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Guide to return to work interviews

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This guide provides guidance on conducting effective return to work (RTW) interviews after periods of absence, helping managers gather relevant information, address any concerns or barriers, and facilitate a smooth transition back to work.

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10 mins
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What is a Guide to return to work interviews?

The primary purpose of a return to work interview is to welcome the employee back, discuss the reasons for their absence and confirm that they are fit to attend work.

It is also an opportunity to bring the employee up to speed with any changes that have occurred during their absence, develop a return to work plan (which might include making reasonable adjustments), and identify any underlying health concerns that need to be addressed. 

Applicable legal jurisdictions
In which jurisdictions can this guide be used?
Great Britain & NI (United Kingdom), Worldwide

Guide to return to work interviews

Before conducting a return to work interview, identify a private room where the meeting can take place without interruption, consider whether it would be best to conduct the meeting over the phone or face to face, and gather any relevant information you might need at hand, such as the employee's absence record or fit note.

It is also a good idea to plan a loose structure for the interview to ensure all bases are covered. Examples of return to work interview questions include:

  • What caused the absence? Was work a contributing factor?
  • Is this an ongoing or recurring condition?
  • Did you see a GP? What was the outcome?
  • How are you feeling now? Do you feel able to return?
  • Could it happen again? Is there anything that can be done to prevent recurrence?
  • What adjustments might help facilitate a return to work? (For example, can changes be made to their working pattern, physical work environment and/or role?)
  • What support do they need to get back on track? (They might need refresher training, a prioritised action plan, etc.)

| Key resources

Return to work interview - model form

Benefits of return to work interviews

Though not a legal requirement, there are a number of business benefits of return to work interviews. In particular, they can help employers to:

Gain better insight into the reasons for and nature of absences

Was the absence due to illness or some other reason? If it was illness-related, holding a return to work interview is an opportunity to delve deeper into the nature of the illness and find our whether the employee is fully recovered or whether it is part of an ongoing condition. Either way, gathering this information will help to determine next steps.

Uncover issues and identify potential solutions

Sitting down with employees may help you to agree on some simple solutions to reduce persistent short-term absence and improve attendance. For example, you may discover that they are dealing with a family bereavement or some other serious personal matter, in which case you might explore whether their absences could be reduced through flexible working arrangements.

You may also uncover that those who are claiming sickness are actually avoiding work due to issues such harassment by a colleague, which will require you to investigate any claims and take appropriate action. Whatever the reason, the return to work interview should help you to get to the root cause of the problem, understand the employees concerns, and work with them to find a solution.

Monitor absences and spot trends

By keeping detailed records of these meetings, you may notice certain patterns emerging. For example, it might be that a few employees in the same team are taking absences because they are suffering from a particular ailment (e.g. back pain), or perhaps certain employees have a tenancy to call in sick on Mondays and Fridays which may require further monitoring and investigation. By honing in on these trends, you can identify specific underlying problems, review your current practices and decide how best to remedy the issue.

Identify reasonable adjustments

If there are signs that the employee is suffering from a long-term health issue which could be considered a disability, conducting a return to work interview provides an opportunity to explore what steps can be taken to assist them. There is an obligation on employers to consider making reasonable adjustments to the employee's role or workplace if they are disabled as defined under the Equality Act 2010. This might include making physical adjustments to the premises to make it more accessible, providing or modifying equipment, or altering certain aspects of the employee's role or working hours. These adjustments don't have to be expensive, and will help to prevent further absences and ensure the employee can be as effective as possible in their role.

Deter employees from pulling sickies

If an employee is taking frequent short-term absences and you suspect they are malingering, return to work interviews may act as a deterrent by demonstrating to employees that you are taking them seriously.

Holding a meeting after each absence will demonstrate to employees that their absences are being monitored, that their manager is spotting specific trends, and that disciplinary action may be taken against them.

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Guide to return to work interviews
guide to return to work interviews