Two out of three employers believe that return-to-work interviews have cut employee absence rates, according to a study by Personnel Today’s sister publication, Employment Review 
What is a return to work interview and why is it important?
A return to work interview is generally a short, informal meeting held with an employee and their line manager on the employees return to work after a period of sickness absence.
A return to work interview should be conducted after every period of sickness absence, regardless of how long the employee was off for and/or the reason provided for absence.
It is recommended for line managers to follow a consistent approach and format when conducting the return to work interview, and therefore best practice is to have an interview template line managers can rely upon.
5 key reasons to conduct a return to work interview:
- Welcome the employee back to work, letting them know they have been missed, if they feel missed they will feel valued;
- Ensure the employee’s absent record is correct;
- Update the employee on any changes or issues that may have occurred during the absence;
- It enables the employee to raise any remaining health or other issues they may have and need your support with;
- It is a good opportunity to offer help, if the line manager feels the employee has been behaving differently, keep in mind the problem may or may not be work related.
Is it a legal requirement?
Conducting a return to work interview is not a legal requirement. However, all businesses have a duty of care to employees’ wellbeing and health and safety.
As a result, when an employee returns to work after any period of sickness absence, the business needs to establish if the employee is fit to carry out their duties and that they haven’t come back too early because they are worried about important work not getting completed, or concerned that taking time off sick may put their job at risk.
A return-to-work interview gives the line manager an opportunity to understand a bit more about the reasons behind an employee’s sickness absence, and if appropriate, enable them to make any reasonable adjustments to ensure a successful return to work, e.g. phased return to work.
In addition, making it standard practice to hold return to work interviews can be helpful when it comes to a situation where absence has reached unacceptable levels, and can be invaluable if a legal dispute with an employee arises.
Why Companies should conduct return to work interviews and the benefits:
- It emphasises that managers are taking absence seriously – which in turn can reduce absence;
- It helps line managers get to the root of what’s really happening – a return to work interview gives the line manager a valuable opportunity to dig sensitively beneath the surface and make sure that absence isn’t being used to cover up other issues;
- It provides valuable data – allows the business to identify absence trends and identify problem areas at an early stage;
- It helps integrate employees back into the business – as well as ensuring the employee is fit to return to work, the interview can be used to welcome an employee back and gives the line manager an opportunity to update the employee on anything that’s happened in their absence.
Research by the CIPD found UK organisations rank return to work interviews among the most popular and effective methods for managing absence .
Creating a good return to work interview;
Having a return to work interview sounds formal, however, these meetings often tend to be more casual conversations. By making the meeting feel more informal, the employee will feel more at ease and make it easier for them to share details about how the business might be able to support their return to work. Other top tips for line managers to consider;
- Plan ahead and book a private meeting room, the employee will be discussing personal issues which should be dealt with sensitively;
- The employees should not feel judged or interrogated during interview, and line managers should be empathic. The questions posed should be professional and sensitive rather than invasive;
- Follow the same format to ensure consistency for every return to work interview – having a return to work form template is advised;
- Try not to put pressure on the employee or make them feel uncomfortable. They’re under no obligation to reveal details about their absence they may not wish to;
- Always avoid challenging the validity of their absence unless you have very solid evidence to indicate that the reason they have provided is inaccurate. This would be a disciplinary matter;
- Take notes to record the conversation during the meeting and make sure both the line manager employee sign the document, to avoid any disputes over the information further down the line.
When is the best time to carry out one? Any time limits to it?
There are no set rules around when a return to work interview should be conducted, however, the sooner the business establishes if the employee is fit for work the better. Therefore best practice would be the day the employee returns to work.
It’s also important for business to be as consistent as possible to show fair treatment. If a line manager follows up with some employees straight away, but leave it days to check in with other, this could be seen as unfair treatment.
Examples of questions for a return to work interview;
The purpose of the return to work interview is to gather information regarding the employee’s sickness absence. Here are some examples of the type of questions which businesses could use;
- How are you feeling now?
- Are you well enough to be back in work?
- Did you see your GP or a pharmacist?
- Have you been given any medication and are there any side effects I should be aware of?
- Is this an on-going or recurring condition?
- Has anything work-related contributed to your absence?
- Are there any adjustments that could help with your attendance?
- Ask if they have any questions.
If you would like further guidance or support on this matter or require advice on other people management matters please contact Clover HR on 0121 516 0299 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org ©️ Copyright Clover HR