Coping at work

Its been 7 weeks since my sister died suddenly and unexpectedly.

Im a secondary school teacher and i was in school (thursday) when i was told she had died. My immediate faculty were fantastic. Classes were covered, others organised work, i got brought coffee and tissues and was told i wasnt going to be teaching that day but i also wasnt going to be allowed to drive home until they were sure id be safe. I was told at 8.30 and i left to go home at 10.45. I took the next day (friday) off.

But by the monday i was going mad sitting in my tiny flat on my own. Going to church on the sunday as part of routine helped and my mental health has always been helped by routine. Added to that fact i was told bereavement leave was 4 days. So i went back to work on the monday. Worked for a week and a half and took the next wednesday thursday friday off for bereavement leave and her funeral.

We had 2 weeks easter holidays and then i went back to work as normal.

The longer ive been in work the less im coping. But because its been 7 weeks people are just looking at me and saying “well, got to get normality back and move on”.

I got to the point on thursday where i was crying in my classroom - thankfully not infront of a class - and unable to stop myself. One of my friends spoke to me on the phone and helped me calm down but at that point i made the decision to ask my boss to refer me to occupational health. Ive had positive experiences and help from occupational health previously.

His response was essentially “we’ll discuss it next week”.

I just dont know what to do. I am thinking i went back too soon but ive got kids exams and deadlines and rehearsals for the school show. I dont want to let the kids down. But im coping less and less in class.

And what worries me more, is im caring less and less. Not the kids. I could never not care about the kids. But im doing the bare minimim to get by.

I dont know what to do. Id be interested to hear others thoughts.


Hi vivmt, so sorry to hear about your sister. It’s so difficult & it seems to me like you’re trying to do your best for everyone else but I would urge you to think about what is best for you. It’s still very raw for you. Be kind to yourself & lots of self care. Take care :heart:

@Katie85 i think youre right, i am thinking more of others. After the funeral i spent a week at her house with my brother in law. Hes more like a brother, ive known him since i was 12 and im 40 now. I helped him around the house and sorting things out. I felt useful.

But i have the teacher guilt. If im not there whatll happen to the kids. Its not that i have an inflated sense of importance, i just have a huge sense of guilt even if i miss a day due to illness.

Its easier to think of others and do stuff for them.

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I know exactly what you mean, I work in the NHS & some days I’m crying going into work as I feel like I’ll be putting on a mask that day. It’s not easy at all.

Theres something about education and the nhs (and im sure other public services) where they get a lot of things done through their staffs goodwill. They depend on staff not wanting to let students/patients/clients down.

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Totally, we are caring people & it’s hard to care for others when we are dealing with our own things too.

Vivmt I’ve also just returned to work I’m a nurse but actually work in occ health . Can you self refer ? I’m not sure how it works in schools but as nhs staff we can . We are able to offer counselling etc plus however guilty you feel about being off work , you won’t get a gold clock ( etc) at the end of your career I’ve realised this because some areas of the nhs really do not respect their staff . See your gp get a sick note , yiu need time to breathe, cry . Work will always survive but you need some self care and time to grieve and remember your loved one x life happens there’s nothing your employer can do if you follow the correct route to time off x hope you can sort this asap x ( by the way 4 days bereavement leave is appalling ) x

I have fibromyalgia and have had a few absences over the last five or six years. Actually all bar one have been viruses and not becausd of my illness. Apart from a day here and there with a migraine.

I had a meeting with my boss today to ask for a referral to occ health specifically because im not mentally coping after her death. I was specific about that.

He brought up a pile of paper which turned out to be a calendar for 3 or 4 years, and started talking about my absences and how he might have to start passing my information to human resources because they’re “building up” and we should think about “whats best” for me. I asked him if he thought thats why I was asking for a referral because he couldn’t be more wrong and my email had made it very clear. Had he not read it? I had to say 3 or 4 times this is not about my physical issues. My sister died suddenly and i came back to work two days later. Im regretting it now. I should have stayed off until aftet easter which would have given me 4 weeks.

He is going to refer me but he just made me feel like a totally rubbish teacher who shouldn’t be there. And then I spent the rest of the period in my classroom crying trying to sort myself out for the class about to come in. Ive organised a meeting with my union rep tomorrow.

The sickening thing is my colleague has had weeks and weeks more absences that me. She averages about 6 weeks absence a year where i average 6-10 days a year. But because she runs over onto long term sick its different for her. So because i make an effort to keep teaching as much as i can, im being penalised although shes been off about 20 weeks in the last 3 years.

So now im scared im going to lose my job on top of all this so theres no way i can take any time off.

Use your union hun , you can’t be dismissed for having diagnosed conditions , they normally have to put things in place to help you on your role . Your being bullied and are currently vulnerable I’d definitely get a gp sick note , phone occ health yourself if your upto it , we are there to support x obviously our role is to try to make adjustments to keep you in your role but we also can refer and suggest help and back you up with letters to your employer x

So i spoke to my union rep on friday. She was lovely and reckons when it comes to what my boss said about hr and absences, he doesnt have a leg to stand on. After our first meeting, she went away to check a few things. She came back before the end of the day and confirmed there have been some “significant mismanagement” of my absences. My council works on a level system for absences. Most people end up on level 1 at one point or another as its 10 days absence or 3 separate absences that trigger it. She said that i have nothing to worry about.

