A return to work interview is a short meeting held with an employee, by their line manager, on their return to work after an absence.

Return to work interviews are short meetings that provide managers the opportunity to understand the reasons behind absences and assess any support that may be required on the employee’s return to work, while returning employees get peace of mind that they’ll be able to handle any challenges that may greet them and will feel supported on their return to the workplace.

All return to work interviews at your organisation should follow a consistent format. It is helpful to use a return to work form to ensure the meeting covers all the key points that need to be discussed.

Return to work interviews should occur after every absence, no matter how long or short the team member’s leave of absence has been, and regardless of the reasons for the absence.

Employers should take the importance of return to work interviews seriously, and make sure they’re not just another administrative hurdle. This will allow more time for what really matters: taking care of your employee’s needs while ensuring a safe environment at work.

There are many reasons why a return to work interview is a good idea, here are three of the benefits that we see on a regular basis:

  • A reduction in the number of employee absences;
  • A recording showing why an employee is considered fit to return to work; and
  • Creating an opportunity to explore deeper or more long-term health issues that may need to be addressed.

When managing long-term absences, return to work interviews can be an opportunity for employers and employees alike. Employers need to ensure that the employee is getting all of their needs met, while also assessing the support they require, during rehabilitation (for example). Sometimes a phased return to work is appropriate; a successful return to work interview helps plan the best way forward.

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Managing long-term absences is a challenging task, but it can be made easier if you have planned for your employee’s return. Return to work interviews offer managers an opportunity to assess the needs of returning employees. This is also an opportunity to plan how team members will return to work, minimising the chance of them needing to take additional time off from work.

The importance of managing these transitions cannot be overstated – when someone misses work due to illness or injury there are often specific steps that need to be taken to mitigate the disruption a returning employee might cause in their team.

The return-to-work interview is one of the most important data points in absence management because it allows you to collect and analyse different types of information for use with trigger mechanisms, risk assessments or occupational health involvement.

Return to Work interviews – a brief ‘how to’

One way to help the return to work interview run smoothly is by using a standardised form for all interviews. This ensures that every employee has equal opportunities during interviews and receives fair treatment.

A typical schedule will include:

  • Welcoming the employee back to work;
  • Updating the employee on anything they missed during their absence;
  • Asking about the employee’s health and reason for absence;
  • Discussing work-related issues, or other reasons that may have contributed to the absence;
  • Explaining any consequences of the absence, in line with your company policy; and
  • Discuss what measures can be taken to prevent future absences, if relevant.

The tone of the interview should be professional and friendly and the conversation should be conducted in private. Privacy is important, so it’s crucial all data collected during an interview remains confidential.

Interviews should be held in a private room. Personal data collected as part of the meeting must be kept confidential, in line with the Data Protection Act.

Line managers need skills and sensitivity
The effectiveness of any employee return-to-work interview depends on the skills and attitude of the manager. It’s critical for interviews to be conducted in a sensitive, professional manner with no judgement or assumptions from either side; this will allow both parties involved to feel more comfortable while meeting the mutually beneficial objectives of the meeting.

Line managers need to be aware of their organisation’s absence policy and relevant laws, for example, those relating to equality and discrimination. Some managers might need additional training to help develop their people skills.

If you are concerned your managers may not be skilled to undertake such meetings, then please take a look at our HR Heroes courses.

The line manager should also prepare for each interview by:

  • Gathering relevant information, including the absence management policy and the employee’s absence data
  • Identifying and being ready to discuss problematic trends in the employee’s attendance
  • Being ready to offer any support available to the employee

At the end of the interview, both the line manager and employee should sign and date the form, so statements given at a later date cannot be disputed.

We have prepared a template Return to Work form that can be downloaded for free. Please click the ‘Request Document’ button below to download the free template.

The Return to Work form is just one example of over a thousand templates and documents that subscribers to the MAD-HR HR Toolkit have access to. Each document has been carefully designed to help you manage your team more easily, efficiently and within the requirements of employment law.