Chronic fatigue syndrome is associated with high levels of occupational disability. Consecutive out-patients at a chronic fatigue syndrome treatment service were studied for associations between occupational status, symptom severity and cognitive and behavioural responses to symptoms. All patients had high symptom levels; however, those on long-term sickness absence had significantly more physical fatigue (β = 0.098, P<0.05) and worse sleep (β = 0.075, P<0.05). Patients with long-term sickness absence also demonstrated more embarrassment avoidance cognitions (β = 0.086, P<0.05) and avoidance resting behavioural responses (β = 0.078, P<0.05). Identifying and addressing avoidance behaviours and cognitions regarding embarrassment in interventions may enhance the chances of individuals returning to work.