Short Term Absence – Return to Work Interviews

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Return-to-work interviews should normally be conducted by the employee’s immediate supervisor or manager. The interview identifies the cause of the absence and provides an opportunity to explore any particular problems the employee may have. They indicate to employees that their absence was noticed and that they were missed. Above all, they demonstrate that absence is a high priority for the employer and that stated policies are being put into practice.


Light Touch RTW Discussions

These should be undertaken to acknowledge each absence, and to:

  1. Welcome the employee back to work.
  2. Seek confirmation that the individual is fit to work
  3. Seek the cause(s) of absence giving the employee the opportunity to highlight any relevant issues.
  4. If the employee raises any issues, try to offer solutions.
  5. If appropriate, agree a review period and/or any actions required.
  6. Retain a brief note confirming the discussion, as this would be needed should the absences require more structured and potentially more formal intervention and support.

RTW Interviews

To carry out an effective RTW interview, managers should consider the following:

Be prepared

In advance, review the employee’s attendance record over the previous 12 months and notes/action points arising from any previous return to work discussions/meetings.
Meet with the employee on the first day back at work, or shortly afterwards. Make sure that the meeting is held in a private space, out of the earshot of colleagues or students.
It is important that a record of the RTW interview is kept by the manager.

During the Meeting

Welcome the employee back to work. Explain purpose of the meeting and that it is informal. Encourage a two-way discussion.  Seek confirmation that the individual is fit to work.

Where there are on-going health issues:

Be clear that the purpose of the meeting is to provide support the individual in his/her return to work.
Review with the employee their attendance record/previous RTW interviews and establish what help/support/treatment the employee is currently receiving (from their GP etc).

Establish whether there are any underlying personal or work-related concerns. If there are personal issues, discuss whether there are any support mechanisms/actions that the employee or the manager may reasonably take to seek to alleviate the problems, e.g. access to counselling etc.

  1. Establish if any ‘reasonable adjustments’ are required to their role or work environment.
  2. If appropriate agree a review period and/or any actions required.
  3. If absences relate to disability, pregnancy or a work related accident, undertake a risk assessment – seek advice on this if necessary.

Where there is persistent short term absence or a pattern of absence is developing:

Discuss the cause(s) of absence and the likelihood of the illness recurring and give the employee the opportunity to highlight any relevant issues.  You may enquire as to what action the employee has already taken e.g. visiting their Doctor if the illness has been ongoing for some time.  You may ask for information about what the GP has said and any medication or follow up action that has been suggested, but the employee is not obliged to tell you for Data Protection reasons.

Try to offer solutions to any issues raised.

Remind the employee of the mutual obligations – i.e. that it is the individual’s responsibility/contractual obligation to attend work, and the employer/manager has a corresponding responsibility and concern for the employee’s wellbeing.

Explain the effect their absence has had on colleagues and the organisation’s ability to deliver the service/meet its objectives.

Re-establish your expectations regarding attendance, at work and any associated actions (e.g method for reporting sickness absence). Set a date to review the absence. Discuss the next steps within the sickness absence management procedure should there be further absence during the review period

Ultimately, if you feel it is appropriate you may remind the employee that ongoing persistent absence may ultimately lead to disciplinary action if the matter cannot be resolved – further advise should be sought before taking this route.


Where the employee believes the absence is work related (e.g. stress, relationship issues):

Discuss the cause(s) of absence and the likelihood of the illness recurring and give the employee the opportunity to highlight any relevant issues.

Listen carefully. You will need to illicit sufficient information for you to be able to understand/articulate the main issue(s). Explain that you will reflect on the matter and consider next steps/options. Seek advice from a Human Resources colleague after the meeting.

Undertake a risk assessment, if appropriate – seek Human Resources advice if necessary.

Agree with the individual any appropriate action/review periods, if appropriate


Employees Right to be Accompanied

Unless the meeting is likely to lead to a formal disciplinary sanction being given to the employee, then the employee does not have the automatic right to be accompanied.  However, it is good practice to allow a colleague to accompany the employee if you believe it will help the employee.


After the Meeting

Ensure that the date of the RTW discussion is recorded and notes have been taken of the meeting.

Ensure you undertake action points you are responsible for and let the employee know.

Be available to talk to/meet with the employee, should they have any issues following the RTW.

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