Supporting a return to work

During a period of absence

  • Remain in touch.  This provides you with the opportunity to be updated on the unwell employee’s recovery, reassure the individual that they are a valued member of staff and, without hassling them, give an expectation of their return to work
  • Return to work should be planned carefully in advance, with guidance from the employee and their healthcare professionals
  • Invite the employee to call in to the workplace for an informal coffee to meet colleagues again before starting back, as it’s often difficult for people to come ‘over the threshold’ again
  • Remember that, even if they have been very unwell, generally return to work is perfectly possible and may make an important contribution to further recovery

Preparing for the return

  • Update the employee on any relevant changes at work that may have occurred during their period of absence
  • Discuss what reasonable adjustments might be made to their role, responsibilities or work practices
  • Follow the guidance supplied by the individual’s GP in the Statement of Fitness for Work (‘fit note’)
  • Ensure that the returning employee feels in control of what colleagues and others know about the reasons for their absence
  • Encourage colleagues to help in the individual’s rehabilitation process
  • Organise a phased return to work
  • Reduce working hours either temporarily or on a permanent basis

Supporting once returned

  • Allow more flexibility in working hours
  • Be proactive in arranging regular meetings to discuss the individual’s wellbeing and the possible impact on their work
  • Ensure additional supervision is available in case it is required. The returning individual may have lost some confidence in their abilities
  • Allow time off for healthcare appointments
  • Discuss with the employee how the early warning signs and symptoms of any possible relapse could be identified in future, and how they feel it might best be dealt with if it was to occur
  • Remain positive with the individual throughout their rehabilitation
  • Recognise that despite being fit to return to work the individual have residual symptoms and it may be some time before they reach previous levels of productivity
  • Provide a private space for employees to rest, cry, or talk with supportive colleagues

Employment law

  • Be aware of an employer’s legal obligations under the Equality Act 2010, if mental ill health has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the ability to carry out day-to-day activities
  • Seek legal advice and possible mediation if considering termination of employment or dismissal
  • Handle these matters with great sensitivity to mitigate further psychological distress to the individual