Return to work interviews- what is the point?

Peach Law Solicitor

Return to work interviews- what is the point?

Some companies are great at carrying them out, others not so much. From speaking to line managers there are many reasons for not carrying them out such as;
• “I don’t have enough time”
• “More important things to be doing”
• “I don’t want to look like I don’t trust my team”
• “There is nowhere to meet”
• “I don’t see the point”

They sometimes see that it is a HR process that can be ignored. This usually indicates that they have little knowledge or training in the process and the positive impact that return to work interviews can have on the bottom line of any business.

Why carry them out?
Return to work interviews are an effective way of managing sickness absence. Whereas the term appears formal, the meetings are generally informal and it is advised that this is the case so that it does not add any stress to the employee and puts them at ease as much as possible.
The meeting can provide further detail surrounding the absence over and above what you have documented already. The employee may raise issues not previously mentioned, which the company can support them on.

Carrying out return to work meetings shows the company’s commitment to their absence management policy and that they are treating their employees fairly and consistently. This then becomes the norm and not something that gets carried out when management are suspicious. It shows that the absence is taken seriously.

Companies are able to spot trends and patterns and act on them promptly and appropriately. It is very common to hear “John is always off on a Monday”!

Who should carry them out?
Ensure that the individuals who conduct the interviews have the appropriate skills to do so, providing training where relevant. At Peach we can carry out bespoke training to your management team on how to carry out return to work interviews effectively. Having the necessary skills can be the difference between a positive and negative interview. Sickness absence meetings can be emotional for employees as they could be discussing sensitive and confidential issues.
The person conducting the interview is usually the line manager, however, there may be situations where HR need to do this.

How to carry them out?
The person conducting the interview should;
• Prepare for the meeting by gathering all the information that they require. For example, previous absence details, patterns emerging, medical reports etc.
• Conduct it in an appropriate manner.
• Identify a suitable, private location
• Be sensitive
• Treat each situation on a case by case basis
• Challenge and question if there are any inconsistencies
• Listen to the employee

Short term and long term absence may need to be treated differently. Short term absences are usually dealt with there and then. Looking at trends and patterns can discourage casual absence whereas for long term absence the interview may be conducted prior to the employees’ return to ensure a smooth and effective return to the workplace. At this meeting a discussion should be had about any adjustments or phased return to work as well as identifying priorities when they return.

For both short and long term absence it is about encouraging two-way communication, looking at the reasons for the absence, ensuring that the company’s absence management policy is implemented with the employees’ health and wellbeing at the forefront.

Carrying out the interview after every period of sickness is advised in order to benefit from the value they bring.

Have a form that can be used to ensure that all areas are recorded and have both the employee and the interviewer sign the document.

Once the interview has been completed, it needs to be decided what the next steps are. There may need to be further investigations, or the employee may need to be referred to occupational health or a consultant. Keep information confidential, anything discussed should not be communicated to the employees’ colleagues.

There are alternative, commercial options that could be considered. Interested to know what they are? Get in touch?
Return to work interviews should be part of your existing absence management policy and procedure. If you are unsure if your policy and procedures are appropriate for your business get in touch we can review this for free! Call us confidentially on 0161 478 3800.
  • Employment Law
  • HR & Legal advice
  • Absence management
  • HR Consultant
Peach Law HR Consultant

Comments (1)

  • Excellent article Carrie. Carrying out a professional RWI, every time an absence has occurred, is simply good management - written down. Depending on issues such as length of absence, reason for absence, any patterns of absence, and the individual member of staffs sickness record, it can take anything from 5 minutes or up to an hour. High levels of short term sickness absence within an organisation can be damaging to both production and morale, and can even become 'infectious.' I know of organisations who have properly introduced RWI's and have reduced the 'spread'. I do wish more companies would follow your advice.

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