A phased return to work is a transitional approach used by employers to help absent employees comfortably return to work. Whether they have experienced long-term illness, serious injury or bereavement, it is a useful method for both employers and employees.

In this article, we will answer commonly asked questions about a phased return to work and help employers prepare to manage this in the future.

What is a Phased Return to Work?

A phased return to work is agreed upon by both employer and employee to gradually build up their return to work after an extended absence. It has been designed to ease them back into the workplace and adjust, instead of resuming full-time duties immediately and overwhelming them.

This could include returning to work with reduced hours, different duties, or a lighter workload. Also, if the employee is disabled, the employer must make reasonable adjustments in order to support them.

Benefits of a Transitional Approach

  • Showing employees that they’re valued and their needs are being met
  • Creating a supportive workplace for all employees
  • Saving money on temporary cover for the absent employee or recruitment and training if they leave

Who Can Request a Phased Return to Work?

The employee can request one themselves or off the back of a GP’s recommendation. When giving patients a ‘Fit Note’, a phased return to work can be included on this in order to help the employee’s recovery amongst other things.

If an employer is concerned about the health or fitness of an employee returning to work after long-term absence, they may refer them to an occupational health practitioner. After an assessment, they will identify whether they are ready to return to work or recommend a phased return for them.

How to Request a Phased Return to Work

In general, the employee must submit a formal written request before meeting with their line manager and HR representative. Then, the terms of the phased return to work will be discussed and the outcome will be confirmed in writing; this includes timelines, responsibilities and work pattern.

The return to work procedure is normally found in the organisation’s sickness absence policy or employee handbook.

How Long is a Phased Return to Work?

There is no set timeframe for a phased return as this is dependent on the employee’s individual circumstances, however they commonly last between 4-6 weeks. A ‘Fit Note’ will usually advise how long it should be, but this should be decided between the employee and the employer to ensure the employee’s health and wellbeing is supported.

How to Structure a Phased Return to Work

The phasing arrangements will be directly impacted by the employee’s circumstances and what can reasonably be incorporated in day-to-day operations. Here are some things to consider when structuring a phased return to work:

  • Start and finish times: Allowing flexibility around travelling to and from work
  • Duration of phased return: Extending or reducing the timeframe accordingly
  • Working pattern: Adjusting the length of workdays accordingly
  • Rest breaks: Introducing more or longer rest breaks
  • Lighter or alternative duties: Changing employee duties to suit their requirements

Managing Pay on a Phased Return to Work

An employee’s pay will depend on the employer’s policy and the phased return to work agreed upon. There are a number of different options subject to whether the employee is returning to work on reduced hours or the employee is returning to work and has a lighter workload.

Employees Returning to Work on Reduced Hours

Employees should receive their usual rate of pay for the hours that they work, but for the time they’re not working, they may receive:

  • Full pay, if agreed to by the employer or written in their policy
  • Company sick pay, if the employer offers this
  • Statutory sick pay, if the employer doesn’t offer full pay or company sick pay

Employees Returning to Work With a Lighter Workload

When agreeing the terms of the phased return to work, it should outline the agreed rate of pay in writing. They may receive:

  • Full pay
  • Full pay for the hours worked and statutory sick pay for the other hours, if eligible
  • Full pay for the hours worked and occupational sick pay for the other hours, if employers offer this
  • Full pay for the hours worked and accrued holiday pay for the other hours

Do Employers Have to Agree to a Phased Return to Work?

If the employee has a disability, reasonable adjustments must be made by the employer including agreeing to a phased return to work, otherwise they may be in breach of the Equality Act 2010. In other cases, employers do not have to agree. However, if the employee is later dismissed due to capability or ill-health grounds, they can claim unfair dismissal. If you believe you have been a victim of unfair dismissal, contact Premier Legal today to discuss your situation with us directly.