Using a return to work form as part of your return to work procedure is good practice for a number of reasons.
Completing a return to work form can help to:
- Structure the return to work interview
- Document the reason for absence
- Confirm the employee has recovered sufficiently to return to work, or to identify where any adjustments may be needed to support their return
- Help employers to identify triggers and patterns in absences
- Deter malingering and ‘pulling sickies’
While there is no legal requirement in the UK that workers complete such a form, for employers, the information captured can help to provide assistance to the employee on their return and help to identify potential issues relating to absence. For these reasons, many organisations make the return to work form part of their absence management policy and procedure.
Note that any absence management policy must be within the guidelines set out by ACAS and be applied consistently to all employees.
Employers should also remember that the objective of a return to work process is to promote an open and encouraging environment that supports employees as they come back to work from a period of leave, rather than being used as a ‘witch-hunt’ to demonise individuals.
What should the return to work form contain?
A standard return to work form should be developed and used consistently across the organisation to avoid potential issues such as discrimination complaints.
It is advisable for the return to work form to be divided into two sections. The first is to be completed by the employee on their return to work, as self-certification for their absence. The second part should be completed by the employer during the return to work interview, as a record of the discussion and to retain on the employee’s file to help with any potential absence issues.
The specific information to capture will depend on the size and type of your organisation, but in general you would be looking to capture the following information.
Part 1 – for the employee to complete:
|First date of absence:|
|Last date of absence:|
|Return to work date:|
|Number of working days absent:|
|Who did you notify of your absence:|
Reason for absence:
This part of the form should be signed and dated by the employee and returned to the relevant individual, such as the HR manager.
Part 2 – for the employer to complete:
Date of return to work interview:
Name of line manager:
Has the employee provided medical certification?
|Yes / No|
If so, please give details:
Summary of the discussion:
The form should then be signed and dated by both the employee and the employer.
Conducting a return to work interview
After each period of absence, a return to work interview should be arranged for when the employee starts back at work; ideally this would be on the first day and conducted by the employee’s line manager.
The meeting allows employees to update on their health, illness or condition, and to advise if and how it may impact on their ability to do their job, as well as allowing the employer to capture key information about the period of absence.
The duration and degree of formality of the interview will vary depending upon the circumstances of each case, but in all cases, using a return to work form can help to document the discussion to be retained on the employee’s personnel file.
For example, if the member of staff is rarely absent and the absence period was short-term, the meeting is likely to be brief and informal.
However, where faced with persistent absenteeism or a long-term absence, the interview is likely to take longer and should be more structured to ensure a comprehensive discussion. Additional questions in such instances could cover ways to assist employees with ongoing and genuine health issues in the workplace, including any reasonable adjustments that may be needed. This could also include a referral to occupational health (if available) or arranging counselling.
The interview could also be used to update the employee on any changes within the organisation pertinent to their role or duties whilst absent, to identify whether further training is required or perhaps a refresher course.
Where there has been a prolonged period of absence and the employee has notified you of their intention to return to work, it is a good idea to meet up before they return to make sure they are ready. A phased return may be appropriate and you can update them about things that have happened or they may have missed whilst they have been away. If the employee needs any additional support (they may have a disability) then it is a good opportunity to identify and discuss it with them and to make any ‘reasonable adjustments’ necessary before they come back. If your company offers an employee assistance programme (EAP) and it is appropriate to the case at hand, then you should consider implementing it. Finally, agree a plan together. A plan that suits everyone is a plan that is usually kept.
Making reasonable adjustments
If an employee has a disability then an employer has a legal obligation to consider making reasonable adjustments if it will help them return to work. Reasonable adjustments include:
- Adapting or changing the set-up of the employee’s workstation or working equipment
- Making a change to their working hours
- Adapting or changing their duties, role or tasks
By helping employees return to work quicker and preventing any further problems occurring or exacerbating existing conditions, you are actively exercising your duty of care towards your employees.
