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Supporting Staff member back to work

This section looks at the range of options available to managers when supporting a staff member back to work.

Making reasonable adjustments

Reasonable adjustments can be made to help an employee to remain at work instead of taking sickness absence, or return to work earlier after a period of absence. You will need to work with human resources (HR), occupational health (OH) and the employee to discuss possible and practical adjustments, which could include allowing time for medical appointments, reduced duties, extra training or modified equipment. Where applicable, you could also consider phased return, part time working and extra support for the first few weeks your employee is back at

Health and safety

Health and safety covers many aspects such as policies, accident reporting, hazards, manual handling, infection control and many more. You should make yourself aware of your local health and safety policy, and know where you need to go to gain further support

Fit note, sick note

The 'Fit Note' is a written note issued by GPs or consultants working in conjunction with occupational health (OH), detailing how an employer can help the employee return to work after a period of absence. It can also be used as a statement of not being fit for work. The fit note may also state that your employee may be fit for work, in which case the GP believes that returning to work will aid in their recovery and should also provide details on how to get the employee back into work

Infection prevention

Employees are responsible for managing their own health and deciding whether they are fit enough to be at work or not. However, there are times as a manager when you may need to reinforce to staff whether someone can be at work in line with infection prevention, so that this does not pose any risk to clients, colleagues or the public.

Early Intervention

Rapid access to treatment is a system which secures rehabilitation and occupational health treatment for Council employees with a view to facilitating a return to work.  These services include Physiotherapy, Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) and accessing Occupational Health (OH)

Using OH service

OH services are all about making sure your staff are fit for the work they do, and how their work affects their health. OH can provide support and guidance on how to support your staff and on making reasonable adjustments to allow the employee to remain in the workplace or return to work.

Return to work meeting and plan

Return to work meetings are proven to be the best measure for reducing short term absences and recording these absences correctly.  They let the employee know that they were missed, their work is appreciated and that you want to know how they are and give you the opportunity to identify and discuss any potential problems with your employee and arrange for extra support where it is needed. A meeting should be carried out after every case of absence, even just one day - as this could mask a health concern which might go unnoticed

Medical Redeployment

Sometimes it is not possible for staff to do their previous roles after a sickness absence. Redeployment is a widely used mechanism allowing for the retention of experienced staff. It can be short term while recovering from injury, or permanent where required.

Risk assessments

Risk assessment help to identify and prioritise risks in the workplace and put measures in place to reduce future risks. It is the operational manager's duty to ensure risk assessments are carried out and reviewed regularly, with support where needed from a health and safety advisor

Reasonable Adjustments

Sometimes reasonable adjustments can be made to enable your employee to remain at work, or, if they are off sick, to return to work. Where this is the case, it is important that you and the employee work together to ensure that any adjustments are practicable. Where needed this may also involve HR, OH or other support available, for example Access to Work. It is important that you discuss any adjustments fully with the employee to see if the adjustment is suitable and would enable them to do the duties they have agreed to without exacerbating their health complaint. The sooner you have this conversation, the more time you will have to arrange for the support, equipment or adjustments needed. Making adjustments could also mean your staff member could return to work sooner.

Reasonable adjustments are an area that often causes concern for line managers due to the requirements of the Equality Act. However, if you approach all employees in the same way and discuss reasonable adjustments openly, seeking advice where necessary from OH or other experts then this should help you handle the process with confidence. You are not expected to know what adjustments should be made but you must consider them and work with the employee, HR and Occupational Health to identify and apply them when required.

It is important that advice is sought from OH and HR when determining whether any reasonable adjustments or modifications can be made to the existing workplace and/or duties. pdf icon Management Guidance on making reasonable adjustments [254kb]

Health & Safety

Health and safety is all about minimising illness or injury in the workplace. It covers many related aspects such as policies, accident reporting, potential hazards and risk assessments, manual handling, violence towards staff from customers, infection control, needle stick injuries and many more. It is the responsibility of all staff to safeguard the health and safety of the workplace and the team.

As a manager, you have a duty of care to your team to ensure that policies and procedures are followed. You should make yourself aware of health and safety policy, You should be aware of where you need to go to gain further support, such as Health & Safety team, HR or OH.

As part of the role of manager, you will need to carry out workplace risk assessments for your work areas and setup preventative measures for any hazards identified. Senior Management in conjunction with Health and Safety can help with any training needed for yourself and your staff to make sure your work area is as safe as possible.

Fit Note/Sick Note

The 'Fit Note' is usually a written note issued by GPs or consultants working in conjunction with OH, detailing how an employer can help the employee return to work after a period of absence. It can also be used a statement of not being fit for work. At the GPs discretion it may also contain other pertinent information on the condition of your employee which may affect their ability to work, with suggestions of ways to support them.

There can be confusion around fit notes where managers automatically believe it means an employee is well enough to come back to work - this is not always the case as the fit note can actually be used for one of two things: to state that an employee might be fit to return to work after a period of ill health (may be fit for work), or to sign the person off work sick completely for a defined period of time (not fit for work).

You should receive a copy of the fit note within 2 days of your employee has received it, so that you know what the reason for their absence is, if there is anything you can do to support them to return to work. If your employee does not provide a copy that details they are unfit for work, then they would be classed as being on unauthorised absence and you would need to speak to HR for further support. 

Where the fit note marks your employee as 'may be fit for work', it means the GP believes that returning to work will aid in their recovery and should also provide details on how to get the employee back into work. It's important that you work with our OH service to ensure everything is covered. Often the fit note may detail alternative duties for the employee until they feel fit to undertake all their usual duties and this should be agreed by all parties.

