So, you have an employee who’s been off on long-term sickness absence. You want to make sure that when they return, they can fit seamlessly back into the business, but you’re not sure how to organise this.

Fear not – we have ten recommendations that will make the process considerably easier for you.

1. Firstly, you should have been keeping in touch with the employee throughout their period of long-term sickness absence. There are various things to consider when planning a Keeping in Touch schedule – see our blog post on this subject

2. On Week 4 of their absence, (or at least Week 2, if they are off with work-related stress) you should arrange a welfare home visit. This has the benefit of showing that you care about them and it makes them feel valued. This is important because long-term absence can have a detrimental effect on the employee’s morale. During the visit, ask about their state of health and how they are progressing. There may be other ways that the business can support them, and the employee’s input will be invaluable in implementing a support package. This is especially important if the employee is off with work-related stress as you will want to get to the bottom of the workplace factors that are causing the stress in order to facilitate their return.

Bear in mind that this visit may not necessarily happen at the employee’s home. It may take place in a convenient location where the employee feels comfortable about meeting an employer representative. If they are not comfortable about meeting face to face, the visit could be conducted over the telephone by way of a welfare call.

Without appearing to pressurise the employee, you could explore the possibility of them returning in some capacity, not necessarily as they worked before. They could need adjustments to be made to:

  • work arrangements

  • work provisions

  • work criteria or practices

  • working environment

While you’re there, it’s a very good idea to provide updates about what’s been happening in the business and particularly in the employee’s department – comings and goings, personal news from their colleagues, new projects that they may be involved in when they return.

3. The employee may have concerns about the future. The visit is a good time to address these, but you should make yourself available to answer them if the employee brings them up at another time. The topics that might be raised include

  • Terms and conditions

  • Working relationships

  • The working environment

  • The position on company Sick Pay/Statutory Sick Pay

  • The way that the long-term sickness absence will be managed

4. Conclude the visit by giving the employee an opportunity to ask any other questions that haven’t already been covered.

5. There may be additional support measures that they need from the business that haven’t been considered. If you can provide these, it’s a good point to start doing so. If you can’t, the employee will need an explanation as to why not.

6. Providing that the home visit has gone well, you should try to arrange a regular series of home visits, perhaps every 1 to 2 weeks until the employee is in a position to return to work.

7. When you’re arranging regular home visits, remember to provide Occupational Health Support to run side by side. Take the opportunity at home visits to discuss the most recent occupational health report. Does the employee agree with the content? Are the recommendations realistic? At what point can these be implemented

8. Before the four-month point of the sickness absence is reached, you should discuss with the employee the employee the possibility of obtaining consent for writing to the employee’s own GP to ask for specialist advice/recommendations to help facilitate to successful return to work plan. Where an employee has been absent for at least four weeks, Occupational Health or the GP should be consulted for a full medical report.

9. Remember that under Section 20 of the Equality Act, you have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for employees – for example, adding a wheelchair ramp if they cannot use the steps, or providing specialist equipment to enable them to do their job.

10. So, the day has come when the employee is able to return to work. What should you do to ensure that their return is a positive experience for everyone concerned?

A Reintroduction Plan should be drawn up and implemented – it can be amended to suit the employee’s individual circumstances.

The plan should include:

  • Implementing the recommendations (phased return etc.)

  • Advise employee what a phased return looks like/how they will be paid

  • Allowing the employee to attend the site before the agreed return to work date – this can help alleviate some of the anxiety at returning after a long period away

  • Arrange a walk around the building/site – the employee can say hello to friends and employees

  • Return to work interview (with the involvement of line management) – an hour after official start time. This will allow the line manager to deal with other issues first thing, enabling them to conduct the interview in a relaxed atmosphere and concentrate on welcoming employee back to work

  • Introduce the employee back to their work station.

  • Review the process during the course of the day with the line manager – is everything proceeding well?