Return to Work

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Thursday, Sep 22, 2022

Staff may sometimes have long periods of absence from work. This could be due to illness, giving birth or taking a sabbatical. As an employer, you need to do all you can to help them readjust and return to the workplace.

How you handle an employee’s return to work will have a big effect on them. Make sure you have procedures and policies in place to make it as easy as possible – like a return to work program.

In this guide, we’ll discuss how you can ensure an easy return to work, how to notify employment insurance (EI) about any returns, and how to manage employee return to work properly.

What to do when an employee is due to return after a long absence

When an employee is looking to return to work after a long absence, make sure you’re in regular contact with them. This will ease the stress of returning to the workplace and will make them feel wanted and appreciated.

Returning to work after medical leave:

• Provide a gradual return to full work, such as shorter shifts and less days. • Avoid certain activities which may cause discomfort for the employee, such as heavy lifting. • Ensure you provide them with the time off they need for any medical appointments.

You shouldn’t expect an employee to suddenly return to work fulltime, especially if they’ve been absent for medical reasons.

Preparing to return to work after maternity leave:

• Employees must give you four weeks noticed before they intend to return to work. • You don’t have a legal requirement to reinstate them to their former job, but you must provide work that is comparable to their role.

You should work with the employee to set up a gradual return to work plan. This will increase their confidence to come back and will show you’re being proactive when it comes to their return.

What is a return to work program?

A return to work program is a formal plan to help employees have a hassle-free return to their workplace. Included in this plan should be:

  • Which days of the week they’ll come into work, gradually building up to a fulltime return.
  • Any changes needed to the workplace to meet any potential new requirements.
  • When regular meetings between employer and employee will be held to discuss progress. How to identify suitable work for the employee following their return.
  • When a fulltime return to work will be completed.

This plan should be discussed during the return to work interview. Make sure both sides sign the plan off, avoiding any conflict in the future.

Benefits of a return to work program

There are a range of benefits in having a return to work program, for both employee and employer:

  • Helps the employee’s recovery from illness or injury knowing they’re welcome back at work.
  • Reduces the impact on the employee’s family.
  • Keeps the employee involved in benefits programs and pensions.
  • Reduces the training, onboarding, and rehiring costs of finding new staff.
  • Minimizes the loss of productivity.
  • Maintains the morale of the workforce if they know a work friend/colleague is returning to work.
  • Shows the company in a good light knowing you support staff upon their return.

You must advise your employees to notify EI on their return to work.

How to notify EI of return to work

When your employee is returning to work, they can advise the EI via the government website. This is so their claim can be stopped and altered to their working status.

If the EI aren’t informed of this change, this could lead to legal trouble and expensive fines to pay.

Can an employer refuse a return to work?

If an employee raises the issues of an employer is refusing a return to work, it may be because you’re unable to accommodate the employee due to undue hardship.

Undue hardship is when an action in the workplace requires significant difficulty or expense.

An example of this, is if an essential job function is that everyone lifts 75 pounds per day. If someone returning from injury/illness can only lift 50 pounds, no other employee can lift the 100 pounds to make it up.

Employees can request a phased return to work. This is when their work has been affected by injury and employers have to make reasonable adjustments to help them return. An example could be special equipment being provided or adjusting their working hours.

Get help with your employees return to work today with BrightHR

It’s important that you help to make your employees return to work as smooth as possible.

Staff may be nervous at the thought of returning to the workplace, so it’s vital you have a successful return to work plan in place.

If you need assistance with your return to work, BrightHR has handy tools which will make the whole process easier for you.

Our sick leave and lateness and back to work navigator tools allow you to improve your process in seconds.

Contact us on 18882204924 or book a demo today.

Share this article

Have a question?

Ask away, we’ve got lightning fast answers for Canadian business owners and employers powered by qualified experts.

More on leave and absence

Paternity leave

Paternity leave remains a relatively underused benefit, despite its proven advantages for both fathers and children. More countries now offer such ...

Late to work

Compassionate Care Leave

Employees in Canada have a right to take a job-protected leave when caring for gravely ill family members. Each province has their own employment ...

Late to work

Lateness and Tardiness

Almost all employers deal with employees arriving late to work. Your employee may have been stuck in traffic or experienced delays on public transit. ...

Sick Building Syndrome

Sick building syndrome describes the combination of symptoms that affects building occupants. Some people, when they are in a particular building or ...

Absenteeism Rate

Absences in the workplace are normal and staff have a right to time off. But it’s key you understand the number of absences your company has ...

Time off work for stress

Stress and its effect on mental health is part of many peoples lives. Your employees most likely deal with different stresses daily, some of which ...

Sick employee blowing  their nose

Sick Leave

From time-to-time your employees will require sick leave from work. As an employer, you have a responsibility to manage sickness leave ...


Employee health and productivity go hand-in-hand. The healthier your employees feel, the more likely it is that they’ll be productive. However, ...