How to conduct a return to work interview after stress leave?

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In this blog we will discuss how one can conduct a return-to-work interview after stress leave.

We will also discuss what a return to work interview is, how you can prepare for one as an employee, and whether it is legally mandated.  

How to conduct a return to work interview after stress leave?

If your employee or a subordinate has returned to work after a stress leave, here are a few things to keep in mind as you prepare and conduct the interview:

Follow a standard structure

Usually, to ensure that there is no bias and discrination, the interviewer must ensure that the structure is standard and so are the questions that are being discussed. 

The structure looks something like this:

  • Welcome
  • Update the employee
  • Identify required adjustments
  • Create a plan
  • Record absence
  • Questions

Prioritise privacy

Conduct your meeting in a private space- be it in another office room or conference rooms that are not used or you can do it after office hours when the other employees are not present. 

Prioritising their privacy can help the employee feel safe and make it comfortable to discuss things related to their medical condition more openly.

Welcome

Provide a warm welcome to the employee that is genuine as this can be a great way to set the tone of the meeting. 

Here you can ask the reasons for the absence and other aspects about their situation and give them enough time to explain themselves. 

Check their condition

The next thing that you explore is their fitness and whether they are fit enough to return to work. You can check their doctors notes as well so that you can cross check if they are really ready and that they have not felt pressured to return before they are ready.

Some questions you can ask include:

  • How are you feeling now?
  • Are you well enough to be back in work?
  • Did you see your GP or a pharmacist?
  • Have you been given any medication and are there any side effects I should be aware of?
  • Is this an ongoing or recurring condition?

During this segment avoid questioning the validity of their condition and do not put pressure on the employee to behave in a certain way or pressure them by using leading questions. 

Update the employee

After the conditions and circumstances have been verified, you can take the time to update the returning employee on anything they’ve missed during their absence.

Here you can update them on new people in their team, new projects, achievements, new rules, new formats etc. so that this can help them enhance their productivity and also make them feel more included.

Identify required adjustments

Next, ask the individual if there is anything that needs to be done with the work space or the workload to accommodate their needs.

This can include adjustments that can help the employee to transition and come back to work easier.  This can means smaller loads, or making changes to prevent recurrences of illness, injury, stress etc, 

Make a plan

One adjustment and accommodations have been noted down, you can then lead the employee to make plans about their transition back. This means how the transition can become easier for them. 

For example, another employee can handhold them for the first week or they can start with shorter working hours or adjusted duties depending on the employee’s current capabilities.

As you make the plan, make sure that you and the employee collaborates on the planning with ample inputs form the employee. 

Record absence

It is also important that you make a note of the absences- the dates and the duration and keep it on record so that the dates recorded are correct, preventing any disputes later.

Questions

The interview should end by asking the employee if they have any questions or concerns about returning to work. 

It is very important that you give them ample time to discuss what their concerns are and take the time to answer their questions as best as you can so that they feel confident to come back to work. 

When

The interview should be held as soon as the employee has returned, ideally the first shift back. You can do it during working hours and privately. 

Time Limit

There is no exact time limit about the meeting, however it is usually the case that the meeting is short when it is in an informal set up or longer when it is done formally. 

Protect data

Once the meeting is done, make sure that each information and notes that have been collected are protected as it could include sensitive data.

What is a return to work interview?

A return-to-work interview is a meeting that is held one to one between a company representative like the HR manager and an employee who has recently come back to work after an absence- usually due to medical conditions.

The meeting involves an interview that follows a standard structure; however, some might not use a structured interview since it is not a legal requirement. 

It is quite short and informal in some cases and is often conducted by HR or by the manager regardless of how long the employee was off for or the reason.

According to Cordell Health these interviews are conducted inorder to ensure the following:

  • To ensure the employee is fit for their return to work
  • To minimise absence levels within the organisation
  • To address any concerns or underlying health conditions that may impact the return to work
  • Provide the opportunity to ensure any adjustments and accommodations that need to be made are addressed in order to rescue absences and turnover 

How to prepare for a return-to-work interview after stress leave?