I got an email on friday morning from the head teachers assistant, hed asked her to make an appt with me for a meeting on tuesday. He is not a nice person, although he puts on a facade, and noone trusts him. Hes known for going into meetings with people, tearing them to strips and reducing them to tears. Hes booked a meeting with me for tuesday period 4. Hed originally organised to catch up with me 3 weeks ago but never showed up or mentioned it. I spoke to the union rep about that and she said that, since ive not had a one to one issue with him yet, we should give him the benefit of the doubt. She also said shes had a few people contact her to say he’s requested meetings with them on tuesday that hed previously missed so it does appear like hes catching up. However she said that, if the conversation moves from supportive because of bereavement, ive to stop the meeting and tell him itll be continued only when i have my union rep there. She said she will come if i wish her to but shes worried that her presence when theres been no issues previously might make things worse.
She also said i should call my gp and see if theyll sign me off. But this is where it goes back to the guilt. Not just for the kids and lessons but im musical director for the school show in 6 weeks time. I cant let them down.
An ideal situation would be, i think, temporarily being part time - for 2 or 3 weeks - but the union rep thinks occ health cant do that because ive not been off sick, in which case theyd have given me a phased return.
I dont know what to do about it all.
Then i think its only 8 weeks til the end of term, i can just suck it up and keep going. Im so confused.

Occ health could advise restricted duties but only advise . But if with dr sick note yiu have back up . Hope you sort it , your more important than work xx

I’m a secondary teacher too and I lost by mum suddenly seven weeks ago. I too was at school when I got an horrific phone call.
I’m Signed off until after half term. You possibly went back far too soon. Your previous absences have nothing to do with bereavement leave. Utter garbage and the school are being cruel and unsupportive.
May I suggest going to the doctor and then emailing them a doctor’s note. You need time to grieve. Schools are no good when you’re grieving so soon after the loss of a close family member. Think of yourself. Because the school won’t.

They’ll cover the show. Think of yourself. You have to in this horrible and difficult time

Im aware its been over a month since this was commented on but i wanted to update you.
After realising hed sent the initial referral for occupational health to the wrong place and triggering a data breach investigation, my boss finally got the referral to the right place and i spoke to occ health yesterday.

The school didnt ask any questions of them because i asked them to refer me. Normally one of the questions they ask occ health is if im fit for work. This wasnt asked, it wasnt in my plan.

However, the occ health nurse, after talking with me for a good 30 minutes, decided on no uncertain terms im currently not fit for work. I told her about the school show, which is tomorrow (thursday) and friday, and she said she will be writing in the report shes recommended i see my gp and get signed off for the last two weeks of term. But that the report wont get there until the end of the week with this and how long it takes my gp to get back to me at times, should get me past the school show.
So at my yearly review meeting i decided to tell my boss about the not fit for work that occ health were going to report. I felt like i wanted to let him know face to face. Weve previously had a good relationship. And then it all went downhill.
I have a disability. I think ive only once been off school because of it but my mobility has decreased a bit since covid and an accident i had in summer 2021. I tend to have a fairly good immune system but was prone to migraines. Since covid and wearing masks my immune system has struggled and i seem to be catching all the bugs going.

He has started talking about getting people in from the council about my absences (even though the union says he can’t because he hasn’t tracked them properly, issued any letters or even had a proper discussion about it) and he even asked me had I thought what I was going to do WHEN I wasnt able to teach anymore. The disability i have isnt degenerative but it does fluctuate. I had to remind him a number of times that its not the reason im struggling.

He also said I was lucky the kids were so understanding in this school because they wouldn’t have been in others and I wouldn’t be able to teach by now. Dont get me wrong, the kids are good about it, my music colleague is fantastic, and i have a few “reasonable adjustments” that are helpful but i have no reason to think it would be different elsewhere.
So now the thought of being off is making me more anxious which ironically is one of the reason occ health said I need to be off.

I spoke to my union rep this morning. Shes incredibly angry with them. She’s taking advice from the local association reps. She said to her it sounds like they’re positioning themselves to try and get rid of me. She said its heading towards constructive dismissal. She did tell me not to worry because theyll sort it and i have no reason not to believe her because the union has helped me before but its so incredibly stressful im back to crying in the carpark before i go in.

Your manager sounds like a complete bully , dismissal is not that easy and if you have gp and occ health supporting you with the correct letters sent , although it’s stressful there’s not much management can do !! I come across this all the time as a nurse in occ health , there are protocols to follow , unfortunately though what happens when a manager dosent like what they are hearing and having to deal with they do make your time in work difficult , keep this all documented with your union rep , occ health can be contacted by yourself at any time , a senior occ health nurse can instigate things as a high priority xx You come first not your boss !! Let’s hope they are never find themselves in this deep grief ( but perhaps then they would be kinder ) . You’ve done everything correctly and it will all be documented , look after yourself and I know it’s not easy but let work things go over your head , it’s in progress now . Take care xxx look after you xxxx

So sorry your school aren’t supportive. This is wrong on so many levels. Disgusting in fact.
A bereavement absence should not be compared to others under any circumstances. What a vile bully.
Get that note in and stay off.
I’m lucky I have a supportive school. If you want to ask me anything, feel free to DM.

The occ health report came back and was rather scathing about the schools reaction. She made it incredibly clear that grief is not linear and therefore me needing to be off 3 months on is understandable especially as i didnt take more time when she actually died.
The thing is my immediate boss isnt a bully. Hes an idiot who cant cope under the significant pressure hes getting from above. Which i know is no excuse for his behaviour and i am still angry with him but hes not normally a bully. The head though, absolutely a bully and this is where the issues come from.

Anyway, i made it to show week by the skin of my teeth. Last night went really well, the kids were amazing, hopefully the same tonight then that will be it for me until august. Not that the school know that yet. I got a fit note through from my dr but the dates were wrong so im waiting for a replacement. So i dont plan to say anything today and ill call in sick on monday then email them the fit note.

Glad you’ve got a fit note. They have no right to say what they’ve been saying or to compare it to previous absence. Hope it all works out.
Glad the show went well. Small steps.