Phased return to work

We explain how phased returns to work support your staff after an absence, the different approaches and what you need to know about pay

After a lengthy period of absences, you and your staff want to get back to normality as soon as possible but that can be difficult for your workers.

They may be unable to manage going straight back to full time after a long break, often while recovering from illness.

You can help staff with this by offering a phased return to work.

In this guide, we’ll explain phased returns to work, guidelines you need to follow for the different types of absence and what your staff will need to know about pay.

What is a phased return to work?

A phased return to work allows employees to gradually return to work after an absence.

This type of return is used for different types of extended absences, including:

  • Long-term sickness or injury.
  • Bereavement.
  • Parental leave.

This is to help workers with the transition from absence to their regular work schedule. It also allows those recovering from sickness or injury to return at an earlier stage of their recovery.

How does a phased return to work, work?

There’s no one size fits all approach with phased returns.

Phased returns can take many forms including;

  • Reduced working hours.
  • Staggered shift patterns.
  • Limited work duties.

Not only are there different approaches that can be taken when returning, but there are different steps to take depending on the reason behind the phased return.

Below we’ve listed examples of different phased return to work requests and the process to follow for each.

Phased return to work after sickness

In most cases involving ill health, the worker’s GP or an occupational health professional would recommend whether the worker is “not fit for work” or “may be fit for work”. This is done with a sick note.

Where workers may be fit for work, employers should talk to the worker to determine how they be helped to return — for example, through a phased return.

If an agreement can’t be reached, the worker must be treated as being not fit for work.

The doctor can recommend whether the condition will affect the individual’s working performance and the period of phased return.

Phased return to work after stress

Going back to work after a period of poor mental health should follow many of the same steps as other types of sickness leave. Request a fit note from their GP and follow the recommendations given.

However, leave due to stress can be caused by issues at work and it’s important to take steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

It’s vital that you speak with the individual about what was causing them stress and find out what you can do to help.

Remember that your staff may feel uncomfortable talking to you about mental illness, such as stress, anxiety or depression. A third-party support service like an employee assistance programme would allow the individual to discuss their problems anonymously with a trained professional.

Phased return to work after bereavement

Most people will experience the loss of a loved one during their working life. At this time, they may need time off to grieve. This is called compassionate leave.

Anyone classed as an employee has a right to time off if a dependent dies. A dependent is:

  • Their partner.
  • Their parents.
  • Their child (if under 18, or a still birth after 24 weeks of pregnancy).
  • Anyone else who relied on them.

Unlike with sickness absence, there’s no doctor’s note for grief. The law doesn’t say how much time off is allowed, except in cases of parental bereavement leave. Everyone experiences loss differently so it’s up to you to speak with the employee and decide on what is appropriate.

Phased return to work after maternity leave

Employees have the right to return to their role after maternity leave. However, many parents struggle to go straight back to full time working.

There’s no legal requirement to offer a phased return to those returning after maternity leave, but it will help with employee engagement if you can accommodate it.

Consider amending their contract to temporarily reduce the number of hours they work.

If you’re unable to make staffing changes like this, let them know that they can create a phased return to work with holiday entitlement. Use their annual leave to work a shorter week for the first few months.

How long should a phased return to work be?

A phased return to work schedule usually lasts between two and six weeks. However, there’s no simple formula to figure out what is a reasonable phased return to work.

Every case will be different, and it depends on the individual’s recovery.

In absences due to sickness, the doctor’s note will recommend the timeline for returning at full capacity.

How does a phased return to work affect pay?

The way a return to work plan affects your worker’s pay depends on the approach taken and the reason for their absence.

If they come back on reduced hours but complete their regular duties, you should pay them their regular rate of pay for those hours.

If they work a revised set of duties, you should agree to a new rate of pay with the employee. Make sure you put any changes in writing.

If the absence is due to illness or injury, they might also be entitled to statutory sick pay at full pay for the days they don’t work.

There is no requirement to provide statutory pay for other types of leave, such as bereavement leave , except parental bereavement leave.

The Parental Bereavement Act 2018 gives workers the right to take leave following the loss of the child.

Statutory Parental Bereavement Leave provides two weeks of leave where a working parent suffers the loss of a child under the age of 18, or a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy. Eligible workers will get either £151.97 a week or 90% of their average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.

It’s vital that you talk to staff about how their phased return will affect their income.

Failed phased return to work

It’s important to remember that a gradual return to work is to help the individual transition back into the workforce. And there’s a chance the plan will fail.

Workers undertaking a phased return to work are often still recovering from a health condition. Too much strain can slow down their recovery and delay the employee’s return.

The individual needs to understand that the phased return to work schedule isn’t fixed to ensure they don’t push themselves before feeling well enough to return to the office full time.

It’s also important to remember this yourselves when planning staff rotas.

Get help with return to work plans today with BrightHR

After a long absence, staff may need support to help them adjust to work life again. A phased return to work will allow staff to gradually reintegrate.

However, managing a gradual return can be challenging. Between adapting rotas, getting payroll right and ensuring the wellbeing of your staff through the process.

Use BrightHR’s staff rota software to manage staggered shifts and gradually reintroduce staff and keep track of hours worked with ease. Book a free demo today to see just how easy it is to manage your HR with our app. Call us on 0800 783 2806.


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