Creating a return to work plan for a company employee

 return to work

Return to work plans

As an employer, there are a number of reasons why an employee of yours may take time off work. Alongside an individual’s annual (statutory) leave and other workplace privileges such as unpaid leave (discussed in another article), employees may have to take time off – for example maternity/paternity leave or after suffering a workplace injury or sickness.

In addition, an employee may have been signed off work by a GP due to sickness or a mental health issue. In addition, as the country heads back to the office as the COVID-19 Pandemic evolves into a more manageable situation, it may be of benefit to consider return to work plans for your staff members. This article will discuss how to implement a return to work plan.


Before beginning a return to work plan

A return to work plan is essential for those who have taken a substantial amount of time off work or have been affected by furlough during the the COVID-19 crisis. Before you develop your return to work plans for any appropriate member of staff, ensure your absence policy is up-to-date and covers:

  1. How to report absence (who to contact, and with how much notice)
  2. When a sick note is needed
  3. Keeping you in the loop – requirements to keep in touch
  4. How the employer tracks absence
  5. Sick pay

When this is done – your return to work plans are good to go!


Beginning a return to work plan:

A return to work plan tailored to individual workers may seem like a daunting prospect (particularly if you have a large number of employees) – however it may not be as tricky as expected. After periods of long-term absence (whatever the reason), it is good to conduct return-to-work interviews with employees. This will not only allow you to get to know your employee better and help them return to work, but it will build trust in your employee – something proven to increase satisfaction and productivity in the workplace.

After this conversation, you hopefully will have an insight into how you can help make the workplace more manageable for your employee. Do they feel like returning to work will affect their physical or mental health adversely? Do they feel like your company can do anything to make their working day more pleasurable? And, most importantly, will returning to work affect the persons recovery and thus mean more time off work?

In addition, there is nothing stopping you seeking the advice of specialists in health and safety, your HR team or, indeed, your employee’s doctor. It is also important to note, regarding COVID-19, that 29% of those who have contracted COVID have developed ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome) – part of what has become known as long-COVID. Thus, it is vital that a return to work plan is tailor-made for each individual.


Implementing return to work plans

It may become apparent that physical changes need to take place at a place of work – including, but of course not limited to, changes to an employee’s desk, equipment, facilities or chair, the installation of wheelchair-friendly ramps or wall brackets. However, with the return to work post-COVID as already references, changes may be more subtle – such as implementing COVID-safe working practises to safeguard those clinically vulnerable.

After absence, an employee may feel like they have got “back in their groove” and could begin to overwork themselves. In fact, more and more medical websites are developing pages to do with workplace burnout and stress, including the NHS. Thus, it is advisable you watch carefully over your employees to ensure they are not burning out and developing, or aggravating, a mental health condition which may send them off work once again.

In addition, it may be appropriate to phase entry back to work. As we have already spoken about burnout, a way to deal with this may be to avoid an immediate return to full-time work, being thrown in the allegorical “deep-end”, and phase a return to work with fewer hours to begin with. This can be agreed between you and the employee.

It is also important to remember that the conversations you have with employees are confidential – if certain changes to the way you run things at the company, or any physical modifications are made you do not reveal any details about whom you had the conversation with or any details from said conversation.

Finally – having said all that – it is also important to remember that any changes you make must not adversely affect any other members of staff in your company as this would not be appropriate or fair.


Final comments on return to work plans

Whilst return to work plans are not legally part of your responsibility as an employer, any responsible employer would ensure their staff are “kept in the loop” and are well-informed about any changes that may be made. In a world where we are becoming more and more aware of mental health challenges, it is important to recognise that although work may not be causing a mental health issue – it may be aggravating an existing condition or aiding the development of a new one.

Thus, a tailor-made return to work plan where an employer has made an employee aware of their rights as regards company absence policy and what you can do for them to make their job more comfortable will increase productivity and job satisfaction.

In conclusion, at this time more than any other as the pandemic (hopefully) draws to a conclusion, consider your employees on an individual basis. 

Joshua Nicholson

Joshua Nicholson is the Content Marketing Consultant at Leave Monitor and has been supporting the marketing team with fresh ideas and plans.