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Bereavement fit notes?

Bereavement fit notes

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We have recently been handed a couple of fit notes advising us employees are not fit for work due to bereavement.

We would like to challenge this and although I feel dreadfully sorry for people who have lost a loved one they are not actually sick. Surely they should take either bereavement leave, unpaid leave or use their holiday entitlement.

After speaking to the doctors that issued these fit notes it was apparent they were washing their hands of this as they told us we would need to speak to our employees as it is out of their hands!

Has anyone come across this before and challenged this?

Replies (7)

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By [email protected]
09th Sep 2010 13:14

 I Haven't experienced the same problem but have had a situation where I received medical certificates stating the reason for absence as bereavement reaction. I think it all depends on factors such as the closeness of the relationship between the employee and the deceased and the circumstances of the death, which you may not be privy to. In my situation it was the death of a son in very tragic circumstances. Not surprisingly the employee was distraught and unable to cope for a considerable period of time. Bereavement leave policies do not usually cater for such circumstances, even with some discretionary extra time off allowed.

I'm not surprised to hear that the doctor would not discuss the matter with you - he/she has to comply with patient confidentiality and cannot therefore get into dialogue with an employer. I would suggest you try to make contact with your bereaved employee and attempt to talk to them about their situation and how you can support their return to work.

On a final note, bereavement can cause 'sickness' in the form of a depressive-type illness, which may require them to take medication for a lengthy period.

Hope this helps....

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By Clare Anderson
09th Sep 2010 13:27

Nina, forgive me but I would question the value of challenging this at such a sensitive time.  I take your point the individual in question might not be ill, however I wouldn't regard them as fit to work and they're definitely not on holiday.  It is an exceptional absence which does crop up on occasions.  On a personal level I decided to return to work the day after my brother very suddenly died as I felt being busy at work would help me and my only absence was for the day of the funeral which was taken as compassionate leave.  Personal choice I grant you and on reflection perhaps not the best as I was completing a 40-mile commute and and was probably not fit to drive. 

Hopefully your organisation has a policy which covers bereavement and grants the appropriate paid time off.  There are some threads for this subject on this website and this link is for the most recent one:

http://www.hrzone.co.uk/anyanswers/compassionate-leave-3

Otherwise I would agree that if the grieving process is going to take longer than would be ideal - and this is very much an individual factor given we all react differently to grief and events prior to the death can greatly influence the reaction - then some serious discussions are needed about the best way to manage this.  Otherwise if an employee is taking just a short period of leave for which some medical opinion is required I wouldn't automatically challenge it.  The bereaving individual has enough to cope with and no doubt you'd like to be seen as a caring employer. 

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By Jeremy Barker
13th Sep 2010 10:53

I think you are taking an unreasonable approach. Bereavement leave is essentially for people whose health has not been adversely affected by the bereavement so they can attend a funeral and sort out various matters. You have to remember that people can react in very different ways to bereavement. Some will want to carry on as close to "normal" as possible and want to work as if nothing had happened whereas others will fall to pieces and may be incapable of work for a very long time.

I have seen both extremes. In the first somone's very close friend was killed in a road traffic accident and was offered time off work but did not take it saying that if they were not working all they would be thinking of was what had happened to the deceased. In the second case somone's adult child died in hospital several days after an accident and that person's reaction was so severe they were unable to work again and retired on an ill-health pension.

In the situation you describe some doctors would issue a less-specific certificate describing the illness as "acute stress reaction" or something similar and I wonder how you would approach that.

As a final note an employer must take a doctor's certificate at face value. If it suspected that the employee is not genuinely ill there is a mechanism for obtaining a second opinion via the HMRC NI Contributions Office.

 

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By Nina Hill
14th Sep 2010 14:04

Thank you to everyone who responded to the question regarding bereavement.

As a company I think we are extremely good at looking after our employees at a very difficult time but also don't want employees being picked up as part of our absence policy and bought in for a meeting which could potentially make matters worse when it is listed as sickness due to a fit note. 

If there is no other method then I guess I will have to rely on the old grey matter to remember to exlude these.

I don't want you to think we are ogre's but we do have an employee who has now been off for months and also has an awful absence history.  This person has also been speaking to other employee's (who have reported this back to me and are quite angry about it) about how generous our sickness policy is and how they will be using their maximum allowance as they have got work to do in their house and garden and might as well use this opportunity to get it done.  We are only too happy to support our employees who are genuinely struggling but this isn't right.  I was just trying to find an alternative but it is clear there isn't one.

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By pompeyduchess
16th Sep 2010 16:52

If you are concerned that the person is not genuinely ill from the effects of bereavement and they have been off for a considerable amount of time, then perhaps referral to an Occupational Health specialist may assist?  More close scrutiny from the employer can help if the absence isn't genuine and if it is, then the referral should give an indication of support which can be offered or a likely duration of absence.  The process can be supportive for the employee as well as being very useful for the employer.

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By MADMOOK
18th Sep 2010 06:39

Forgive me if I am incorrect on this but did you seek permission from the bereaved employees, to contact their GPs?

This seems a bit unprofessional.

 

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By Nina Hill
22nd Sep 2010 12:51

Of course we always contact the employees to obtain permission before contacting GP's, specialists etc by written consent.  We have contacted some GP's who are extremely helpful and we can agree various different types of help including the phased return to work or offering to pay for private treatment if this helps their recovery time and then others are just really not interested or could be just far to busy.

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