If you are an employee who has a return to work interview after stress leave here are a few things you can do to prepare for it:

  • Be on time for the interview as a show of good faith.
  • There is no reason to be nervous if you have nothing to hide. 
  • Bring in your documents related to your diagnosis and doctors statements about your health at present. 
  • Answer the question clearly and without hesitation
  • Make sure that you let your manager or HR know what can help you ease back into work- for example, lighter load in the first few months. 
  • Make sure that you mention any factors from the workplace that have caused you stress- like inhumane working hours.
  • Take your time and calmly explain exactly how your condition and medications you might be taking affected your life and your ability to perform at work.
  • Give an update about your condition at present. 
  • Make it a point to ask questions if you have any.

Is a back to work interview a legal requirement?

Back to work interviews are not necessarily a legal requirement; this means that the employee is not legally required to have these meetings and the employee is not legally bound to attend them.

However, it is advised that the employee after taking a stress leave attends this meeting with your supervisor or HR manager because of the benefits that come with it. 

It is not a legal requirement however, it might be included in your employee contract as a company policy and this makes it important that you attend the meeting. 

While this meeting or interview is not legally required, the employer should make sure these interviews are part of the process where the employee resumes their work in a manner that is fair and that does not discriminate. 

Conclusion

In this blog we have discussed how one can conduct a return-to-work interview after stress leave.

We have also discussed what a return to work interview is, how you can prepare for one as an employee, and whether it is legally mandated.  

FAQ related to How to conduct a return to work interview after stress leave?

How do I go back to work after stress leave?

Here are a few things you can do to prepare yourself to go back to work after stress leave:

  • Try to keep in touch with colleagues.
  • Catch up on news from your workplace.
  • Connect with your manager or HR.
  • Plan to visit work before you return. 
  • Have a meeting with HR or manager about your return and possible accommodations and adjustments.
  • Get your doctor’s notes ready.
  • Ask to return to work gradually.

Can I refuse a return to work interview?

Yes, You can refuse to do the back to work interview, it might be included in your employee contract as a company policy and this makes it important that you attend the meeting. 

Can I refuse a back to work interview in the UK?

You can refuse to do the back to work interview, it might be included in your employee contract as a company policy and this makes it important that you attend the meeting. 

Does going off with stress affect future employment?

Even if stress is the reason for leaving, it doesn’t affect future prospects of employment if you have been able to tackle your condition and are able to present yourself as capable. 

How do you qualify for stress leave?

Here are the following circumstances that make you eligible for stress leave at work:

  • You cannot perform your work tasks.
  • Stress levels are affecting your quality of work.
  • Work-related stress affects your personal life.
  • Your doctor recognises symptoms of depression or anxiety in you.

Can I claim unemployment benefits if I leave my job?

You can claim benefits as soon as you know the date of your last day at work. You’ll need to prove you had a good reason for resigning such as a medical document or else you will have to pay a penalty of three months’ benefits. 

Can I be sacked for being off sick with a doctor’s note?

Even if you have a doctor’s note for being absent from work, you can still be dismissed in case you take leave for an unreasonable amount of time. 

Your employer would normally be expected to allow a reasonable amount of time for you to recover however, it is possible that you can be let go if you exceed that time or if your absence gets in the way of the company’s goals.

References

Return to work after sickness interview question examples. RealBusiness. Retrieved on 3rd March 2022. https://realbusiness.co.uk/return-work-sickness-interview-question-examples

Get the best out of return to work interviews. CitrusHR. Retrieved on 3rd March 2022. https://citrushr.com/blog/leave-absence/return-to-work-interview/

Returning to work after stress. 10 Tips for managing the return to work interview. CordellHealth. Retrieved on 3rd March 2022. https://cordellhealth.co.uk/blog/10-tips-for-managing-the-return-to-work-interview-after-an-employee-has-been-off-with-stress/#:~:text=Use%20the%20 interview%20to%20 reinforce,impact%20on%20work%2Dlife%20balance.

Getting back to work after stress, anxiety or depression: Practical Guidance for SMEs. Small Business Charter. Retrieved on 3rd March 2022. https://smallbusinesscharter.org/business-advice/getting-back-work-stress-anxiety-depression-practical-guidance-smes/

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