Return to Work: 6 steps for successful onboarding returning employees

return to work

When an employee has been away from work for a prolonged period, they may experience anxiety about the aspect of the return to work. The most common reasons for long-term absence include physical injury, surgery, a medical condition, and mental health issues.

Employers should take steps to ensure a smooth and safe transition back into the workplace:

  1. Seek professional advice

Before an employee returns to work, they must be in good health and, even if they believe they are ready to return to work, it’s always best to get confirmation from a medical professional.

2. Create a plan

Produce a plan that outlines the return-to-work procedure for the employee. This should include the return date, any new working hours, any additional support that will be provided, and how their return will be reviewed/monitored. It may also explain whether there is a phased return, what it looks like and how long it will be in place.

3. Conduct a return to work interview

A return-to-work interview should be conducted as soon as the employee returns to work. It’s important to remember that it should be a ‘welcome back’ to the employee, it’s not meant to be an interrogation. It should cover the following:

  • Ensure that the employee is fit to return to duties
  • Bring the employee up to speed with any changes or news in the workplace
  • Check their absence record is accurate (list the dates and reason for absence and ensure these are correct, explain company policy, ‘trigger points and implications for future absences)
  • Discuss any changes that need to be made (i.e. reasonable adjustments as requested by employee or medical professional)

4. Carry out a Risk Assessment

When someone has been ill and away from work, whether it was short term or long term, you should always make sure they are well enough to be at work and that they are not a risk to others (i.e. a virus that may be infectious). This might mean conducting a risk assessment, particularly if they are returning following a physical injury and may not be able to do certain activities e.g. manual handling.

5. Monitor their progress

Continue to communicate with them and monitor their progress over the course of a few weeks as they settle back into work. They may still be recovering from their illnesses and need flexible working or additional support with certain tasks and it’s your duty to make sure they are receiving anything they need.

6. Make adjustments

Before your employee returns to work, you may need to implement some adjustments to help them ease back into the workplace. Once you have given your employee time to settle in, and after monitoring their progress, you can then make any further necessary changes. This could include putting them back on normal working hours, giving them tasks which they may not have been able to previously undertake or leaving them to work more independently again.

Reintroduction for return to work:

If people have been away from work for a long period, employers may want to hold a formal ‘reintroduction’ before they restart work. How long or short this is may depend on the individual business situation but should normally cover:

  • A welcome back to the company – remind individuals they have been missed. Some may feel their position is vulnerable after a long period of absence
  • A health and safety briefing on any Covid-related changes (such as reducing physical contact with others, new entry/exit points, one-way systems, social distancing measures, hygiene measures, when masks need to be worn, etc.)
  • A reminder of normal health and safety procedures (particularly if these have been amended since the start of the pandemic)
  • Changes to company rules and procedures
  • Any other changes to the business

For certain businesses, training or retraining may also be necessary, especially if there is a technical element to the job which individuals may not have undertaken for some time. Also there could be a statutory requirement for certification or retraining that may have lapsed during the employee’s period of absence (e.g. Forklift truck licence, First Aider certification etc.).

Changes in the Business

During the time staff have been absence there may have been significant changes to the business which could have an impact on those returning.

Returning staff should be made aware of:

  • Changes to personnel – colleagues or managers who have left or joined the company
  • Changes to business strategy (especially if it alters their role) e.g. loss or gain of new customers, changes within key customers/suppliers, changes to company plans (e.g. decision to cancel planned expansion), changes to products or services offered
  • New protocols or procedures now legally required (e.g. Brexit-related documentation)

Dealing with Issues that Arise

Even with the best reintroduction and training plan, support may still be needed for returning staff and many issues will need to be dealt with on an individual basis. Return to work after a long period of sickness or unemployment so employers may wish to adapt any existing policies and procedures that they must deal with such situations, to ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of staff. 

When it comes to managing return to work especially following sick leave, there are laws employers must follow set by the HSE.

These include:

  1. The Equality Act
  2. The Employment Rights Act
  3. Safety at Work Act

Contact us today for guidance on procedures for employees beginning to return to work.

Call: 0800 111 4461

Email: [email protected]

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