Phased Return to Work Following Long-Term Sickness

Question: What is the best practice for a phased return to work following long-term sickness?

I have a member of staff who, after being absent for work due to ill health for the past 9 months is now able to return to work. The practice has been in contact with the individual throughout her absence and the individual was referred to an occupational health specialist; who advised a phased return to work over a four week period would help the individual ease back into the role at the practice.

The individual has had a lengthy period of time off and is currently on nil pay (as has exhausted both practice and statutory sick pay). While the practice is keen to get the individual back to work I am unsure where we stand in relation to pay for the phased return to work and I am unsure if there are any guidelines I need to adhere to. As the individual is returning to work does this mean I have to pay for the non-working hours, I want to be fair to the individual but also want to have a fair approach for the practice.

I am keen for the individual to return to work and support her in the best possible way, and the suggested return to work seems reasonable given the period of time the individual has been absent from work. The individual is looking forward to returning to work, and agrees a phased return to work will be of benefit to her.


You appear to have followed a pro-active approach in managing the individual’s long term sickness, including referring the individual to occupational health prior to her return to work which is a good step in supporting the individual (both in returning to work and during the absence).

As you will be aware; it is always important to apply a fair and consistent approach for all staff within your practice and in the first instance you should follow the practice’s own absence policy in order to ensure the individual is dealt with in accordance with the published procedure.

In the event that the practice does not have a published producer it is important you consider what the practice has done previously in regards to other employee’s within the practice. For example, if it is common practice to pay employees for any hours un-worked throughout a phased return to work then it is important you treat this employee in an equitable and consistent manner during their phased return to work.

There are no set guidelines in regards to a phased return to work, however the usual arrangement is that the employee is paid only for the hours actually worked. In some cases this will potentially mean that the employee's pay will reduce during a phased return to work until their hours increase again.

It is worth highlighting to you that the employee will have continued to accrue annual leave during their absence. One option open to the individual is for them to consider whether they want to use any or part of these annual leave days to top up any hours un-worked during the phased return to work period. This way the individual will be using accrued annual leave and not disadvantaged (in terms of pay) during the phased return to work – this of course is an option only and it would be unfair for the individual to be made to do this.

I would suggest that you meet with the individual prior to her return to work; advising of her right to be accompanied if the meeting is being held under a formal process. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss and agree upon the detail of the phased return to work plan. The plan should include details of both parties agreed expectations, including; any amended duties; reduced hours; any gradual increase in worked hours and over what time period; any review dates and the date you would anticipate her to have returned to her normal substantive duties. Details of the meeting and the agreed phased return to work plan should be followed up in writing.

Review meetings should be conducted in a supportive manner and should allow you to assess how the individual is getting on in her return to work and whether there is anything further the practice can do to support her at work. Details of any subsequent review meetings should be followed up in writing.

Please note the above guidance is of a general nature. It is important that practices ensure policy guidelines and contractual obligations are followed.

In addition to the above First Practice Management  members can obtain further information via the FPM website. Alternatively members can also email specific questions about employment issues to where your question will be treated in confidence and will normally be answered (by email) within 2 working days of submission.

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You employer has a duty of care towards their employees. They should carry out a risk assessment with you stating clearly your needs .The risk assessment should tackle any difficulties which may contribute to further illness. I would advise you contact your union.

Cath 22/02/2017

My husband has returned to work after a quadruple heart bypass on reduced hours which he has only been working one hour less a day for the last four weeks we were understood to believe that my husband woud be paid for these reduced hours either by his work place or by statutory sick pay

C P 18/02/2017

I was on long term sick at work due to aniexty and depression. It wasn't all work related but it contributed to it. I went back on a phased to work for two weeks, then used some annual leave for just over week. On my first full day back I had anixety due to to many distractions. eg. receiving orders telephone ringing front door and back door assistant bells going and staff asking me to do tasks for them. I had five minute cry ,cup of tea then ok again. The senior Tech and I were having weekly meetings, but he felt that he could no longer help my situation. So he referred me to Line Manager. I spoke to my line manager how I felt and she said it is my 4th week back and I should not be like this now. everyone in the department has distractions as well. A student was doing my job while I was off and she had her own jobs to do to complete her student post. A work collegue who did the same duties left and they didn't replace him. So my GP said I was basically doing the job for 2 people. I know that I have been avoiding a few jobs due to aniexty but I feel I was getting there. My line Manager mentioned reducing my hours, or my pay band , but would still be in the same situation. Then she said about redeployment. She made me feel guilty for being off work and angry for mentioning the above 3 things, as I have worked for them for over 11 years. She sort of turned it around that I had gone to speak to her which was unplanned. Do you think that she was unreasonable in what she said to me? I think she should have waited another 2 weeks . She has said that I am doing all the right things in getting well again as I have been on a stress control course. Also going to attend mindfulness course and couselling. She also said that work collegues are tip-toeing around me. I am also going back to see Occupational Health for advice. Do you think that she is expecting to much from me to soon. I usually bottle up my feelings. A work collegue convinced to to tell her how I felt. I also told her I am afraid to speak to her and will bottle everything up. I have been there before and I ended up hating my job, and the person involved. I also made myself very ill. On reflection I have not really sat down with either senior tech or the line manager to discuss what I need to achieve in a certain time frame. I don't want to bring unions or HR into this. Has anyone got advise they can give me please.

David Moffat 01/02/2017

I was on long term sick after an accident at work,when I returned to work I was seen by the council doctor who passed me fit to return to work although I had already returned to work when he assessed me. As time went on my initial injury returned and another operation was required for the initial injury. I feel I should have been looked after better on my return to work by my employer.How should I have been treated by my employer on my return?

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