Phased Returns

(Effective 1 September 2014)

What is a Phased Return?
When is such a return appropriate?
What arrangements can be made for a Phased Return?
When to start a phased return
Structure and Review
Payment Arrangements
Carryover of annual leave
Implementing Arrangements
Pension Implications
Further Advice
Example of a phased return and how it may impact on pay depending upon the arrangements implemented

What is a Phased Return?

A phased return to work is an arrangement whereby a member of staff who has been absent from work for a long time or has had a short term absence linked to chronic conditions or conditions with unpredictable periods of acute flare up, returns to their full duties/time at work gradually, over a defined time period, often for a week or two and not normally exceeding 4 weeks duration (except potentially where clinical recommendations are for a longer period).

Whilst not needed in all cases, in some circumstances it can provide a valuable period of readjustment, enabling the individual to get back into the work duties and routine whilst maintaining their recovery.

When is such a return appropriate?

A phased return arrangement should only be implemented on the basis of advice from a staff member’s GP/Consultant via a ‘fit note’ or an Occupational Health Professional within the Workplace Health & Wellbeing (WHW) (e.g. following a referral), where it is deemed a reasonable adjustment, and only after discussion with the member of staff.

Where suggested via a fit note, managers should also refer to the ‘fit note discussion form’ and flowchart for further guidance, completing the form as appropriate. The sickness FAQs offer additional information, particularly in relation to Fit Notes and Return to Work.

If the fit note advises a return on a phased basis but on consideration this cannot be accommodated within the workplace, the staff member should be treated as ‘not fit for work’, and advice should be sought from WHW/Human Resources.

It should be noted that advice provided by the Occupational Health professionals within the University’s WHW can take precedence over a staff members GP/Consultant in relation to the viability, duration and structure of a phased return, as they will have a greater understanding as to the impact of the employee’s role/duties on their health situation and the department’s ability to accommodate such arrangements (in liaison with the staff members line manager/Human Resources).

What arrangements can be made for a Phased Return?

As each individual, and every health and work situation, is different: each arrangement will need to be considered based on the circumstances of the case at the time.

It is important for the manager and the member of staff to discuss how to structure a phased return programme, (seeking advice as appropriate from HR and/or WHW).

In terms of the hours worked, there is no fixed pattern to a phased return to work or duties to be undertaken, however, when discussing an appropriate arrangement, account should be taken of (not exhaustive): the nature of the health issues, the duration of the potential phased return period, the medical advice received, and the needs of the job and the department.

The manager should also consider any potential implications of such a return on the other members of staff and how this may be managed. As well as, if it is necessary, any other reasonable adjustments during this period, and/or during the longer term.

Following this discussion, the manager completes the ‘Phased Return Letter’ available from and in liaison with their HR Faculty contact. It is essential that the information within this letter is accurate to ensure that the correct arrangements are made in relation to pay and pensions (see below for further information).

When to start a phased return

The phased return can begin whenever the individual and manager consider it appropriate, commencing immediately following the period of absence.

If this is before the expiry of a ‘not fit for work’ fit note, the manager should undertake a suitable risk assessment in relation to the potential return, in line with our duty of care, and should discuss the case with the WHW.

Structure and Review

It is important that the planned phased return (recorded within the Phased Return Letter - template available from your HR Faculty Team) states clearly what is expected in terms of progressive build-up of hours and/or resumption of normal duties, so that progress can be assessed/correct payments made.

In all cases the return should be regularly reviewed by the manager and staff member to ensure that the arrangements are supporting the return to work and that the individual is managing the gradual increase effectively. If his/her recuperation is faster than expected the arrangements can be amended/revised to reflect this.

Where the reasonable adjustment of a phased return does not appear to be working, i.e. the outcome is not likely to be a sustained return to normal working pattern/duties in the expected time period, the manager may need to consider other options, in discussion with the staff member (liaising as appropriate with WHW and the HR Faculty contact). This may include whether a temporary/permanent change to their terms and conditions of employment is appropriate and can be accommodated i.e. enable the business need to be met. Any contractual changes would need to be with the agreement of the staff member.

