Why employers should do Return to Work Interviews

Often employers and managers misjudge the value of ‘return to work’ interviews and decide to forego them. 

However, return to work interviews are a proven way of managing attendance and reducing spurious absence cases. They do not need to be long and formal – they can be an informal meeting between the employee and their line manager. In broad terms, it is a chance to welcome the employee back to the workplace, make sure they are fit to work and address any issues.

Here are 6 reasons why these meetings are beneficial.

1  You can probe into the reasons and the nature of the absences.

In the meeting, you can explore whether the absence was due to illness or some other reason.

If it was due to illness, you can see the nature of the illness and whether they are fully recovered or it is part of an ongoing condition. This will determine next steps

2  It can help you find solutions.

You may find some simple solutions to reduce persistent short-term absence and improve their attendance.

For example, you may discuss whether the employee can make some changes to their lifestyle to cut down recurrent and minor absences. If they are dealing with bereavement or some other serious personal concern, you can explore whether their absences could be reduced if they have flexible working arrangements. If there is a workplace concern, such as being harassed by a colleague, you can take steps to address it.

3  Keeping a record of these meetings allows you monitor absences and spot any trends.

If you start spotting that a few employees in the same team are taking absences because they are suffering from a particular ailment (e.g. back pain), you may need to review current practices to see if there is a specific problem and how best to remedy the issue.

4  It can help an employer identify if reasonable adjustments are necessary.

If there are signs that they are suffering from a long-term health issue which could be considered a disability, you need to consider what steps can be taken to assist the employee.

There is an obligation on employers to consider making reasonable adjustments to a worker’s workplace if they are disabled as defined under the Equality Act. This could mean making physical changes, changing their equipment or doing something in a different way.

5  It can deter employees who are genuinely not sick from “pulling sickies”.

If an employee is taking frequent short-term absences and you suspect they are malingering, return to work interviews may act as a deterrent as they realise that you are taking absences seriously.

Download our Definitive Guide to Managing Sickness Absence to learn how the experts deal with the challenge of managing absence.

Holding a meeting after every occasion of absence will show an employee that their absences have been monitored, their manager is spotting specific trends and that disciplinary action may be taken against them.

6  If an employee is taking frequent short-term absences, it is a chance to make clear what will occur if their attendance does not improve.

In your sickness absence policy, you should set trigger points for unacceptable levels of short and frequent sickness absence.

There are two main ways to do this:

  • set a threshold of a certain number of days’ absence in a given period, for example, X days in X months.
  • trigger the procedure where an employee’s absence reaches a set ‘Bradford factor’ score. This means that more weight is given to the number of absences instead of the duration, so a high number of short absences will score much higher than fewer long absences.

You will also need to determine what will happen once those triggers have been met. Will they receive an informal caution at first? Will repeated absences lead to formal warnings? Will they face dismissal for serious and unacceptable absences?

If you do not have a sickness absence policy in place, our Employment Law Advisers can draft one for you to ensure you comply with your legal obligations and meet best practice. They can also help if you have any questions about how to hold return to work interviews and how best to deal with short and long-term absences. Contact us for more information about the support we can offer your organisation.