Why conduct a return to work interview

June 4, 2019

We have all experienced it at some point during our working lives. You come back to the office, after a spell of sickness absence, and are immediately hauled into the shadowy confines of the HR office, for your return to work interview.

But the question many people ask, is why conduct a return to work interview? Some people say it’s just an unnecessary extra process. And it’s certainly not something all employers do. So is there actually any benefit?

Conducting a return to work interview is not a legal requirement

A return to work interview is a common HR process, which involves checking in on a returning employee, before they get stuck back into their work.

According to employment law specialists Peninsula, performing a back to work interview is not a legal requirement, and there is no legislation that currently deals with this process. This means that it is down to the individual company’s discretion, as to whether or not they conduct one for returning employees.

However, if a return to work interview is a standard part of your business operations, then you should make this intention known to each employee, right from induction. In other words, if you plan on conducting right to work interviews, you should explain how this is going to work. A good place to include this policy, is within your official employee handbook.

But if it’s not a legal requirement, then why conduct a return to work interview?

The reasons employers conduct return to work interviews

Research shows that carrying out a return to work interview is one of the most effective ways to manage attendance and reduce absence, according to Fit For Work, a Government-funded initiative offering free expert advice about work-related health.

There are many benefits to conducting return to work interviews. These can include:

  • Making sure employees really are well enough to go back to work
  • Updating employees on news that has occurred in their absence
  • Identifying whether any workplace adjustments might be required

But it can also help you to make sure your records are correct – what if your absence record is not in-line with their actual absence? And it can give the employee an opportunity to talk to you about any issues they may be having at home.

Using a return to work interview to develop a plan of action

According to Acas, you should be using a return to work interview to get a better understanding of the employee’s problem. For example, if they have a Fit Note, it might say something like “fit for some work” – meaning they may need to avoid certain tasks such as heavy lifting. The return to work interview is a good place to discuss this.

But also, Acas says that it may give you a better understanding from the perspective of tackling the root cause of the absence.

For example, if they are claiming sickness, but are actually avoiding work due to a problem like bullying – or because of sensitive care needs for a loved one at home – then the return to work interview may be your chance to understand this. And if you take the approach of helping them overcome their problems, instead of blaming them for taking a sick day when they weren’t sick, then you’re going to get better results.

If you give them more home working opportunities, for example, to care for a sick loved one, then you may find you manage to save a valuable employee who may otherwise have quit, because of the pressure.

The six steps to a healthy return to work interview

A return to work interview can be a really helpful part of your absence management process. It can add a lot of value to your business, both by helping you reduce absence, and also helping your employees feel more cared for. However, it’s important that you get it right.

Fit For Work advises that your return to work interview should be made up of six key steps:

  1. Welcome back. Make their return to work a positive occasion, and use this as an opportunity to make sure they really are well enough to come back.
  2. Crucial updates. If anything has happened in the employee’s absence, make sure you bring them up to speed.
  3. Identify adjustments. Find out if you need to make any changes to support their return to work.
  4. Create a plan. Agree on a plan that will phase the employee back into work gradually, so that they can work towards getting back to full speed.
  5. Confirm absence record. Make sure their days off have been recorded properly, and ask them to confirm this in case there is a dispute in dates.
  6. Open for questions. Let the employee ask you any questions that might be on their mind.

A return to work interview might be carried out by the employee’s line manager, or even a representative from HR. But you might want to avoid using it as a tool of fear, that makes employees frightened to take time off sick.

After all, our research already shows that 79% of employees are already too terrified to take a sick day…

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