Return to work

21 January 2021

There’s lots to consider when welcoming staff back to work after leave or long-term sickness.

The most important thing to do is make sure they’re well enough to return. But you’ll also have to think about things like fit notes, reduced duties and back to work interviews.

You might also have to make reasonable adjustments to help workers return. Or else, you could face unfair dismissal claims if you don’t make the changes an employee requires.

Read our guide to learn the process you must follow when an employee returns to work.

Returning to work after a long absence

There are several reasons why an employee might have to take time off work, like:

Long term absences often follow an upsetting or stressful situation, so you should make the process as stress-free as possible when employees are set to return to work.

Returning to work after medical leave

People’s ability to work can be limited following a long-term illness. Because of this, there are many things you need to do to ensure the wellbeing of staff returning due to ill health.

Employees only need to self-certify their sick leave if they’re absent for less than seven calendar days. They don’t have to provide a sick note and may still be entitled to sick pay.

If someone returns to work after sickness that lasts longer than seven days, they should get a fit note from a medical professional.

Find out more about fit notes and proof of sickness.

What should I include in a return to work procedure?

Having a clear return back to work procedure for staff members returning from leave.

It not only will provide an understanding of what they should do before, during, and after their leave period.

A return to work procedure benefits employers with dealing with adjustments to their workforce and their business. As well as control any risks and consequences that might fall on them during business operations.

Below we’ve outlined some aspects to consider before employees return to the workplace:

Absence policy

Every company should have rules for what is an acceptable reason for an absence. An absence policy can help outline issues from managing financial benefits to proving medical notes.

To help your staff avoid any misunderstandings, your absence policy should outline:

  • How to report absences — who to contact and when.
  • When to get a sick note.
  • If a back to work interview is needed (eg, for those returning from long-term leave).
  • How absences will be tracked and reviewed.
  • Wages, sick pay, and other entitlements.
  • If occupational health support, such as an employee assistance programme (EAP) is provided.

The main objective of the policy is to provide clear guidance for employees.

Absence policies are especially helpful when dealing with cases like carers’ leave, travel disruptions, and unauthorised absences.

Find out more about absence policies.

Back to work interview

It’s important to stay in regular touch with your staff during absences. Some employees might feel anxious to return to work, especially after long-term leave. So it’s important to have a back to work interview to help workers return smoothly and confidently. In the meeting, you should discuss:

  • Whether they’re ready to return.
  • Any new work updates.
  • Medical recommendations (such as a phased return to work).
  • Whether their tasks/ workspace needs ‘reasonable adjustments’.
  • If additional support is required (such as occupational health services).
  • Whether employee assistance programmes (EAP) are available.

During the interview, you should also provide a return to work form, which acts almost like a documented form of the meeting.

Reasonable adjustments

For employees who have a disability, laws like the Equality Law 2010 help you outline reasonable adjustments to ease their journey.

You are required to make reasonable adjustments to remove or reduce the effect an employee’s ability to do their job.

So, if a long-term sickness has impeded an employee’s capability to do their job, you’re required to consider what changes you can implement.

Some reasonable adjustments can include changing:

  • Job roles or responsibilities.
  • Workstation or equipment.
  • Working hours or days.

By making reasonable adjustments, you can get them back to work whilst minimising any health, safety, or wellbeing problems.

Taking advice from medical professionals, health advisers, and even the employee themselves can show you the best course of action to take.

If you can’t make reasonable adjustments, it may not be safe for employees to return to work. Any health risks found may affect your legal compliance.

Risk assessments

Employers have a legal duty to safeguard employee health, safety, and wellbeing.

Under the Health and Safety at Work act 1974, you’re legally obligated to have risk assessments in place. The objective is to identify, control, and reduce hazards or any near accidents to your workers or other people in your business.

A return to work risk assessment should be done before an employee returns or resumes any work. Failing this, you could place them and/or others in danger. In the risk assessment, consider whether:

  • Their tasks will impact their ability to work, without causing harm to themselves or others.
  • Changes should be made to their job tasks and responsibilities.

Whether your employees require PPE or suitable workstation adjustments, dealing with the risks can help you provide good rehabilitation support for those returning.

What is a phased return to work?

When an employee returns from a long-term absence, a phased return to work can help them settle at a reasonable pace. A doctor will recommend whether a phased return is necessary in the fit note they provide.

As an employer, you should take care to help them return at a rate that helps both the employee and you.

Create a phased return to work plan and include:

  • Agreement on any reasonable adjustments.
  • How long the plan will be in place for.
  • Having regular reviews to ensure their health and wellbeing.
  • Any new adjustments needed after reviewing.

Find out more about phased return to work after sickness.

Employees struggling to work

It could be harder for employees who were absent because of serious injuries to adjust quickly. Which means you could face problems of higher absences or difficulties performing tasks.

Have a strategy in place to deal with such situations, like capability management processes, mentoring, and re-training.

For a worker with a mental health issue or a disability, return to work guidelines can include reasonably adjustments which provide additional support. Be proactive in helping vulnerable workers and empower them to return with confidence.

Remember, if a worker is unhappy or unsatisfied with how their return to work has been managed, they should raise their concern to you first. That way, you can internally deal with reshaping the plan and squashing any problems.

Access to work

Vulnerable employees like those with disabilities or mental health conditions may need more specific help.

These employees could get help from the Access to Work scheme. Provided they’re eligible, they could receive grants covering the costs for practical support in the workplace. For things like, special equipment, support worker services, and help getting to and from work.

The grant is free and doesn’t affect other benefits but seek further advice before proceeding.

Get expert advice on returning to work with Peninsula

It’s your responsibility to care for your staff’s health and wellbeing, even when they’re on sick leave. If you don’t, you could face legal repercussions, compensation claims, or even serious health risks to your staff.

A solid return to work policy will in turn improve your productivity, performance, and workplace morale. Giving your workers the best working conditions when welcoming them back.

Peninsula provides professional and updated return to work policies, supporting your rights as well as your staffs’. We’ll help you meet all the legal obligations needed when employees take leave and return to work.

We also offer 24/7 HR consultation and employment advice – anywhere and anytime. Our expert consultants are fully trained and ready to support all your needs for returning workers.

And if you’re not yet a client, you can still enjoy free advice from our specialists. Simply call us on 0800 028 2420.

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