After 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 via our website and telephone line. And, from spring 2015, Fit for Work will be offering referrals to an occupational health professional for employees who have been off sick or who are likely to be off sick for four weeks or more.