen to your body and think carefully about when you think you’ll be ready. Make sure you consult your doctor when you think you’re ready to go back and that you have sick certificates from your GP supporting your reason for absence.

If you need to take a considerable amount of time off work, your first port of call would usually be to inform your manager, occupational health or HR department if there is one; however every company has different rules. If you are not able to, a partner or a friend could do it for you. 
They should be able to tell you what you need to know, for example:
  • how much sick pay you get and how long for
  • what happens when or if you go past the amount of sick leave your company allows
  • arrangements for returning to work, including options for part time, staged return to work or working from home, and aids to help you in the workplace.
Read more about how to tell work.

Do I have to disclose my condition at a job interview?  

You may decide to leave your current job and find another job that will suit your needs better. If you need to change jobs because of your heart condition, get in touch with your local Jobcentre Plus office. They will be able to tell you more about the options that are open to you, such as appropriate benefits and meeting with a disability employment adviser.

The Equality Act - in Northern Ireland the Disability Discrimination Act - helps protect job applicants against discrimination by disallowing questions about a candidate's health or sickness record before offering a job. There are a few exceptions to this rule, such as when it might be necessary to offer adjustments during the selection process, or to decide whether a candidate can carry out an essential part of the job. 

What rights do I have?

The Equality Act states that if you are disabled your employer must make ’reasonable‘ adjustments to allow you to return to work, for example adjusting working hours or providing helpful equipment. This may be the case if your heart condition is severe. The Equality and Human Rights Commission offers general information on the Equality Act and the responsibilities of the employers.

Some people may find their boss or colleagues are uncooperative, whether in terms of supporting you while you are off sick or making reasonable adjustments when you return to work.

Your first port of call should always be your HR department if you have one. They should be able to help you and establish what your rights are. 

There are also organisations like ACAS in place to help people prevent or resolve workplace problems.

What if I have to take time off?

If you have to take sick leave from work because of your condition, you may be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay. If you are in a situation where you don’t get sick pay (for example, if you are a temporary worker or self-employed) or you’re only allowed a limited amount of paid sick leave, which is getting close to the end, you should contact your local Job Centre Plus office. They will help you apply for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and other benefits you may be eligible for while you are off sick. 

Can I do manual work?

If you do manual work that involves lifting or moving heavy objects, or operating heavy equipment, you should talk to your GP or heart specialist about it.

If they tell you to avoid it, talk to your employer about what changes they can make to your role to allow you to continue your employment. This will not always be possible but most employers will do what they can to help you.

If you get chest pain or discomfort at any time you shouldn't lift heavy objects or operate heavy equipment unless your doctor has said that it's alright for you to do so. If you have symptoms such as shortness of breath or get palpitations with heavy lifting you should also talk to your doctor.

Some of the medications you have been prescribed may also mean that you cannot operate heavy machinery. Check and consult with your doctor or pharmacist.

Will my pacemaker or ICD affect my job?

As a result of your heart condition you may have had a pacemaker  or ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator) fitted. Speak to your safety officer at your place of work about any magnets, electromagnets or other equipment used. If you are worried about any of the equipment used, your pacemaker or ICD clinic will be able to advise you.

Visit the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) website too for the latest information regarding regulating medicines and medical devices.

Voluntary work

Taking part in voluntary work is a great way to meet new people, learn new skills and gain useful experience. If you have been unable to continue with your work, volunteering can be a useful stepping stone back to your regular job or to a new career. It can also be a helpful way to adjust to part time working or an early retirement. 

Read about the wide range of volunteering opportunities within the British Heart Foundation.

Help and information

Want to know more?

Order or download our publications: