Each time someone has been off sick you should carry out a ‘return to work interview’ with them. The nature of this meeting will be different depending on the length and the nature of the illness which caused the sickness absence. This kind of meeting should be more in depth after long term illness but will not contain all the elements of the induction process given to new starters because such a process would not be appropriate for someone returning from sick leave.
Inductions usually include a full overview of the company, its different departments and possibly some time spent in those departments to become familiar with how they work. It is also likely to include a tour round the building and the employee will be shown where the canteen, toilets etc. are. As these things are not likely to have changed since the employee was last in work, it will not be necessary to do a full induction again.
However, when someone has been off sick for a protracted period, it is likely that there have been some changes in the organisation as a whole, or alternatively in the department in which the employee works, or to the actual role that they perform. Clearly the employee will need to be made aware of these changes and the best forum to bring the employee up to speed is a return to work interview which has been specifically arranged for the employee’s first day back at work.
An agenda would help you remember everything you wanted to mention at the meeting but is not essential. Although the word ‘interview’ suggests something different, the meeting does not carry the same meaning as a traditional interview. It is a meeting at which you should ensure the employee is fully well enough to be working again, and whether there is anything that you need to do to make the return as smooth as possible. This should be the format of all return to work interviews regardless of the length of the absence. With a return after long term sickness, however, the extra update on any changes should also be incorporated.
You should also consider other things to encourage a smoother transition back into the working day. For example, arranging for the employee to shadow a colleague for the first couple of days, or implementing lower performance targets for a temporary period. Returning back to work after a long period of time can be quite daunting, so demonstrating to your employee that you care about their wellbeing will surely help ease them back into the workplace.
By Alan Price, Employment Law Director of Peninsula