Close this search box.

Crucial Role of Return to Work Interviews After Sickness Absence

Although I hate using the term, ‘interview’ most people understand the concept of a return-to-work interview as a forum to discuss an absence. Although I think this is an area within the workplace that desperately needs an image overhaul; whether dealing with short-term absences or navigating the complexities of long-term leave, return to work interviews play a pivotal role in fostering a supportive environment while ensuring business continuity.

In this article I will explore why these interviews are indispensable and how they accommodate diverse employee needs, including those with disabilities.

Short-term absences are inevitable in any workplace. Illness, family emergencies, vet emergencies, or personal issues can all lead to unplanned time off. Return to work interviews following such absences serve several critical purposes. They often provide an opportunity for managers to discuss the reasons for the absence and reiterate company policies regarding attendance and leave.

A common problem reported is when an employee does not follow the correct reporting procedure, for example, they send a WhatsApp message rather than telephone their line manager. These interviews also enable managers to identify any support mechanisms or adjustments necessary for the employee to perform optimally upon their return.

By showing genuine concern and support, return to work interviews contribute to building trust between the employee and the employer, fostering a positive work culture.

Long-term absences, whether due to illness, injury, or disability, pose unique challenges for both employees and employers. Return to work interviews become even more critical in these cases.

Not only do they provide a platform to discuss expectations regarding the return timeline, but also any gradual return-to-work plans, and potential adjustments to duties or hours.

For employees with disabilities, return to work interviews are vital for discussing necessary adjustments to ensure a smooth transition back into the workforce. This may involve modifications to the physical workspace, adjustments to job duties, or providing assistive technologies.

Return to work interviews offer an opportunity to assess the employee’s well-being and mental health status, connecting them with appropriate resources if needed, such as Employee Assistance Programs or occupational health services.

Each employee’s situation is unique, requiring a tailored approach to reasonable adjustments that may need to be made. Interviews facilitate open communication to understand the employee’s needs fully. By proactively addressing adjustments  employers demonstrate their commitment to creating an inclusive and supportive work environment for employees of all abilities.

However, certain pitfalls can hinder the effectiveness of these interviews and potentially strain the employer-employee relationship. Here are some common pitfalls to avoid:

  1. Lack of Sensitivity

One of the most significant pitfalls in return-to-work interviews is a lack of sensitivity towards the employee’s situation. Avoid making assumptions or passing judgment on the reasons for their absence. Instead, approach the interview with empathy and a willingness to listen to the employee’s concerns.

  1. Focusing Solely on Attendance

While attendance is undoubtedly an important aspect of the discussion, focusing solely on the employee’s absence can be counterproductive. Avoid interrogating the employee or making them feel guilty about their time off. Instead, inquire about their well-being and any support they may need to facilitate a smooth return to work.

  1. Ignoring Adjustment Needs

Employees returning to work after a period of sickness or disability may require adjustments to perform their duties effectively. Failing to address these needs during the return to work interview can lead to further issues down the line. Make sure to discuss and collaborate with the employee to find suitable solutions.

  1. Lack of Follow-up

Return to work interviews should not be a one-time conversation. Failing to follow up with employees after their return to work can signal a lack of support and concern from the employer. Schedule regular check-ins to monitor the employee’s progress, address any ongoing challenges, and ensure they feel supported in their transition back to work.

  1. Overlooking Mental Health

Physical illnesses are not the only reason employees may require time off work. Mental health issues, such as stress, anxiety, or depression, can also impact an employee’s ability to work effectively. Avoid overlooking mental health concerns during return to work interviews and provide resources and support as needed.

  1. Lack of Training for Managers

Conducting effective return to work interviews requires skill and training. Without proper guidance, managers may inadvertently mishandle these conversations, leading to misunderstandings and resentment. Invest in training for managers to ensure they have the necessary tools and knowledge to conduct return to work interviews sensitively and effectively.

Return to work interviews provide a mechanism for monitoring employee absence levels effectively. By conducting these interviews, managers can gather information on the reasons for absences, identify any patterns or trends, and address any underlying issues contributing to frequent absences. This proactive approach enables organisations to track and manage absence levels more efficiently, allowing for timely intervention and support where necessary. Overall, return to work interviews play a crucial role in helping monitor and manage employee absence levels effectively.

Return to Work interviews are not merely administrative formalities but powerful tools for promoting employee well-being, fostering inclusivity, and ensuring organisational resilience. Employers should be conducting these interviews with consistency, empathy, understanding, and a commitment to support, by doing so you can create workplaces where every employee feels valued and empowered to thrive.

Having documented discussions will be a vital tool if the need arises to progress to a formal capability process when dealing with absence or the prospect of a non-returning employee. The documentation will provide solid evidence of the attempts to support employees and the measures taken to try to accommodate a return. Quite often if an employee is dismissed as a result of absence the evidence from return to work discussions will be a major evidential platform for employers to defend allegations of unfair treatment and so the importance of having documented discussions cannot be overstated.

Photo by Van Tay Media on Unsplash

Share This Article
Read More Articles
Any questions? Contact us

Appointments are available by telephone or via video call, so no matter where you are in England or Wales we can assist you.

The information contained in this blog post is provided for guidance and is a snapshot of the law at the time it is written. It is provided for your information only and should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice that it specific to your particular circumstances.

The guidance should not be relied upon in any decision making process. It is strongly recommended that you seek advice before taking action.

Solicitor in Eastleigh | Solicitor in Salisbury | Solicitor Isle of Wight