Phased return to work after sickness

After a long period of illness or injury, medical advice may recommend a phased return to work.

The aim of a phased return to work is to bridge sickness absence and normal working. It involves gradually building up to an employee’s usual hours and/or job duties over an agreed period of time. 

Remember that if the employee is disabled, employers have the duty to make reasonable adjustments and a phased return could be a reasonable adjustment.

What are the advantages of a phased return to work for employers? 

There are a number of benefits for employers:

  • It reduces the chance that the employee will not return to the workplace after a long period away from the workplace.
  • It can save employers money as there is no need to spend valuable time and resource recruiting and training another employee to replace the employee.
  • It can boost morale if it’s seen that employers support their staff when receiving from illness or injury.
  • I can reduce the risk of the employee doing too much on their return which could result in them being absent from work again.

Free Download: Definitive Guide to Managing Sickness

How to get a phased return to work right 

  1. Keep in contact with the employee while they are on sick leave

You should ensure that that you are regularly reviewing the employee’s health and wellbeing and their ability to return to work. Keeping them informed of any important workplace changes will help them feel motivated and engaged, but you must strike a good balance. The employee must not feel cut off by their manager, but they also should not feel harassed or distressed by frequent calls or emails.   

  1. Work out a return to work plan

If the employee’s job role lends itself to a phased return to work, you need to agree what their duties and hours will be and how this will increase over time, taking into account the individual circumstances of the case and the views of their GP or Occupational Health. The plan you agree on should benefit the employees’ recovery and suit the needs of your organisation.

Keep a record of the plan and carry out review meetings to explore any issues or concerns and whether the adjustments are effective. Recovery can be slower or faster than expected, so you may need to seek further Occupational Health advice to adapt the plan to reflect the pace of their recovery. For example, if you see the employee is making progress, you may agree to extend the period. If you have noticed that they are struggling at work, the employee may need to go back on sick leave.

  1. Think about pay

What are you going to pay the employee while they are undertaking a phased return to work? Are you going to pay them their full-time hours if only working three days a week for example? This all need to be agreed and clearly communicated to the employee. You should also check their contract of employment.

  1. Is dismissal the only option?

The impact of long-term absences can be highly substantial and you may be considering dismissal. In these types of circumstances, an Employment Tribunal will look to see that you consulted with the employee and explored how to support them back into work; made the necessary reasonable adjustments; and sought medical evidence that confirmed that the employee is not likely to return at all or for a prolonged period. It is strongly recommended that you seek legal advice before deciding to dismiss the employee. 

Free Download: Definitive Guide to Managing Sickness

Director of Legal Services

James Tamm

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We combine the service quality of a law firm with the certainty of fixed-fee services to provide expert, solutions-focused Employment LawHR and Health & Safety support tailored to employers.

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