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Should I involve my Union when I'm off with depression?

Discussion in 'Workplace dilemmas' started by frizz, Nov 3, 2015.

  1. frizz

    frizz New commenter

    Apologies in advance for the long post. I'm currently signed off for two weeks for depression. It was the same story last year and I went back after two weeks. I shouldn't have, with hindsight. I spent many times last year driving to work plucking up the courage to drive into a tree so I could end it. I did have stuff going on at home but work has been the main stress. I told boss last year, and he was supportive but assumed it was personal stuff. I reiterated it was work and was told they would support me. After a few weeks, I was left to get on. I'm good at putting on an act and threw myself into it, as I always have done. (Workload is huge. Others in school complain too that they have no life, but I seem to get affected mentally by it whilst they cope.) This was all while I was on citalopram. This summer I just had a meltdown and admitted thoughts to my other half who got me to GP. Have had help from CRISIS. On venlofaxine now, after psychiatrist felt it was a better drug, and went back to work in September, at my own insistence. Again was open with boss and told him everything. He said if there was anything he could do to support me just ask. At the end of September I mentioned workload again, and the hours I was working at home to the deputy head who is my line manager and had been informed of my health issues by HT. Response from deputy head was her son's school have it much worse and we were lucky at our school because our planning isn't scrutinised every week. Another time she said it would be ridiculous to be working til 9 or 10 at nights, which I do. But at the same time she's been lovely, sending me nice texts saying how well in doing etc on occasions. So last week half term came. I worked a lot of it and when I popped into school last week to drop off my work from home, I realised I hadn't done marking of two sets of books. Cue the meltdown! I went home and later that night had the pills in my hand ready to take them, took 3 then stopped myself. I luckily had a bad night, so hubby took me to docs in morn where I again broke down and admitted what I'd done. She signed me off and this time I agreed. I saw boss yesterday and he was v supportive. Took husband with me for moral support. Again, HT was lovely. I was asked to go back in a week once I'd seen doc to chat. Husband asked if there was any possibility of part time until I'm better and head said he'd have a think. To get to the point (finally!) a colleague who is aware of how I'm feeling suggested ringing my Union just to check I was doing the right thing. When I spoke to NASUWT this morning, they said HT was basically flouting his duty of care, I should have been referred to occ health 12 months ago, and I shouldn't agree to any meetings without Union there. I'm confused as I feel boss has been good, even though I still feel as if he's hinting my workload is self inflicted because of my being a perfectionist and the rest of my stress and depression is my home life. I don't want to alienate him and rock the boat. I am unsure what to do and from what I've read in these forums, I shouldn't have had my husband in with me when I went to school yesterday. Do I allow the union to get involved and come to the next meeting with me, or do I go on my own and see what HT can offer in terms of part time work etc. Advice would be appreciated from anyone who has been in a similar situation. Thanks. X
  2. snowyhead

    snowyhead Lead commenter

    Your HT may well be lovely, but they have a duty of care to ensure you have a decent work/life balance. You are not well and workload is the reason. You must contact the Crisis team again - that's what they are there for. Your GP has signed you off, but their expertise in mental health conditions is probably limited. You need breathing space, you need some rest and you need some professional medical help. You cannot do this on your own.

    @GLsghost may be able to shed some light on your query about who can accompany you at meetings with the head.

    Best wishes

    Last edited: Nov 3, 2015
    Crowbob and GLsghost like this.
  3. GLsghost

    GLsghost Star commenter

    The right to be accompanied by a union rep or colleague relates to disciplinary hearings and appeals only. There is no automatic right to be accompanied to any other kind of meeting, although any employer worth his/her salt would recognise that it fosters good industrial relations to facilitate this.

