Phased return to work

  • Leave and Absence
Someone writing with a pen in a return to work meeting.
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

Sometimes you may need to offer your employee a phased return to work. This can help in certain difficult circumstances—find out how to manage this process.

Some of your employees may have to take time away from work due illness.

But when they’re ready to return to their role, what approach should your business take? We explore one of your options in this guide.

What is a phased return to work?

It’s when an employee who’s absent needs to come back to your business. They’ll do so with a reduction in hours, fewer duties, or a different set of tasks.

You’ll need to agree how this will work with your staff member.

So discussions should take place between you and the member of staff who is returning to work.

But how long should a phased return to work be? It’s usually four weeks. However, there’s no set time line, meaning it can last for longer depending on the circumstances (such as what a doctor recommends in a sick note).

Once they’re back with you, it’s also good business practice to regularly review the employee’s progress. This could be, for example, a weekly catch up to discuss how they’re doing.

Your employee’s pay rights

Phased return to work pay is at their normal rate. That’s if the member of staff in question performs their usual duties, but with a reduction on hours.

This means they only need to receive pay for the hour they work.

But what about the time they’re not able to work? If they qualify for sick pay entitlements, they should continue to receive this.

Alternatively, you could choose to provide them with full pay. Even though they’re working fewer hours—this is because it’s only a temporary agreement.

However, if their duties are lighter upon their return you can agree with them what the rate of pay should be. Put any agreements in writing so you can refer to it later, if necessary.

One of the main pieces of phased return to work employment law is you must avoid the unlawful deduction of wages.

You can combat that outcome by ensuring you have written consent from the employee to reduce hours, or any other requirement as part of their phased return.

Holiday time guidelines

For a phased return to work, holiday entitlement continues to accrue as normal while an individual is off sick.

One option is to allow employees to use part of their annual leave to account for times they’re not working on their return—this is to cover any reductions in pay.

Confirmation of this came about after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in 2009 had a ruling stating your staff has entitlement for it.

Your phased return to work plan

It’s good business practice to have a plan in place for your employees returning to work.

Once you have this set up, you can use it as a template for any future occasions when you need it.

So you should draw up some phased return to work guidelines. These will explain the basics of:

  • How long the phasing period will last.
  • If there’s a reduction in the workload or the amount of hours.
  • The pay for the employee.
  • Any other additional requirements (such as support during their return, if they’re still recovering).

These will make it clear what you need to do. You’ll benefit from this by:

  • Nurturing your employees: They’ll feel they have greater value if you’re willing to let them phase out a return to your business.
  • Lowering recruitment costs: By letting your them return to work, you don’t have to fund hiring campaigns to find a replacement.
  • Better retention rates: More of your staff members will stay with your business, which will improve the long-term commitment of staff to your organisation.
  • Positive PR: For the likes of Glassdoor reviews and your image with job candidates, by allowing this policy you’ll create a positive image to the public.

Need our help?

If you have an employee returning to your business, get in touch and we’ll help you find the right process to use: 0800 028 2420.


Got a question? Check whether we’ve already answered it for you…

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