Phased return to work
This is where an employee who has been on long-term leave comes back to work on reduced hours, lighter duties, or perhaps even different ones. Phased returns are usually used in cases of long-term illness, serious injury, or bereavement. As part of back to work discussions, an employer and employee should agree the duration of the phased return depending upon a number of factors which will be relevant to the individual case. For example, you could agree to review things on a monthly basis, as part of that you should continue to regularly review the employee’s health and wellbeing and make any new adjustments as necessary.
If an employee returns to their regular duties but on reduced hours, then they should be remunerated according to their regular rate of pay for the hours worked. For the time they are not at work they should get sick pay if they are entitled to it.
Where the employee is doing lighter duties, then it is up to both the employer and the employee to agree a rate of pay that reflects the duties undertaken. It is advisable to put any agreement in writing.
If you are concerned that your employee has had a lot of sick days and longer absences then you might need to consider taking further steps.
If an employee is not meeting their employer’s standards, then the matter should be investigated further. This is usually done prior to deciding on whether to take the next step (e.g. dismissal). The standards expected by an employee should be set out in the employees written terms of employment, or perhaps the staff handbook.
An employer may take further action in cases where:
- The employee has taken many sick days
- Is absent without permission – otherwise called ‘unauthorised’ absence
- Is struggling to do their job
In these cases, an employer will need to decide whether a disciplinary procedure applies or a capability process is more appropriate; specifically, whether the issue is one of conduct or capability.
Conduct relates to an employee’s behaviour at work – the general consensus seems to be where an individual has control over their actions, e.g. calling in sick when they are not ill, will amount to a matter of conduct. In this instance, the employer should follow their disciplinary procedure.
Capability centres around the employee’s ability to do the job. In contrast to conduct, if an employee has no control over their actions, e.g. they have become ill such as it renders them unable to perform their job even with the help of adjustments or support, then it is a matter of capability. For a capability issue, an employer should follow a capability procedure (if there is one), or performance management procedure.
It is not always clear whether an employee’s performance is due to capability or conduct. But an employer should always carry out a full and fair procedure before deciding on taking any action such as dismissal.
Managing capability issues
An employer should follow a procedure based on encouraging improvement in order to give the employee the opportunity to progress and avoid further problems cropping up. Providing the employee with support by making changes to their work, arranging occupational therapy or training could help them to do their job better and avoid the prospect of dismissal.
This is an arrangement used by employers to maintain and improve their workforce’s performance. It can involve:
- Employees being set clear and agreed performance targets
- Regular performance meetings
- Assessing employees against their measured target
- Monitoring performance
Whilst setting staff specific objectives and targets can be part of good performance management, great care must be exercised to ensure that any performance measurements set for staff are fair and not discriminatory. Promoting due diligence in this regard will help to eliminate the scope for employment tribunal claims.
Risks to employers of mismanaging the return to work
If a member of staff has any concerns or is dissatisfied about the way in which their return to work has been handled they may decide to raise a grievance. Such a grievance must follow the organisation’s grievance procedures.
Great care must be taken when moving to dismissal for repeated conduct offenders to follow the company’s dismissal procedures, failure to do so may result in an employment tribunal claim. When deciding upon cases of capability, you must be careful not to discriminate unfavourably against an employee as safeguarded by The Equality Act 2010, otherwise you may find your organisation defending a claim for discrimination in the civil courts.
DavidsonMorris’ employment lawyers can help with all aspects of workforce management, including advice and support on return to work arrangements for employees. Working closely with our HR specialists, we offer a holistic advisory and support service for employers encompassing both the legal and people management elements of supporting employees with their return to work. For advice on a specific issue, speak to our experts today
Return to work form FAQs
What is a return to work form?
This is a form you can ask your employee to complete upon their return to work after a period of illness. There is no set template and employers can devise their own return to work form tailored to specific industry sectors or business models. The form should provide the basis of discussion during the back to work interview.
Is it a legal requirement to have a back to work interview?
Although there is broad agreement that back to work interviews are valuable for organisations, there is no legal obligation in the UK for an employer to administer them.
When should a return to work interview be held?
The interviews are generally carried out by a person in a supervisory capacity or line manager and should be held as soon as possible after the employee returns from sick leave, preferably on their first day back at work.
Last updated: 30 September 2020