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.

When should I conduct a return to work interview?

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.

Return to work interviews should follow a consistent format and a return to work form will ensure the meeting covers all the key points that need to be discussed. They 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.

This will ensure that you are taking care of your employee’s needs while ensuring a safe environment at work.

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Why you should take return to work interviews seriously

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 frequency and duration 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 supported. If your employee has been absent for more than seven calendar days, they will require a fit note (previously known as a doctor’s note or sick note) from a healthcare professional. 

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 in order to meet your duties under health and safety legislation.

Consider a phased return to work following longer absences

When managing long-term absences, return-to-work interviews can be an opportunity for employers and employees alike. Sometimes a phased return to work is appropriate; a successful return to work interview helps plan the best way forward. 

Employers need to consider and balance the job role and operational requirements with the employee’s temporary needs when assessing the support they require.  From our experience, phased returns can be highly effective in delivering a sustained return where stamina needs to be rebuilt and to prevent employees from being overwhelmed by the contrast of absence and a full working week or full duties. 

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.

Questions to ask in a return to work interview

One way to help the return to work interview run smoothly is by using a standardised form as the basis for all interviews. This ensures that every employee receives fair treatment.  A typical meeting will include the following key areas and return to work interview questions:

  • Welcoming the employee back to work – It is important for the employee to feel welcome and that they have been missed.
  • Asking about the employee’s health and reason for absence – With genuine interest ask, for example, how do you feel now and do you feel well enough to be back at work? Dependent on the reasons for absence, it may be helpful to understand whether a healthcare professional was consulted and if any treatment or medication may have side effects relevant to their work.
  • Updating the employee on anything they missed during their absence – Urgent updates can be provided or signposted to assist the employee to settle in.
  • Discussing work-related issues, or other reasons that may have contributed to the absence by asking: Has anything related to work contributed to your absence? Can we make any adjustments to make it easier for you to attend work?
  • 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. Data collected during an interview must remain confidential and be processed in line with your Employee Privacy Notice.

Helping your employees back to work

The effectiveness of any employee return-to-work interview depends on the skills and behaviour of the manager. It’s critical for interviews to be conducted in a sensitive, professional manner.; 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, such as our HR Heroes courses, to help develop their people skills.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Useful questions and answers about “What is a return to work interview?”

What is a return to work interview?

A short meeting between an employee and their manager after a period of absence allowing the employee to be welcomed back, updated and their need for support assessed.

A short meeting between an employee and their manager after a period of absence allowing the employee to be welcomed back, updated and their need for support assessed.

Meetings should be held privately and professionally using a standardisd form to ensure fair treatment.

Is a return to work interview a legal requirement?

No, it is not a legal requirment to hold a return to work interview. However, employers do have a duty of care towards their employees and holding the meeting will help you to take care of your employee's needs and ensure a safe work environment for all.