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Absence due to stress - what can schools do/not do?

Discussion in 'Workplace dilemmas' started by salsera, Jan 5, 2020.

  1. salsera

    salsera New commenter

    This is for a friend who I have had on the phone to me, in floods of tears regarding return to work tomorrow.

    Background: She has been a teacher for 26 years. Her mum was diagnosed with cancer this year and been through various treatments which seem not to be working as well as expected. My friend has been in to school throughout this time but had had time to accompany her mum on appointments. (her mum is 80).
    My friend and I met up in November and she said that she had been having chest pains and was being sick for no reason and broke down. I have rarely seen her cry in 30 years of knowing her so knew something was not as it should be. I said she had to see her doctor. She eventually did and was signed off work for two weeks.
    During that time she was contacted frequently by her Head of Department requesting cover work, asked to answer emails and asked about when she would be able to mark mock exams. No offer of support or concern.

    Is the HoD able to do this if my friend is signed off sick?

    End of sickness absence arrives the week before breaking up for Christmas and my friend's mum is rushed into hospital at the weekend and scans show teh cancer has spread and things getting quite serious.
    My friend rings up first thing on Monday morning to say she will not be in again to be greeted by "why can't you come in? I've got loads of staff off and I can't get cover. I'm going to have to ring around to find someone to cover you now."
    Whe she explaiend that she had had bad news about her mum the reposne was "you'll have to set cover work" and the phone was then put down on her. No communication receivedthis time from HoD with any concern or offer of support apart from an email to say that she woudl be having an attendance meeting as she had reached a trigger point with absences.

    What does she do now?

    She is totally dreading tomorrow and the comments that will be made. Her H0D is unsupprtive in every way.
    What is the protocol reagrding attendance meetings - it's two way isn't it?
    CAn she take someone in with her?
    Should she log all that's gone on?
    Can she choose who she has the attendance meeting with - she does not get on with her HoD?

    Any advice woudl be much appreciated - I want to support her as much as I can and she is not in a good enough head space to do it herself
    Thank you
     
  2. 50sman

    50sman Lead commenter

    Please tell us your friend is in a union.
    Rules of sickness are simple - if you are sis k you are sick - that is it.
    If school tries to put pressure on you in any way they are over ruling medical advice and are in deep legal doodoo.

    your friend needs to go back to dr and get a ducal note, inform GP as to what is going on nd inform Union - then they need to do NOTHING and let Union and school with their various solicitors sort it out!
     
  3. smurphy6

    smurphy6 Senior commenter

    She should go back to her GP tomorrow as she is clearly in no fit state to work.

    Her HOD is a disgrace. When signed off sick no one from school should be contacting you in any way unless it is an occasional supportive check in from the HT. Get union involved and ask GP to put on the sick note that your friend is too unwell to be contacted by school. The HOD is paid extra to deal with staff in their department being off, the HOD went for and accepted the job knowing this.

    My best wishes to your friend at this difficult time.
     
  4. 50sman

    50sman Lead commenter

    Ducal should read sick believe it or not!
     
    Piranha and agathamorse like this.
  5. phatsals

    phatsals Established commenter

    Your friend is really ill. She mustn't go back to work, she needs to ring in sick, go to the doctors and get signed off. She's tried to do the 'right' thing for the school, on the basis that they would show compassion under these cruel circumstances. No compassion has been shown and have now added to her burden.

    Given the circumstances, her first concern is her mother. She has no surplus energy and is not fit for work. End of story.

    Once her sick notes are in the school should not contact her under any circumstances. If they do it's harassment, she must contact her union (hope she's in one) for them to intervene for her.

    Under these circumstances, her note should specify 'work related stress', the first note is often for 2 weeks, thereafter 6 weeks at a time. Although the initial stress is her mothers serious ill health, the final straw is the lack of support from school 'work related stress' is therefore legitimate. She must keep submitting those to keep the school of her back and do her best to remain well.
     
  6. strawbs

    strawbs Established commenter

    If and when it does get to the stage of an attendance review meeting, there is no statutory right for her to be accompanied by a union rep (or any other type of meeting that is at the "informal" stage). However, any decent school I would hope would allow her to be accompanied. Indeed, it may be written into her school's policy on such matters that she is allowed (it is in my school's policy)
     
