Return to Work After Sickness

Hannah Williamson

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15 Jan 2021

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Inevitably, members of staff will have time off sick. This can vary in periods of time, which can severely hinder the productivity of that not only that employee’s workflow but other team members.

Therefore, it is essential for a robust policy to be in place to follow when they are returning to work after a sick day or period to allow them to start back strongly.

There are steps you should take whenever an employee returns from a period of sickness absence. Following these steps will ensure that you are supporting your employees while protecting your business.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the process and various scenarios your business could encounter.

The importance of a good return to work policy

People can find it hard to return to work after extended periods of absence, which can lead to reluctance to come in after long term sickness even if they are able to work or reduced productivity when they do return.

Having a policy in place allows both the employer and the employee to feel comfortable with their return.

Return to work after sickness & employment law

While there are business reasons for you to have policy in place, there are also legal ones. There are several employment laws on return to work after sickness, including:

  • Equality Act 2010
  • The Employment Rights Act
  • The Health & Safety at Work etc Act

These laws dictate the procedure you should follow. They also tell you that you need to have policies and procedures on managing sick leave. If you haven’t got these already, you need to develop them in consultation with your staff or their representatives.

Return to work after sickness law also dictates several other obligations, these include:

  • Training managers on sick leave and return to work
  • Keeping in contact with workers who are off sick
  • Having to consider workplace adjustments to help workers return to work
  • Get professional advice on issues such as fitness to work

Return to work interviews

This type of meeting is a common practice in many businesses. There’s a reason for this—it’s highly effective at managing sickness absence. Here’s how it works:

You send a return to work after sickness email to the employee inviting them to an interview. Depending on the circumstances, you can conduct the interview via video call or in person.

Within the meeting, you should ask questions such as:

  • How are you feeling now?
  • Do you feel well enough to be back in work?
  • Have you seen your GP about the issue?
  • Is this an ongoing or recurring condition?
  • Are there any adjustments that could help with your attendance?

It’s important that you follow the same format for every return to work interview. It’s also important that you don’t put pressure on the employee or make them uncomfortable. Finally, unless you have very solid evidence, you shouldn’t challenge the validity of their absence.

If you handle the interview poorly, you could face a case of constructive dismissal. Or, if you handle two separate interviews differently, you could face discrimination at work claims. Done well, however, they will help you manage and reduce staff sickness absence.

Return to work interviews after sickness isn’t law—There’s no legal requirement to hold one.

Phased return to work after sickness

One way to handle an employee returning to work after being sick is to allow a phased return.

This can take many forms, including:

  • A shorter working day
  • Working fewer days per week
  • A reduced workload

You should discuss the terms of this with the individual to ensure it’s fair for all involved. Under no circumstances should you try to enforce a phased return to work plan without the employee’s consent.

Before returning to work after sick leave, inform the employee about any updates within the company. This way, the individual will be better prepared for the return. Agree the days/hours the employee will work when they return. Agree on any reasonable adjustments you intend to make before they return.

When they do return, schedule a weekly catch up to check-in and address any issues they’re having.

Single day absences

So far, we’ve looked exclusively at long periods of absences—but what about the short-term, or employees returning to work after one sick day?

Holding a return to work interview after a short-term absence is still a good idea. It will show the employee that you take their wellbeing seriously and are tracking each absence.

One of the things to be on the lookout for is whether there are multiple instances of short-term absence. There is a way of measuring whether this will have a detrimental impact on your business—The Bradford Score.

You calculate this score by squaring the number of instances of absence and multiplying it by the total number of days absent.

For example, an employee with three instances of absence, of 3, 5, and 2 days would have a Bradford Score of (3 x 3) x 10 = 90. Any score over 200 indicates serious concerns. If you track employee absence this way, you can discuss it with an employee before it escalates to a disciplinary issue.

An employee returning to work after sickness

If you are an employee returning to work after a period of absence and have an issue with how the return is being handled, speak to your employer. It’s usually best to begin with an informal meeting, followed by a formal grievance if they don’t address your concerns.

Not going through the proper channels and going straight to a tribunal can be detrimental to your case and the issue you’re struggling with.

‘Good’ work and early intervention

The best form of absence management, as with most things, is prevention. Being in ‘good’ work (working in a supportive and safe workplace that permits worker autonomy, control and job satisfaction) is beneficial to health and wellbeing, which reduces absences. It keeps people busy, challenges them and encourages self-betterment, and improves feelings of self-worth.

This means not only should you ensure staff work in a safe environment according to health and safety but also a desirable one from a wellbeing perspective.

Making use of an employee assistance programme, looking after staff wellness and providing good workplace perks can really pay for themselves in the long run.

When people are off work for extended periods, early intervention is extremely important to facilitate the timely return. Importantly, a person may return to work before being fully recovered from illness, particularly when a person has a chronic health condition.

Therefore, good vocational rehabilitation practice (helping people return to work after an absence, and helping people with chronic conditions to stay in work) involving all the relevant parties (line managers, employees, occupational health and all other relevant professionals) is of paramount importance in the long term.

Expert support

For hr and employment law advice from one of our team of experts, speak to Croner today on 0145 585 8132

About the Author

Hannah Williamson is a CIPD Qualified HR professional with over 10 years’ experience in generalist HR management working within the Manufacturing Industry.

Working for a Global manufacturer provided Hannah with the opportunity to work in America and across Europe supporting HR functions and the wider business.

Hannah is Croner’s Advice Manager, taking responsibility for overseeing the provision of advice to all Croner clients, bringing together our Corporate, Simplify and Association service provisions.

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