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Managing an employee on their return to work

Guidance for managers on what to do when an employee returns to work after a period of ill health.

Return to work discussions

Before an employee returns to work following a period of ill health, you will need to carry out a return-to-work meeting. This conversation can be recorded on the return to work form. Return-to-work meetings are informal. They are an opportunity to discuss a recent sickness absence to ensure the employee is welcomed back to work, is fit to work, is aware of any developments that they may have missed when absent. You should also use the meeting to check they have provided all of the relevant supporting medical information required and updated their iTrent record via Employee Self Service. This meeting will give you the opportunity to understand any underlying issues at an early stage, so that adjustments can be considered and implemented in good time.

A return-to-work discussion should take place after every absence, regardless of the length of the absence. However, the nature of the meeting may differ depending on the circumstances such as:

  • where the employee is returning from a short-term absence and they have not identified an underlying health condition, a short conversation will normally be appropriate

  • if an employee is currently under sickness absence monitoring or you need to raise a concern with the employee, a more structured discussion may take place and a return-to-work form completed

  • where an employee is returning from a longer period of absence, or has an ongoing health condition, it is possible that they will need further support or workplace adjustments. In these circumstances, it would be appropriate to hold a more structured review meeting and complete an agreement for adjustments

Some key points to consider when you are holding a return-to-work meeting are:

  • return to work meetings should be conducted in private, with sensitivity, and any issues should be explored in a caring and concerned manner

  • the employee should be provided with the opportunity to explain the reason behind their absence without prejudgement, and you should encourage open discussion

  • you should refrain from making assumptions about the absence and do not attempt to give any advice you are not qualified to provide

  • you should consider how the employee’s absence level compares with other absence levels in the team, and ensure that all staff are treated in a fair and consistent manner

Reasonable adjustments

Most individuals are able to work without the need for any adjustments to be made to their working arrangements. However, some individuals may need the extra support.

Such circumstances may be required where:

  • they have been absent with a condition that impacts on their capability to undertake particular work activities

  • they have been suffering from serious, long-term physical or mental ill health

  • they have had surgery or an extended stay in hospital

  • they have a new disability or a new restriction to their physical capability. Advise the employee that they can apply for Disability Leave.

  • they will continue to need treatment for their illness following their return to work

If an employee has indicated that they require adjustments in returning to work, they should inform you promptly so consideration can be given to any assistance they may require.

Any recommended adjustments can be reviewed either as part of a return-to-work meeting or using the adjustments agreement form as part of the Long-Term Sickness Absence procedure.

As each individuals’ circumstances will be unique, it is important that you engage the employee in any discussions about proposed adjustments before they are finalised. This will ensure that their needs, as well as the needs of the departmental operation are met. When organising an employee’s return to work, it's essential that everyone involved in the process has a shared understanding of what is required, where the responsibility lies, and the timeframe for implementation.

Phased return to work

A doctor may recommend that an employee has a phased return to work. Where this is the case, the employee is required to provide a fit note confirming this. This may suggest that an employee temporarily has amended duties or hours. The University will normally support employees with a phased return to work of up to four weeks.

If an employee makes you aware that reduced hours or adjusted duties are required for longer than four weeks, or the adjustments requested cannot be reasonably be implemented, then further support should be sought from Human Resources.

Occupational Health

When an individual has a health condition that is likely to impact them on an ongoing basis at work, it may be appropriate to refer them to Occupational Health, who can provide advice on a range of areas including (but not limited to):

  • the potential impact a medical condition may have on an employee’s ability to attend work or carry out their duties

  • timescales for a return to work

  • if workplace adjustments may be deemed appropriate

Referrals to Occupational Health should be discussed with your HR Advisor or Business Partner who will be able to advise you on whether it is appropriate.

When an employee is unable to return to work

In the very unfortunate event that an employee is not well enough to return to their current role, or their attendance is not sustainable, and any possible reasonable adjustments have been considered, the University will, wherever possible, make every reasonable effort to support them in being redeployed to a vacancy that exists elsewhere at the University. They are expected to play an active role in identifying any suitable redeployment opportunity and would have priority status under the redeployment process.

If an employee is redeployed to another position, a trial period of four weeks will normally be applied to assess whether the redeployment position offered is appropriate and the employee can perform the duties required. If the new post being trialled is at a lower grade, the employee will remain on their higher salary for the period of the trial and then move onto the lower salary of the redeployment post from the end of the four week trial period.

They may be eligible for ill health retirement. The process will vary depending upon which pension scheme you are in and any application for ill health retirement would need to be supported by Occupational Health.

There will be some occasions that, despite the efforts of all parties involved, it is not possible for an individual to continue working in their current role and neither redeployment nor ill-health retirement are possible. These situations are managed in line with the sickness absence procedure.

Only once all alternative options have been considered and either determined unsuccessful, unreasonable, unavailable, ineffective or inappropriate, should you consider, with support from Human Resources, whether to refer the situation to a formal meeting to determine whether the individual’s employment should end due to incapability due to ill-health.

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