    Jamvic, phlogiston and JohnJCazorla like this.
  7. sbkrobson

    sbkrobson Star commenter

    Looking at procedure here, and nothing else-
    It is not prudent to suggest to the school that their responses have caused illness.
    You could say from the school's perspective that they have shown her support by allowing that time off for appointments etc.
    One of the issues here is the expectation that the school should show concern. Sadly they do not actually have to do that. What they do have is a "duty of care" which is not the same thing.
    If you feel the school should exercise this duty, you need to be quite specific and send one very clear message-"as certified by my GP I am not fit to work and therefore need to refrain from work related contact with school. I hope you can hold this message as confidential,whilst also passing to relevant parties who have endeavoured to contact me. I shall keep you updated in line with school policy as to my expected return".
    By obliging by this very clear and legitimate request, they will be showing a duty of care. However from your story it seems a precedent has been set with this colleague being away from school yet simultaneously responding to requests for info, work etc.
    You cannot suddenly switch that off, for there are very many times when absent staff can and do provide cover work. Until you specifically state you are not going to respond, they have no reason to think otherwise.
    It's a job. They are pressurising to get what they can because they too have a job. So it should be dealt with by bits of paper. It wont be dealt with by expecting them to give commiserations. It's not how it once was in schools.
    Your friend should free herself up up to deal with the more important stuff,and in a quieter moment, if there is one, research the question of absence procedure and future meetings, which in the same vein, are potentially quite legitimate.
    In her shoes, the very thought of this alone might make me ill just a bit longer. Darn-how inconvenient.

    Sending strength.
     
    Piranha, Jamvic, cornflake and 2 others like this.
  8. phatsals

    phatsals Established commenter

    I suspect the school is using the Bradford Formula for absence monitoring. Your friend has probably been taking time off for hospital appointments etc throughout this time. Unfortunately this has a far greater impact on attendance monitoring than one long absence.

    Both she and the school would be better off if she were absent for one long spell. It may seem counterintuitive but it isn't. Long absence can be managed and covered easily, day to day can't. Sadly it looks like her mothers health is not improving and, as such, she will need more time off. She really will be doing herself and the school a favour by going off and staying off.
     
  9. caterpillartobutterfly

    caterpillartobutterfly Star commenter

    The meeting will be about the amount of absence and how the school can support a successful return to work. Your friend should be accompanied by the school union rep, if she wants someone with her and the school agrees. The HOD is highly unlikely to be there, probably just someone from HR and SLT, possibly not even SLT.

    The meeting isn't to do with the behaviour of the HOD and this shouldn't form any part of it. However it might be worth your friend speaking to the school union rep for support in what to do about it to prevent it happening again. Probably a conversation with the appropriate member of SLT as the start of an informal grievance will be all that is needed.
     
    JohnJCazorla likes this.
  10. sbkrobson

    sbkrobson Star commenter

    But there are no grounds for grievance whatsoever, even if only informally stating you are unhappy to a third party, because the OP has described a scenario where contact during absence was sustained by both parties, initially at least. It would not be correct or advisable to say that the HoD is then in the wrong for issuing directives over the phone when some requests have already been responded to. It would be far more likely to keep the school onside if a simple request for no contact when/if absent in the future were made, and then, say, backed up in writing.
    It could be, for example, that the member of SLT to whom you suggest complaining is actually the person who suggested these phone calls to the HoD. However the communication arose, I can guarantee that complaining about the HoD will elicit the response that they are only trying to do their job. It wont gain allegiance in the need to be absence in the context of this meeting.
     
  11. salsera

    salsera New commenter

    Many thanks for your replies and advice.

    I am just seriously concerned about her health on all grounds as it is very out of character for her.

    She replied to initial requests for work, when signed off, because she was actually worried (scared?) about the response/reaction/attitude of her HoD and future repercussions and did not want to let her pupils down. Her HoD is not discrete in any way and has, in the past, discussed other members of staff who have been absent and the reasons why and made personal comments about them.

    I will make sure that she does not make anything personal in any meeting with the HoD but would like to know if she can request that there is some compromise reached and that support at this difficult time is mutual.

    She is aware of time taken for hospital appointments but when it comes down to oncology there isn't the flexibility.

    I don't think that she wants any grievance procedure started either

    All she wants to do is to be able to return to work and do her job without unnecessary pressure and conflict; she would like her head of department to be aware that this is a difficult time and that she is not coping as well as she might do and will need to support at times which will increase when her mother's health fails (probably meaning time off for a prolonged period) - maybe show a little empathy. She wants this to be done in a non-threatening and non-stressful manner. Should the time come when she needs to be off (hopefully this will not be for a long while) then she just needs to know that she will not be pressured for work on a daily basis by her HOD (if signed off by the doctor)
     
  12. caterpillartobutterfly

    caterpillartobutterfly Star commenter

    Yeah...asking for a personality transplant for the HOD isn't going to happen though!
    Hence my suggestion she speaks to a member of SLT and gathers their support.
    I disagree completely. It is perfectly fine for a teacher, on their first day back, to speak to someone above their HOD to let them know the effect the contact had on them and ask that things are different should a similar situation arise in the future.

