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How to get the best out of return to work interviews?

Updated: Jan 12

What is a return to work interview?

A return to work interview is an informal, brief meeting held with your employee on their return to work after every period of absence, regardless of how long they have been away from work or the reason for the absence.

Ideally, return to work discussions should follow a consistent format to guide both manager and employee through the conversation.

Do I need to do a return to work interview by law?

Return to work interviews are not a legal requirement, but they are important to ensure your employee is fit to return, as well as being a real benefit to a business by reducing absence levels and nipping in the bud any ongoing health issue where early intervention can help.

Consistency is key

It is important that everyone is treated fairly and equally to ensure there are no claims of discrimination or unfair treatment. This means asking everyone a similar set of questions, which is where a return to work form comes in handy.

If an employee is rarely off sick and well-trusted, it’s very tempting not to bother with a return to work interview. But if you only hold interviews for certain employees, you run the risk of accusations of bullying and unfair treatment. Return to work meetings can also be used after periods of unpaid time off for dependents to discuss the emergency nature of such leave and what steps have been put in place to provide additional support.

You also need to make sure you treat your notes from the meeting as sensitive data and store them in line with GDPR. Storing this information digitally, behind password protection, is preferable.

Return to work interviews should help to deter any absences that are not genuine and reduce the level of absence overall.

They can also be used to:

  • Confirm that the employee is well enough to be at work

  • Show employees that you have noticed their absence and that they were missed

  • Deter any absences that is not genuine

  • Ensure the employee is told about any work-related updates they may have missed during their absence

  • Identify any patterns or trends occurring in their absences

  • Identify any underlying conditions or disabilities, and whether there are any steps you can take as an employer to prevent future absences of a similar nature, and/or any reasonable adjustments that are required

  • Detect whether anything work-related might be triggering the absence, such as work-related stress

  • Ensure your records are accurate and agreed by the employee, which will help if you start any formal absence management and will also provide accurate reporting data

  • If relevant, ensure staff are aware if they are approaching, or have hit, a trigger point for formal absence management.

What to ask in a Return to work interview

It’s important not to make your employee feel too pressured to answer questions with a level of detail that makes them uncomfortable.

The aim is that your employee comes out of the interview feeling reassured and supported, not vulnerable and intimidated.

If you have reason to disbelieve the reason given for absence, be cautious in challenging their answers unless you have factual evidence to indicate their responses are inaccurate. This would be a matter to be addressed via your disciplinary process.

Important information to include in the return to work meeting:

  • details of any information or updates that they have missed due to their absence

  • whether or not they have hit an absence trigger, and if so, what next steps will be

  • how they will be paid for their period of absence

Holding a successful return to work interview

Follow these steps to get the most out of your return to work interviews:

  • Most importantly, return to work meetings should be conducted in in a private room as you will be discussing personal medical information that should be dealt with sensitively.

  • Having a return to work form provides helpful questions and ensures consistency.

  • Employees are under no obligation to reveal details about their absence they may not wish to so questions should be managed sensitively.

  • Return to work meetings can be an informal chat, with a few notes taken which reduces stress on an employee’s return to work. So long as there is consistency in the questions covered, and you check how you might be able to support their return to work and ongoing health.

  • Record notes of the entire conversation carefully and make sure both you and your employee sign them, to avoid any disputes over the information further down the line.

  • Store these notes securely, in line with GDPR guidance.

Return to work interviews should not be overlooked as they bring many benefits to a business.

These meetings should not feel formal or intimidating. Consistency is key; the aim is to provide your employee with a positive return to work and help them to feel valued.

Just don’t forget that the information you will be discussing is confidential, and you must take care to securely store your notes from the meeting.

Need help managing absence in your business?

Please contact Robinson Grace HR for further advice and support via or call us on 01793 311937 to see if we can help you.

Check out other Blogs in our series:

The content of our blogs is intended for general information only and does not replace legal or other professional advice.

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