The manager must ensure that any variation from the original planned arrangement is notified promptly to their HR Faculty contact by email so that payroll and other records can be adjusted appropriately.

Payment Arrangements

During a phased return, the staff member is paid for the hours worked. Non worked contracted hours will be paid using sick pay provision based on the staff members remaining entitlement. Where this entitlement has been exhausted, the staff member may request the ability to use accrued annual leave, which should be considered and recorded in the normal way; otherwise the un-worked periods will be unpaid.

Where sick pay is paid during a phased return this will be deducted from the staff members remaining sick pay entitlement.

During a phased return, the level of entitlement to sick pay provision (see Terms and Conditions for more detail) will be based on their continuity of service as at the start of the sickness period the phased return is linked to.

When considering the use of annual leave in these circumstances, the manager and individual should ensure that enough annual leave is retained to enable the individual to take appropriate breaks/rest from work during the remainder of the leave year, following their return to their normal contracted hours.

It should also be noted that this provision where granted, is distinct to that of disability leave, another form of reasonable adjustment, for assessment, treatment or rehabilitation which has been professionally advised in relation to their disability, where deemed the most appropriate course of action, (i.e. paid disability leave should not be sought to cover the 'non-worked' periods of a phased return).

A member of staff is expected to co-operate in the implementation of a phased return.

Carryover of annual leave

In the case of long term sickness, a member of staff is able to transfer from one leave year to the next only what they have not be able to take out of the 20 day statutory minimum entitlement, due to ill health (this would include any Bank Holidays/Closure days taken in that leave year). In such cases it may be to the staff member’s benefit to request annual leave to cover otherwise-unpaid periods of a phased return.

Implementing Arrangements

Once the structure and basis of the phased return has been discussed/developed, this should be documented via the completion of the Phased Return Letter, (even where the phased return has not been introduced on the basis of a fit note but for example at the recommendation of the WHW).

Guidance on what to include in the letter and who to forward it to is detailed on the letter itself, however your HR Faculty Contact will also be able to advise if needed.

Pension Implications

If the individual is a member of a pension scheme at the University of Sheffield, their pension benefits may be affected by a phased return to work.

If the staff member is receiving reduced pay, then this means the contributions they pay may be less than those expected by the pension scheme. This could then impact on the benefits the staff member receives at retirement if they have not paid sufficient contributions.

Absence factsheets in relation to both Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and University of Sheffield Pension Scheme (USPS) (Page 25 of Members Guide) are available. These explain how benefits are treated on paid, reduced pay, or unpaid absence from work.

Should further assistance be required in relation to how the absence will affect the staff member and what options may be available to them, please contact the Pensions Office on 0114 222 1397 (the pensions helpline).

Further Advice

Further advice on the arrangements for phased returns is available from either your Faculty HR Contact or the WHW, whilst any pension queries should be directed to the Pension Office.

Example of a phased return and how it may impact on pay depending upon the arrangements implemented:

Scenario: Grade 7 individual contracted to work full time, having been on long term sickness absence since March 2013, and currently in receipt of half pay sick pay agrees to a 4 week phased return, effective from early August 2013. During the leave year 2012/13 he has only taken 15 days a/l out of his 30 day entitlement.

Week Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Worked Hours Paid Sick Pay hours (attracting half pay)
Hours worked
1 3 None 4 None 4 11 24
2 4 3 None 4 4 15 20
3 5 3.5 6 5 3.5 26 9
4 5 7 3.5 7 3.5 26 9
Total Hours 75
65

Under this arrangement, for the period, he would receive pay for 75 hours worked + 65 hours at half pay i.e. a total of 107.5 hours paid out of a possible 140 (meaning a total of 32.5 hours would remain unpaid).

To seek to mitigate the impact of the reduced salary he may also decide to request the ability to use some annual leave to ‘top up’ his pay. If so this should be requested, approved and recorded in the normal way, e.g. via MyJob, as well as noted in the phased return letter.