GP's are often not familiar with their patients work or work environment so it may be possible for OH to suggest alternatives to support staff to return to work. Where you feel this may be an option you should seek further advice through a referral to OH who would be responsible for contacting your employee to get the required consent and liaising with the GP if they deem it appropriate.

Infection Control

Employees are responsible for managing their own health and deciding whether they are fit enough to be at work or not. However, there are times as a manager when you may need to reinforce to staff whether someone can be at work in line with infection control, so that this does not pose any risk to clients, colleagues or the public. 

As a manager, when an employee is off work you should always ask what the nature of the absence is. This allows you to provide support and also to take any steps necessary to ensure prevent or contain the spread of infection. Where staff have been off with an infectious illness you should encourage them to always contact you before returning to work. Ultimately if the employee poses any health risk to other people, they should not attend work until they are well. The period of leave where the employee is fit to come back to work but due to the need to observe a "quarantine period" cannot physically return is not classified as sick but should be recorded as quarantine.

Early Intervention

Rapid access to treatment is a system which secures rehabilitation and occupational health treatment for Council employees with a view to facilitating a return to work which is as fast as is practical and reasonable.

Early intervention such as occupational health, physiotherapy or counselling is important for preventing acute conditions becoming chronic and securing successful rehabilitation. Evidence also suggests that earlier interventions in a period of sickness absence are more effective than waiting for an indicator to trigger action.

Phased Return to Work

Phased return to work allows the member of staff to gradually return back to the workplace over an agreed period of time, and research suggests that it also aids recovery. Not everyone who has been off on long-term absence will need or require a phased return. Normally the employee will be able to return to work with zero or minimal reasonable adjustments. However a phased return may be required particularly where the employee needs to build up their stamina.

Where it is recommended by the council's Occupational Health Adviser or GP, consideration will be given to allowing an employee to return to work on a part-time basis or alternatively on a full time basis but temporarily undertaking alternative duties. A phased return will normally be implemented for no more than 4 weeks during which the employee will incur no loss of contractual earnings. Exceptionally, the Occupational Health Adviser/GP may recommend a phased return over a longer period, however in any event this should not exceed a maximum of 6 weeks

Therapeutic return

This allows members of staff to start to make links with the workplace prior to a full return to work. This may include steps like, coming into the workplace for a meeting with you and/or colleagues to have an informal catch up, attending team meetings. Where a member of staff has been off for a longer period of time this can help the employee to settle back into work more quickly, and remove some of the fear around return.  

Occupational Health

Occupational Health (OH) services are all about making sure your staff are fit for the work they do, and how their work affects their health.

As a line manager you should focus on the impact the employee's health is having on their ability to undertake their role, as opposed to the detailed nature of the health complaint and any treatment they may be receiving. OH can provide you with further support and guidance around how to support your staff and any reasonable adjustments which could be made to allow the employee to remain in the workplace or return to work.

Make sure you discuss with employees the reasons for referring them to OH, so that they understand and are fully aware of the reasons for referral. The employee should also be given a copy of the referral letter.

It is helpful to familiarise yourself with the referral process for OH so that you know what to do, how to make the referral and likely timeframe's so that you can communicate this to your employee too. You will receive an OH report from them following the appointment detailing their advice and/or recommendations. If you feel you have any questions it is often easier to call the person who saw the employee to discuss it further. It is useful to remember that OH may not know the demands of your service, so the more you can put into the referral the easier it will be for them to understand how the role might impact on the individual and their particular health circumstances.

Return to Work

Line managers must conduct and record that a return to work meeting with employees has taken place following each occasion of sickness absence. Return to work meetings should be held on the employee's first day back at work but in any event no later than 3 working days following their return to work. Repeated failure of a manager not to carry out a return to work will be deemed to be a breach of the council's Supporting Attendance at Work Policy & Procedure and will result in disciplinary action being taken.

When carried out effectively, return to work meetings are proven to be the single most effective measure for reducing short-term sickness absence. They indicate to employees that their absence was noticed and that they were missed, and that the employer wants to take the time to find out how they are. They also serve to indicate that managing sickness absence is a priority for the employer. 

The return to work meeting is an opportunity to confirm the reason for an employee's absence and gives you the opportunity to discuss with your employee how they are, and if there is anything you can do to support them in the workplace. Reassure the employee that they were missed, and that you and the team are glad they have returned.

To be effective, return to work meetings should be carried out in a fair and consistent way, and approached in a supportive way. They will usually be informal and brief.   Guidance on conducting a return to work meeting together with the standard form for recording such meetings are contained in the  

Risk Assessment

The purpose of a risk assessment is to identify and prioritise risks arising from workplace duties and to put practical measures in place to eliminate or reduce identified risks. Undertaking a risk assessment is the employer's responsibility and it is important for you to regularly review and update risk assessments in collaboration with your team and their representatives.Risk Assessment Template

Line managers are usually responsible for ensuring risk assessments are carried out in their own work areas. Competent advice and assistance should be sought where necessary (for example by a health and safety advisor) and input from employees can provide a valuable perspective in addressing any new or job specific issues that may arise.

Five steps on how to undertake a risk assessment are:

  • identify the hazards
  • decide who might be harmed and how
  • evaluate the risks and decide on precaution
  • record your findings and implement them
  • review your assessment and update if necessary.