    However, the OP's friend must do as she thinks best.
     
    strawbs likes this.
  13. sbkrobson

    sbkrobson Star commenter

    I don't disagree. In fact if you read my post again you'll see I suggest just about the same thing.
    My point was you suggested it as the start of an informal grievance. That is not necessary.
    Why leap into grievance mode when all you need to do is communicate a request?
    There is no grievance here to be had. Upset, yes. Grievance, not at all.
     
  14. phatsals

    phatsals Established commenter

    It's also about choosing your battles, even suggesting a grievance is a step too far under the circumstances

    The OP's friend is looking for support in school, the attendance meeting could be an opportunity to set out the situation and ask for flexibility. However, she needs to be prepared to go off ill; regrettably, without support this will be the case.
     
    Jamvic likes this.
  15. install

    install Star commenter



    1 My first instinct is that your friend may be unwell due to the stress of her Mother not being well. In which case your friend would phone in unwell herself first thing on Monday on the school machine to avoid human conversation with the school . I would advise in this case that she sees GP too.

    Or

    2 Compassionate Leave
    Your friend's Mum is not well and she should speak to the ht directly to explain the home situation. It may be that the ht needs to appreciate the gravity of her Mum's illness and her age. It may also be that there is no one else who can help her Mum in this family emergency situation.

    3 She needs to phone her Union too for support and advice. The lack of support from the school and the Duty of Care towards employees sounds way off imho. (It may be that the rude response can be queried later once your friend / friend's Mother gets better)

    4 She needs to check the Policies on Illness / Compassionate Leave / Leaving Cover

    5 Someone could phone on her behalf BUT that person would need to keep it factual and not get embroiled in any arguments. It would be tempting in any case to phone the school sickness line that simply records the message rather than speaking to an angry Cover Person.

    6 I had a mate who went through something similar and realised that she herself was poorly due to the stress of her father's illness. In her case she phoned in sick and got a Dr's note, eventually being poorly for 2 months. (In this time her father was extremely ill and it took its course on her too. But the school understood her being poorly far better).
     
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2020
    strawbs and Jamvic like this.
  16. salsera

    salsera New commenter

    Many thanks for all the detailed responses.
    All she wants is support at a difficult period not to cause issues or make complaints just get on with as little stress as possible in the workplace when home life is so difficult
    It was just what options were available to her when she returns so she hasn’t got more to think about and I was trying to offer some support.
    I’ll pass on the advice given (in condensed form!) thank you all for taking the time.
     
    Jamvic likes this.
  17. cornflake

    cornflake Senior commenter

    If this is where she is, then I think just conveying this (as you have written) to someone above the HoD is important, but perhaps with the HoD there too... as your friend wants to be transparent about the situation. She can't be signed off for her mum's illness, but can alert her bosses to the potential need for compassion - and that might mitigate her own stress and thus be able to be at work. If that doesn't work, then yes - some time being signed off for personal stress may be required, but please don't blame work and cite work related stress if it isn't.
     
    sbkrobson likes this.
  18. cornflake

    cornflake Senior commenter

    PS I did that when my dad was very ill and in the last few months.... I warned my boss that I would have my phone with me, and that if the call came, I would be off and I hoped that would be understood.
     
  19. sbkrobson

    sbkrobson Star commenter

    Well you don't need to pass on advice when this is a public forum which you can read even if not registered or indeed even signed in. It is there for her to read in detail herself.
     
    install likes this.
  20. hhhh

    hhhh Lead commenter

    We had a member of staff whose wife had cancer-he was off now and then for her appointments/treatments etc. We contacted him on the times he was off for a week or so to ask how he and his family were-did they want us to drop off shopping after school etc? He also told us what he did or did not want to do, eg sometimes he marked/set work/made resources-sometimes he just wanted us to talk and did not want to do any work at all.
    This helped him MUCH more than if he'd just taken a year off-he said that coming into school kept him 'sane', and from our point of view/the students' viewpoint-it was better to have a long-term, excellent, well-known teacher in for most of the year, rather than trying to find supply teachers who might quite naturally leave if they found a permanent post; he was contributing lots to the department, although it did mean we sometimes had some extra cover classes-but surely it was worth it-and in fact the most humane thing to do? Of course I respect that SOME teachers might, unlike him, prefer to just take long-term sick; I respect that we are all different, and had he wanted to that, we would have asked him if he wanted us to call/go round, or would have left him in peace if he didn't want any contact-but the point I'm making is that it is not NECESSARILY best for a teacher in such a position to take long-term sick.
     

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