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Phased Return To Work: What You Need To Know

employees Feb 15, 2023
Phased Return To Work: What You Need To Know

If you’re looking information on ‘phased return to work’, you’re in the right place – we’ll explain what it is, how it works, and what you need to know before agreeing to it with any employee.

What is a ‘phased return to work’?

If an employee returns to work part-time after being absent for a while rather than immediately taking on their working hours and responsibilities, this is referred to as a phased return to work.

This strategy is often deployed where the employee has been away for an extended period of time due to illness, injury, or another physical or mental condition.

Why consider a phased return to work?

If an employee has been off work for a long period of time, it might seem daunting to go back and take on all of their previous responsibilities and time commitments.

It also might be that they are simply unable to slot straight back in – they may need to build up to working their normal hours again.

If that’s the case, a phased return to work would be the best course of action – it provides your employee with the time and assistance they need to become used to returning to the demands of the workplace. 

How long does a phased return to work take?

A phased return to work usually happens over 4-6 weeks with the goal of eventually arriving at the previous working agreement in terms of time and responsibility.

Who needs to agree to a phased return to work?

In general, it is the employee's responsibility to initiate their return to work while dealing with a long leave brought on by an injury, illness, or other significant life events.

Specific discussions on how to implement a phased return can be started by either party, but they are typically driven by the employee. You’re then required to take all reasonable steps to accommodate their requests.

Alternatively, a request for a phrased return to work can be submitted by the employee's doctor or occupational health assessor. 

Are there any advantages for you as the employer?

Obviously, a phased return to work, when used correctly, is a good thing for an employee.

But what about you as the employer?

  1. It’ll likely improve your relationship with your employee – when employees feel valued, heard, and cared for, this generally has a positive impact on their overall view of the employer. This is more likely to lead to a team that works well together and provides longer, more devoted service.
  2. Failing to offer a phased return to work means you run the risk of the employee not returning at all, with potential knock-on impacts including recruiting and training costs for a replacement.  Plus, a possible discrimination case if the business doesn't make reasonable adjustments to enable a smooth transition back to work.  A phased return to work helps to negate those risks.
  3. You’ll likely save money in the long run.  You might be able to save money on overtime expenses or hiring temporary employees who would otherwise be required to fill the role in their absence. 

What must you do to ensure a correct and legal phased return to work?

In order to manage and facilitate a phased return to work, there are a few crucial things you need be aware of or have in place already:

Establish a return-to-work policy

Each company's sickness or absence policy or employee handbook should provide a clear description of the return to work process. Both the employer and the employee will know what to expect if the procedure for returning to work after a short-term or extended absence is made clear.

Take Occupational Health Support into account

Some businesses may have a general policy stating that anyone returning from a prolonged absence must consult with an occupational health specialist before returning to work. 

Do you have to agree to a phased return to work?

No, you don’t have to, but you need to give serious consideration to the phased return and document your reasons for refusing to agree.

However, you should never refuse lightly – it’s critical you talk to an HR expert before making a decision of that magnitude.

How long should a phased return to work last?

There’s nothing legal that stipulates length.

However, employers typically work within a schedule of over 4-6 weeks. 

Before the phased return to work begins, the length and conditions of it need to be agreed by both you and your employee.

What do you need to pay your employee during a phased return to work?

The amount of pay during a phased return to work will mostly depend on your sick pay policy, but regardless of that policy, the employee is entitled to be paid their regular rate of pay for the hours worked.

As a result, they will only be paid for the hours they actually work during a phased return to work, but there is also potential to ‘top this up’, with SSP or occupational sick pay. 

In summary…

  • A phased return to work can be a great way to bring an employee back, particularly if they have been off work with illness or injury for a long period of time
  • In order for them to return in this way, you’ll need an occupational health evaluation or a doctor's fit note certifying that the employee is capable of returning to work and is ready to do so.
  • You’ll need to make any ‘reasonable adjustments’ to your workplace so that they can return
  • You’ll need to carry out the necessary risk assessments and health and safety announcements.

Need some help with a phased return to work?

We help clients all over the UK with their HR, including with phased return to work.

Give us a call on 01980 622167 or email us at [email protected] and we’ll have a free, chat about your situation.

Do you need help with your people management?

Whether you’ve got a specific HR query, you need your HR foundations in place, or you’re looking to build on those foundations and create a team that can function without you, we’d love to talk about how we can help you make it happen.

Give us a call on 01980 622167, or click below to book a call.

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