Employee returning to work after sickness…?

Employee returning to work after sickness…?

 An employee returning to work after sickness absence should be a positive event. For the employee, there may well be excitement about returning to work and having that interaction with colleagues again. The organisation is likely to feel similar as the person will have been missed. It is natural to feel excited but have some concerns too. This blog will provide tips on what an employer can do when an employee is returning to work after sickness, and also provides some guidance on what employees should do if they are scared to go back to work after sickness.

Employee returning to work after sickness – tips for employers

1. Don’t wait until the employee returns before exploring ways in which the organisation can help


Depending on the nature and extent of the absence, it is unlikely to be feasible to expect the employee to return to work after sickness as if nothing has happened. In fact, that approach may well cause a greater period of absence than would otherwise be the case.

In contrast, a proactive approach would mean that positive steps have been taken prior to the return to work. An obvious example here would be seeking medical advice such as occupational health. For more information on long term sick and keeping in touch view our blog, or if you would like to find out more about the role of occupational health see our blog Can occupational health overrule GP?  Having such information available means that plans can be made which support rather than hinder a return to work.  

Plotkin & Chandler offers HR consultancy and training on a range of topics including advising on and implementing measures which ensure employees are supported properly and the organisation can function effectively.

2. Ensure that any arrangements that were discussed are not forgotten


It is all too easy for things to get in the way of plans. Perhaps a manager is too busy to have a back to work meeting, maybe the risk assessment that was discussed did not materialise or there had been medical advice, such as a recommendation that the employee undertakes light or amended duties, but this was not followed, and it was simply a matter of ‘business as usual’ when the employee returns. There are many reasons why this could happen. For example, the organisation may be under strain and need ‘all hands to the pumps’ or because a line manager may believe that as the employee ‘seems fine’ there is no need for the arrangements after all.

However hectic things may be it is important to stick to the plan that was agreed. This means that everyone concerned is aware of what should be done when.

3. Keep a positive dialogue going


It is common for there to be discussions before, or at the time of, the employee’s return and to have very little communication after that.  This would be a mistake. After a period of sickness absence, the employee may well respond to being back at work differently than expected. Perhaps, certain tasks are harder to complete than expected, perhaps adjusting to being back at work is harder than was expected. Whatever the situation regular communication is important: such an approach enables potential issues to be identified and resolved swiftly and therefore keep everything on track. We provide HR consultancy and training in this area to enable managers to develop the skills to navigate what should be done when an employee returns to work after sickness.


4. Be aware of the need to make reasonable adjustments if the employee is disabled


Employers are under a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people. This raises more questions than it answers. For example, what criteria needs to be met in order for a person to a have a disability? What are examples of reasonable adjustments, and what makes an adjustment reasonable? The topic of reasonable adjustments is deserving of its own blog but suffice it to say, it is a topic that managers should be aware of, and which may well be relevant when supporting an employee who is returning to work after an absence.

We offer HR consultancy and training on reasonable adjustments. Our training is tailored to the needs of our clients and will answer the questions above as well as many others.


5. Do not make assumptions

 It is easy for managers to fall into the trap of making assumptions about how the employee returning to work will feel or the speed at which progress should be made, based on their own views or the experiences of others. This approach is unhelpful as we all respond to things in different ways: what one may find effortless another may find challenging.

Scared to return to work after sickness? – tips for employees

1. Try to pinpoint why you are scared


It is natural to feel concerned about returning to work after sickness. Perhaps those concerns have become worse, and you are now scared?  When we are scared just thinking about something is often enough to trigger a reaction. Try to figure out what it is that you are scared of. For example, is it the idea of returning to a workplace and the travelling to get there? Maybe it is a concern that you will not be able to work at the same speed as you did before your absence. Is it a concern that things may have changed in your absence and you will not know what is going on? Each of these concerns requires a different solution to overcome it.


2. Discuss concerns with your employer


This may seem obvious, but it is often not done perhaps because employees ‘don’t want to make a fuss’. This would be an error as there is likely to be a substantial amount that an employer can do to address such concerns. For example, by swiftly updating you on anything that has happened during your absence, or devising a plan with you to assist your return to work, such as by having a phased return etc. Expressing those concerns at an early stage will, at the very least, alert your employer to those concerns which in turn is likely to prompt action to address the concerns raised.

3. Always be aware of what the next steps are


Returning to work after a long period can feel overwhelming: so much to take in and adjust to. In such circumstances, it would be easy to lose track of next steps, such as the stages of a phased return. If you are on light duties for a period after your return, how long does that last for? Every situation is different but what is important is that everyone involved is aware of next steps and what they can do to help things go smoothly.

4. If the situation changes say so


It is common for those returning to work to think (or hope) that everything will be fine and then to find that things are more challenging than had been anticipated. Whatever, the issue is let your manager know so that plans can be changed to reflect the situation as it is now.


5. Remember that there are other people you can speak to as well as your line manager


You should try to speak to your manager in the first instance because it may well be possible to resolve the issue without the involvement of others. However, don’t forget there are other sources of support too, such as HR and occupational health. They have expertise in particular areas and may well be able to support both you and your manager to achieve a positive outcome.

Plotkin & Chandler is a consultancy firm which works exclusively in the areas of HR and employment law and advises employers and employees.

If you are an employer, we offer HR training and consultancy on a all topics related to an employee returning to work after sickness.

If you are an employee and you are struggling at work after a returning from sickness, and want to know the options available to you, we can help.

To discuss your situation and the ways in which we can help, call us on 020 3923 8616 or email us at info@plotkinandchandler.com  






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