How to develop a return to work (RTW) plan

A well managed early return to work will: reduce the risk of the absence becoming long-term, or where it has become long term, support the facilitation of an effective/successful reintegration back in to the workplace.

As each case will be unique it is not feasible to define specific timescales/actions, however the below is aimed at identifying the key points a manager should consider when developing such a plan:

1. Timing – This will depend on the individual’s specific circumstances, however, in most cases you may want to consider beginning to prepare a plan 3 to 4 weeks into an absence, to prevent an individual’s absence becoming long term, where possible.

2. Involve the employee in its development and take into account any relevant available advice (e.g. from their GP, consultant, Workplace Health & Wellbeing, Health & Safety, etc). Should the employee indicate that they would find it supportive the manager may wish to consider agreeing to the individual being accompanied by a work colleague or trade union representative for any such discussions etc.

3. Consider if any reasonable adjustments are required to facilitate a RTW either on a temporary or permanent basis (see guidance). For example in some cases after long term sickness absence a phased return may be appropriate. In implementing any reasonable adjustments or a RTW plan, where these require the support/input of, or are likely to impact on colleagues, it is important to ensure that they understand and support these changes. However, in securing this, employee confidentiality will also need to be respected.

4. Tailor the plan to the individual. It may be relevant to include: a clear objective; time period; information about any reasonable adjustments to be implemented; information about changes to terms and conditions; the checks that will be made to make sure the plan is put into practice; review dates etc.

5. Make the employee aware of additional sources of advice/support as appropriate e.g. counselling, staff helpline etc.

6. Agree with the employee what response should be given to colleagues/customers who enquire as to their situation (as it is important their confidentiality is respected).

7. Consider if some informal contact with the department would assist prior to the implementation of a RTW plan, particularly after a long period of sickness absence. This could be as simple as inviting them in for a coffee and to say ‘hello’ to colleagues.

8. Ensure they have a workspace and a realistic workload upon return - be aware that some people will wish to prove themselves and may offer to take on too much. Instead, set achievable goals that make them feel they are making progress.

9. Review regularly to ensure it is supporting their effective RTW and ensure you keep in regular contact with the individual, so that any concerns can be identified and addressed quickly.

10. Where the employee has a period of sickness absence during the period of the RTW plan ensure that a RTW discussion is undertaken, and check how the employee feels the plan is working/if any changes may need to be considered, seeking advice from Workplace Health & Wellbeing as appropriate, particularly if there is a significant change in their health/wellbeing.

11. At any point in the above process advice/support can be gained from your Faculty HR Team HR Adviser/Lead.