How to Manage a Phased Return to Work
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How to Manage a Phased Return to Work

It is a fact of life that employees will take time off work. This could be for a short-term or long-term, and for a variety of reasons. Reasons like illness, holidays, or family leave. When someone is ready to return to work after an absence, you should have a procedure to follow. This should be included in the company handbook. However, there is a special case – This is the “phased return to work”. It is something we have dealt with many times before but it can be difficult – So we’ve prepared a quick guide on how to manage a phased return to work.


After long-term absence

If there’s been a long absence or the employee has an ongoing health condition, it’s a good idea for the employer and employee to meet and:

  • make sure the employee is ready to return to work
  • talk about any work updates that happened while they were off
  • look at any recommendations from the employee’s doctor
  • see if they need any support
  • if the employee has a disability, see if changes are needed in the workplace to remove or reduce any disadvantages (‘reasonable adjustments’)
  • consider a referral to a medical service such as occupational health

The employer and the employee should agree on a plan that suits both whether this be making reasonable adjustments, lighter duties or a phased return to work.


Reasonable adjustments

Reasonable Adjustments is a term to describe the efforts an employer must make to accommodate an employee. For example, if one of your employees has a disability, there are a number of things you can change to accommodate that, and there are a number of adjustments you must make legally to accommodate them. The Reasonable adjustments could include making changes to the employee’s:

  • workstation or working equipment
  • working hours
  • duties or tasks

This can help get people back to work quicker and even prevent any further problems.


Phased return to work

A phased return to work is where an employee who has absent from work and agrees with their employer a way to stagger how they come back into the workplace, rather than resuming duties on a full-time basis straight away. An employee may need to come back to work on:

  • Reduced hours
  • Lighter duties
  • Different duties

This could be beneficial for an employee coming back to work after a long-term illness, serious injury, bereavement or family leave such as Maternity.

It should be agreed between both parties how long this will be in place for and the expectations from both the employee and employer.  The employer should continue to regularly review the employee’s health and wellbeing in the workplace and make new adjustments if necessary.


What are the benefits for employers?

A phased return to work not only benefits employees, but it can have benefits for employers. These include:

  • A better chance of retaining a valuable employee who has been on long term sick leave if you accommodate their needs at the outset.
  • Creating a positive supportive atmosphere in the workplace.
  • Potential to save money on covering for the absent employee if they are back at least part of the time.
  • Potential to save money on recruitment and training costs if the absent employee leaves.


Who can request a phased return to work?

An employee can request a phased return themselves, or as a result of a recommendation by their GP, or the employer’s occupational health practitioner.


Pay during a phased return to work

If the employee returns to their normal duties but on reduced hours, they should get their normal rate of pay for those hours they work.

For the time they’re not able to work, they should get sick pay if they’re entitled to it.

If the employee is doing lighter duties, it’s up to the employer and employee to agree on a rate of pay. It’s a good idea to make sure this agreement is put in writing.


Does the employer have to agree to a phased return to work?

If an employee has a disability, then employers must make reasonable adjustments. You must help the employee return to work and help them to do their job.

If a disabled employee made a request for a phased return and this was refused, the employer would likely be in breach of the Equality Act 2010.

In other cases, the employer does not have to agree. However, if they later dismiss the employee on capability or ill-health grounds, and the employee makes a claim of unfair dismissal, failure to agree to a phased return, i.e. to give the employee a chance, may be taken into account.


What if an employee is not happy with the outcome?

For the best course of action, the employer should take advice from the employee, the employee’s doctor and their occupational health adviser if they have one.

Employees should inform you if they believe their return to work has been handled poorly. Receiving feedback is an important part of the process. This will allow you to make adjustments and improve.


How can occupational health services help?

Occupational health services provide objective and independent advice on what would be an appropriate return to work programme. The assessment by occupational health considers the health incident. It also considers the recovery rate of a worker. OH can make suggestions based on the findings of the assessment.


Wurkplace services

Here at Wurkplace, we offer our clients an Occupational Health service as well as advice and guidance on how best to manage a phased return to work. As a HR and H&S company we can cover all aspects of the concerns and implementation. We also offer management development training with one of our highly experienced and Level 7 CIPD qualified HRC which means your managers will be fully equipped with all the knowledge and know how of how best to manage employees on a phased return to work ensuring a smooth and efficient process.

If you want to get in touch, please do so. You can use our online form, or just speak to one of our experts directly by calling: 0330 400 5490.


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