    The Head does indeed have a duty of care for the health and well-being of his staff. If his actions have caused an injury (physical or psychological), there is potential remedy in law - but only potential.
    Occupational stress claims are notoriously difficult to win. You have to prove that the employer knew that previous stress had caused previous probelms (I am paraphrasing) and then his failure to act to alleviate the stress then went on to cause further injury. He is entitled to assume that his staff are able to cope with the reasonable stresses of the job, until he knows otherwise.

    Proving causation is a problem: you have to prove the Head's negligence actually caused or materially increased the risk of the injury. It is not enough to assume that it may have done, along with other factors and you can bet your life the employer would fight any suggestion furiously.

    It is worth involving your union, I think, if the workload at this school is causing you to become ill. It is not sufficient to suggest that you should put up with it, because it is worse in other schools.

    If the union is not completely on the ball, I also have the contact details of various lawyers and firms I am happy to recommend, because I have personal knpowledge of them, who advise on the merits of occupational stress claims at no cost.
    snowyhead and Crowbob like this.
  4. snowyhead

    snowyhead Lead commenter

    @GLsghost I guess the OP may even be protected under disability discrimination laws as their medical condition appears to be long term - workplace adjustments?
  5. GLsghost

    GLsghost Star commenter

    I deliberately avoided the complication of mentioning disability discrimination. There can be no presumption that the OP's depression amounts to a disability - it may, of course, but that would have to be pleaded as step one in any claim and it may be a hard fight. I have recently had that scenario with a client with a disability in which 99.9% of people would have taken one look at the symptoms and thought it was obvious! The dark side's barrister still tried (for 3 hours and distressed her immensely) to argue that her condition did not amount to a disability and was a lifestyle choice! We won, but it was tough on the client.

    We do not know the precise nature of the OP's depression - whether she is succumbing to limited, periodic reactive depression because of the workload or whether there is an overarching medical condition as an underlying cause. Not for me to argue one way or another. Just pointing out that there is no assumption.

    The employer does have a duty for her health and well-being, however. Perhaps a good suggestion, as you have mentioned elsewhere @snowyhead, would be a referral by this supportive Head to OH to look at how the workplace stress and its impact might be reduced.
    snowyhead likes this.
  6. Middlemarch

    Middlemarch Star commenter

    Definitely request OH referral.
    snowyhead likes this.
  7. GLsghost

    GLsghost Star commenter

    snowyhead likes this.
  8. frizz

    frizz New commenter

    Thanks for your responses. Just to clarify, I am not seeking any claims against my employer. I just want to stay in the job that I love. At the moment all I can think of is part time so I can cope with reduced workload and maybe use one of my days off to keep up with the paperwork. The alternative is to leave and see what other job I can get. However in all likelihood the reduction in pay would not help me overcome depression as that in itself would create other stress and anxiety.
  9. frizz

    frizz New commenter

    My main concern at the moment is do I take a Union rep into my next meeting with my boss or not? Currently boss is understanding and supportive so I feel I possibly should hear him out with regard to whether he can help me with reduced hours. I don't want to sour the relationship by turning up with a union rep all guns blazing.
  10. monicabilongame

    monicabilongame Star commenter

    Are you signed off with 'work related stress' or with 'depression'? If you are signed off with WRS that makes it clear that it is the workplace that is causing the depression, and that it's not just some random depressive episode which is getting in the way of you working. There's a world of difference, and whatever you are signed off with may be relevant if/when you take this further.
  11. GLsghost

    GLsghost Star commenter

    All employees have a right to make a request for flexible working.


    If your Head is agreeable, you could turn up with a union rep or colleague who is not 'all guns blazing', but just quietly supportive.
  12. TheoGriff

    TheoGriff Star commenter

  13. frizz

    frizz New commenter

    Well, as expected, I was told no job share or part time was available but they would give me a half term once I'm back at work on a part time basis. Basically that's a phased return. I now have another sick note for depression taking me up to Xmas. I don't know what to do, as I know it's the job that's the main issue. I'm sure I could cope better with part time as I could have time to maybe join a gym or something, see family and look after myself. I'm feeling backed into a corner now.

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