Guidance for Managers: How and when to conduct Return to Work (RTW) discussions/interviews

The below checklists are for guidance purposes only, as it is recognised that a Manager will need to determine how best to manage any such discussions/interviews given the individual circumstances of the case.

Please read this guidance alongside the ‘Fit Note’ guidance/flowchart. Further advice and support, in relation to any aspect of the procedure is available from Human Resources.


Managers are required to acknowledge and discuss each period of sickness absence with an employee following their returning to work. In many cases this is likely to need only a ‘light touch’ discussion, and a brief note to record that this has been undertaken.

However, where the absence is becoming a cause for concern e.g. if an absence ‘pattern’ is evident or there is a potential underlying health issue or where there is persistent short term absence or work related issues, in some cases it may be necessary to have a structured return to work (RTW) interview.

Both ‘light touch’ discussions and more structured interviews represent good practice in terms of supporting the employee to attend work and identify any actions needed to achieve this.

Advice and support can be gained from your Faculty HR Team contact. In cases where disability related absences are identified managers should liaise with HR before determining next steps.

The below information is for guidance purposes only and aims to support managers in undertaking such discussions/interviews. It is, however, recognised that the manager will need to determine how best to structure each such discussion/interview to best reflect the given circumstances of the case.

Light Touch RTW Discussions

These should be undertaken to acknowledge each absence, and to:

  • Welcome the employee back to work.
  • Seek confirmation that the individual is fit to work
  • Seek the cause(s) of absence giving the employee the opportunity to highlight any relevant issues.
  • If the employee raises any issues, try to offer solutions and if appropriate, refer to employee support mechanisms, for example Staff Counselling.
  • If appropriate, agree a review period and/or any actions required.

Retain a brief note confirming the discussion, as this would be needed should the absences require more structured and potentially more formal intervention and support.

RTW Interviews

To carry out an effective RTW interview, managers should consider the following:

1. Be prepared

  • In advance, review the employee’s attendance record over the previous 12 months and notes/action points arising from any previous return to work discussions/meetings.
  • Meet with the employee on the first day back at work, or shortly afterwards. Make sure that the meeting is held in a private space, out of the earshot of colleagues or students.
  • It is important that a record of the RTW interview is kept by the manager. A suggested RTW form is available within the toolkit.

2. During the Meeting

  • Welcome the employee back to work. Explain purpose of the meeting and that it is informal. Encourage a two-way discussion.
  • Seek confirmation that the individual is fit to work – if there is any doubt as to this, seek advice from Workplace Health & Wellbeing.

2.1 Where there are on-going health issues:

  • Be clear that the purpose of the meeting is to provide support the individual in his/her return to work.
  • Review with the employee their attendance record/previous RTW interviews and establish what help/support/treatment the employee is currently receiving (from their GP etc). If appropriate, discuss and agree a referral to Workplace Health & Wellbeing.
  • Establish whether there are any underlying personal or work-related concerns. If there are personal issues, discuss whether there are any support mechanisms/actions that the employee or the manager may reasonably take to seek to alleviate the problems, e.g. access to counselling, staff helpline etc. If the problems are work-related (see also section 2.3 below for additional considerations).
  • Establish if any ‘reasonable adjustments’ are required to their role or work environment.
  • If appropriate agree a review period and/or any actions required.
  • If absences relate to disability, pregnancy or a work related accident, undertake a risk assessment – seek Human Resources advice on this if necessary.

2.2 Where there is persistent short term absence or a pattern of absence is developing:

  • Discuss the cause(s) of absence and the likelihood of the illness recurring and give the employee the opportunity to highlight any relevant issues.
  • Try to offer solutions to any issues raised. Refer to employee support mechanisms if appropriate, for example Staff Counselling:
  • Remind the employee of the mutual obligations – i.e. that it is the individual’s responsibility/contractual obligation to attend work, and the employer/manager has a corresponding responsibility and concern for the employee’s wellbeing.
  • Explain the effect their absence has had on colleagues and the department’s ability to deliver the service/meet its broader objectives.
  • Re-establish your expectations regarding attendance, at work and any associated actions (e.g method for reporting sickness absence). Set a date to review the absence. Discuss the next steps within the sickness absence management procedure should there be further absence during the review period (see section 9 of the procedure for further details).

2.3 Where the employee believes the absence is work related (e.g. stress, relationship issues):

  • Discuss the cause(s) of absence and the likelihood of the illness recurring and give the employee the opportunity to highlight any relevant issues.
  • Listen carefully. You will need to illicit sufficient information for you to be able to understand/articulate the main issue(s). Explain that you will reflect on the matter and consider next steps/options. Seek advice from a Human Resources colleague after the meeting.
  • Undertake a risk assessment, if appropriate –seek Human Resources advice if necessary.
  • Agree with the individual any appropriate action/review periods, if appropriate

3. After the Meeting

  • Update/amend electronic records (uBASE), if relevant. For example:
  1. tick the work related or disability related flag if from these discussions it becomes evident the employee considered the absences aggravated or due to either issue.
  2. Ensure that the date of the RTW discussion is recorded where either flag was used or a cause for concern has been identified.
  • Use the RTW form to capture relevant factual information (avoid assumptions), and note the agreed actions/timeframe. Both parties should sign the form if actions have been agreed. Mark this confidential and store the form securely.
  • Ensure you undertake action points you are responsible for and let the employee know.
  • Be available to talk to/meet with the employee, should they have any issues following the RTW.

If at any stage it becomes apparent that absence from work could be a matter of misconduct or performance capability rather than ill-health, seek advice from Human Resources.