Return to work interviews

09 July 2019

Return to work interviews form an essential part of a robust absence management system. Managing sickness absence can be a difficult challenge for businesses who have no formal structure in place to deal with it. Return to work interviews provide an opportunity for the employee to explain their absences, and tend to reduce absenteeism because people are less likely to give a non-genuine reason for absence when questioned face-to-face. Despite the name, these meetings are not a formal ‘interview’ as such; they often take the form of a quick meeting as soon as possible after the employee returns to work in order to clarify the nature of the problem, confirm that it has been resolved and determine whether the employer can do anything in support going forwards. This can be after any length of sickness absence, from a mother returning to work after maternity leave to a member of staff who is absent from work for a single day.

Recording absence

It is in the best interest of the employer to note the specific dates and length of absence in each case, and the reasons for behind it. This makes it easier to quickly monitor how many times the employee has been absent and when they have hit designated trigger points which may lead to further necessary action. Recording absences also enables the employer to spot recurring patterns of absence and support the employee in the long term to ensure they are physically and psychologically fit for work.

The benefit for employees

These meetings are an ideal platform for staff to make the employer aware of any issues they are currently having.  When conducted professionally and with assured confidentiality, return to work interviews build trust and let the employee know that the business has dedicated time to understand and maintain their health and wellbeing. Of course, if the employee has a non-genuine reason for their absence, this meeting is likely to be uncomfortable enough to make them think twice before missing work without a valid reason.

Self-certification and statutory sick pay

If the employee has been off sick for up to seven calendar days, their employee may ask them to fill out a self-certification form when they return to work to confirm the length of time and reason they have been absent. Employers usually provide their own version of this form. It’s important to note that employees must be absent for four days or longer in order to qualify for statutory sick pay.

The law behind return to work interviews

There is no current formal legislation relating to return to work interviews, it is left to the individual company’s discretion. If the company does decide to conduct return to work interviews as standard then this intention should be made apparent to the employee from the induction stage. Any such policy is well placed in an official employee handbook.


  • Return to work interviews are a useful way for businesses to manage absenteeism more effectively.
  • These meetings help to spot patterns of absence and provide the employer with an opportunity to offer support to the employee where appropriate.
  • Return to work interviews are not covered by formal legislation, though each business should declare their intention to carry out these meetings as part of their employment documentation.

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