Focus on: Return to Work Interviews

When an employee is off sick it is important to conduct a good return to work interview. Although these can be a bit of an inconvenience to a busy day, it is very important that they are carried out and today we focus on why we do them and what to include:

  • A return to work interview should always be a conversation (on the phone if necessary) and not simply asking someone to fill in a form. If you need the individual to complete a self-certification document ask them to do that before or after the meeting, don’t fall into the trap of making that the return to work.
  • Ensure you allow time to have a conversation, it is an opportunity to ensure that the person is fit for work and to ensure you meet your obligations under a duty of care.
  • If the individual has been signed off as unfit for work, you should not allow them to return to work early. They should obtain an up to date medical certificate with the new, adjusted return date. If you allow someone to work when they are medically signed off as unfit you could be in breach of health and safety and your insurances may not be valid.
  • You need to establish the reason for the absence in a reasonable level of detail. It is ok to ask for the reason and to dig a little deeper if needed. ‘Sick’ or ‘Personal Reasons’ are not specific enough, you have a duty of care to offer support and you need to understand why the person was off to allow you to do this. You must be confidential about this of course. If they feel uncomfortable disclosing and talking to you, don’t take it personally but see if someone else might be better, for example, HR or someone of the same gender.
  • Ask them if there is likely to be any recurrences or further appointments. This allows you to plan and offer support. Often someone might be going through a series of tests or treatment and by knowing what to expect you can better manage your business as well as supporting your employee.
  • It’s important to ask if they are taking any medication. If they are on medication, ascertain if there are any restrictions associated with it. It may be they operate machinery but the medication can make them drowsy, you, therefore, have a health and safety consideration. You are not a pharmacist, if you are unsure ask them or seek advice from Occupational Health.
  • If they make you aware they have a medical condition ask questions around this so you can understand what it is and how it will impact them at work. If a condition is likely to last for more than 12 months and has a detrimental effect on their ability to do day to day tasks then it may be a disability in law. Cancer, HIV and Multiple Sclerosis (and more recently via case law Fibromyalgia) are automatically named as disabilities under the equality act. In any case, even if it’s not likely to be a disability, think about what you can do to support your employee through adjustments (either temporary ones or permanent).
  •  Always ask if there is anything else you need to be aware of, this gives the person an opportunity to share anything else relevant with you. Sometimes absence can be linked to someone having a tough time at work, you can only do something about this if you are aware of it!

Completing return to work forms creates a clear picture of someones absences and the reasons allowing you to fully support them and to manage this effectively. For our clients we provide the documents, prompt completion and highlight any patterns.


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