Phased return to work after sickness absence

Written by: Fit for Work team | Posted in: Blog

phased return to workAfter a person has been absent from work due to illness, especially when the person has been absent over a prolonged period of time, a phased return to work may be the best way of helping the person to re-adjust to full attendance/performance at the workplace.

The phased return to work, which is included as an option on the fit note, offers employees the opportunity to return to work at an earlier stage of recovery from illness (they may not yet be fully fit) by allowing them to do fewer hours and/or modified duties based on a structured return to work plan. The main benefit of the phased return to work for employees is that it allows them to return to work much sooner and settle back into a normal routine, and this has been shown to improve overall wellbeing.

How a return to work programme is developed will depend to a large extent on the reason for the person’s absence, as recuperation rates vary greatly. Those who return to work too soon after illness may not be able to work to their full capacity even though they may appear sufficiently medically fit to return to their jobs. It would be easy for managers to misconstrue issues such as difficulty concentrating, remembering things or making decisions as poor performance, so it’s important for employers to find out about a person’s condition and their expected rehabilitation rates.

Not all organisations have their own occupational health departments for advice on employee health matters, however. In addition, getting advice on the effect that work might have on a person’s health and, conversely, the effect that a person’s health issues might be having on their ability to work, is particularly important when employees are returning to work after sickness absence. This is why Fit for Work offers free, expert and impartial work-related health advice to GPs, employers and employees to help those who are struggling in work with a health condition, or have been off work for four weeks or more due to sickness.


  1. Anna


    My mom has returned to work after 4 months absence – after her operation. Her colleague had advised that she is entitle to work for 50% of her normal time instead her full hours for some time at the beginning of her return to work. Could someone please advise how true it is ?

    I would appreciate any advice.

    Kind regards,

    • Fit for Work team

      Hi Anna,
      What you are describing is a phased return to work, whereby an individual can return to work on reduced hours which would increase gradually over what is usually a short period. This is not an entitlement, but is something that some employers may consider in order to help an employee back to work following a long absence. Perhaps your mum should discuss this with her manager, who could advise on the position of her particular company.
      The Fit for Work Team.

  2. John

    I’m a teacher. I’ve been on a phased return now since early March this year after a period of illness of more than 12 months. Our “sick year” runs from the start of April to the end of March. My employer is telling me that as I have not yet started teaching full time yet I am considered to have not resumed my duties and consequently am effectively still sick. As a result, should I go sick again this year I will not be paid sick pay because I exhausted my entitlement over the last year. Is this possible?

    • Fit for Work team

      Hi John,

      If you are referring to sick pay in accordance with your employers organisational sick pay scheme then you would need to make enquiries about their specific rules – payroll departments are generally very knowledgeable and should be able to provide accurate advice. Employers/organisations are responsible for their own policies on organisational sick pay, and will have differing rules. There is no legislation which determines what can or cannot be paid by an employer in relation to company sick pay.

      With regard to Statutory Sick Pay, if a period of absence starts within eight weeks of the end of a previous period of absence, the periods are linked and count as one period of sickness. SSP is only payable for 28 weeks in any one period of absence (including linked periods). If you are off sick more than once with more than eight weeks in between, the periods you were off sick are not added together and the 28 weeks starts being counted again each time. Citizens Advice provide some useful information on their website

      The Fit for Work Team.

  3. shannon

    hi I have just had 10 weeks off due to an injuered hip that will need a major operation early next year I have this week been cleared by my doctor to return to full work as being a full time employee who only took 2 weeks non paid leave in that ten weeks does my employer have to return me to full time hours or do they have the right to only roster me on 3 x 6 hour shifts.

    • Fit for Work team

      Hi Shannon,

      This will be entirely dependent upon the terms and conditions of your employment. If you are a full time employee with a permanent contract, then usually your employer would allow you to return to your full time contract. However, if you are contracted on differing hours or, for example, zero hours contract, then your employer is able to adjust your hours to suit business needs.

      I would advise that you contact your employer to discuss this further and establish the reasons for the change in hours, it may be that they are simply trying to ease you back into the workplace gently.

      The Fit for Work Team.

  4. Layla Hammond

    Im returning to work after 4 months off work my return date is 1/06/2015 my doctor has said i need a phase return to work and said i need to discuss the hours with my employer but my manger is saying that if the doctor doesn’t specify the hours i need to do they won’t accepted my phase return and they need my doctor to write down the hours. I told my doctor this and he said it is usually something that i discuss with my HR dept not with my doctor. Who is right in this situation? I would be grateful of any help thank you.

    Layla Hammond.

    • Fit for Work team

      Hi Layla,

      There is no legislation which would cover this. While a GP can indicate on the Fit Note the hours to be worked, this would be unusual. A GP would usually only indicate the period the adjustment is required. This is because the GP would not have a working knowledge of every organisation and its needs. Therefore, it is a matter best discussed with your employer, if possible. That way, you and your employer can identify the specific needs of the organisation, and work out hours that suit both you and the organisation you work for. The Fit for Work website offers a selection of resources, which might help you and your employer reach a mutually beneficial agreement (e.g. this guidance sheet on the phased return to work: If the Fit for Work referral service has begun in your area (see the roll out map), you could ask your GP for a free referral in order to discuss your return to work.
      The Fit for Work Team

  5. Maria

    I had a gynaecology operation in March and I’m due to return to work in 2 days time. Despite chasing occupational health for a return to work appointment, they have not yet organised the appt. Should I return to work without having occupational health appt?

    Maria S

    • Fit for Work team

      Hi Maria,
      Thank you for your enquiry. If you feel able to return to your normal work, then it would be quite acceptable to return to work without undergoing an occupational health assessment. One alternative might be for you to speak with your manager about any adjustments you feel you might require in order to ease you back into the workplace. If for some reason you feel that you need the input of occupational health I would advise you contact your manager and explain your situation, it may be that they can speed up the referral on your behalf or amend some of your duties pending the assessment. If the Fit for Work referral service has begun in your area (see the roll out map), you could ask your GP for a free referral in order to discuss your return to work.
      The Fit for Work Team

  6. Shimon Forman

    my wife returned to work after a heart attack. Her line manager had made adjustments to the work plan to compensate for her absence. He has not reverted to the previous plan now that she has returned, leaving her with very little to do. She raised the matter with him but he prefers the new arrangement. Does she have any redress?

    • Fit for Work team

      Hi Shimon,
      Thank you for your query – it is generally for an employer to make decisions about the distribution of work, it may be that in re-allocating some of your wife’s work her manager is trying to protect her and avoid overloading her during the initial phases of her return to work. I would advise that she approaches her manager again and explain that she is finding the lack of work quite stressful, and feels that she is ready to take on more responsibility. Even if her manager prefers the current work plan it maybe that they can discuss other activities which she can become involved in. A good way of identifying limitations and needs is to look at the six principles within a stress risk assessment as these can help both employee and manager to agree suitable duties The following link lists these principles and might provide some guidance: Additionally ACAS may also be able to offer additional advice on employment rights.
      The Fit for Work Team

Leave a Reply