This guidance applies to Public Service Commission employees only.
The phased return is time-limited for a period not exceeding 6 weeks duration, with attendance and targets agreed for each week of the phased return period.
The agreed arrangements will be detailed in a Return to Work Plan.
It is expected that the employee will be back at work undertaking their full contracted duties and hours at the end of the phased return period.
How to request a phased return
A medical recommendation that a phased return to work would be helpful can either come from:
- Occupational Health or
- a Sick Note from a GP which indicates that the employee 'may be fit for work' (subject to certain recommendations)
An employee can also request/agree a potential phased return to work programme with their manager and then visit their medical practitioner in advance of their Sick Note’s expiry, to check that they are fit to return to work to undertake the proposed phased return to work programme. Their medical practitioner will then need to confirm the fitness to return to work to undertake this programme and can also provide general details of the functional effect of the employee’s condition.
Subject to the employee’s consent, Occupational Health routinely copies their Occupational Health reports to their GP.
Deciding on a phased return - Advice for managers
It is recognised that the circumstances of each case of long-term absence will differ and managers should deal with phased return to work arrangements in a sensitive and flexible manner, on a case by case basis.
Note: Long term absence is a period of 20 or more working days continuous absence in any 12 months.
A phased return to work programme may be considered where this would assist the transition back to work immediately following a period of long term absence. The manager will make the decision on whether or not a phased return is appropriate.
Things to take into account
- whether the employee has been absent long term
- whether the employee would be able to sustain their contracted hours and duties at the end of the phased return to work period not exceeding 6 weeks
- a medical practitioner’s assessment, including any recommendations for modifications to duties and/or hours during the proposed phased return period
- the health and safety implications for the individual and others
- any other relevant factors
Consideration will be given to the suitability of implementing any such recommendations which, for example, may relate to temporary adjustments/accommodation to the employee’s working conditions.
Potential impacts to take into account
Managers should also consider the potential implications of any phased return such as suitable duties, necessary cover, difficulty in sourcing supply/backfill for a post for part-day, and how this may be managed with regard to:
- work colleagues
- service users
- business needs of the organisation
If unable to accommodate phased return
Whilst reasonable efforts will be made to try to accommodate a phased return to work, in the event a phased return to work cannot be accommodated, this should be explained to the employee and the employee will remain on sick leave.
If an employee’s request for a phased return to work cannot be accommodated, they may consider requesting flexible working or a voluntary downgrade if this option is available in their terms and conditions and if it can be accommodated.
Plan a phased return to work
The return to work programme should be planned with reference to the Phased Return to Work Policy and Guidance and the specific advice or recommendations from the medical health practitioner.
It is anticipated that the employee will be capable of initially working for a minimum of 12 to 16 hours per week and then gradually to build up to normal working hours and duties within a period not exceeding 6 weeks duration.
Prior to phased return to work
Prior to the employee’s return to work the manager will normally arrange to meet with them to discuss any proposed arrangements to assist their return to work and, if relevant, the Occupational Health Report.
The employee may ask for a work colleague or their trade union representative/staff welfare officer to be present at the meeting and an HR Advisor may attend if requested.
Employees are expected to co-operate in the implementation of a phased return.
To ensure a successful outcome, all elements of an agreed phased return to work programme require prior assessment and appropriate planning. Taking into account any recommendations from medical practitioners, the employee and their manager will work together to establish a plan which supports the employee’s full recovery and return to their normal duties and hours on a sustainable basis.
What to include in the phased return to work plan
The Return to Work plan will include:
- the start date
- the proposed end date
of the employee’s phased return to work programme.
It may also include:
- the employee’s attendance pattern (their hours of work should increase incrementally over the period of the phased return to work programme)
- the arrangements for managing non-attendance associated with the employee’s return to work programme (See Guidance No 5)
- the duties the employee will undertake during their return to work programme
- any reasonable adjustments and/or additional support which can be provided to assist the employee’s rehabilitation, for example, the allocation of a ‘buddy’ within their workplace to help them re-familiarise themselves with their working environment and practices, adjustments identified via a risk assessment (See Policy No 4. iv.)
- the date for a formal mid-point review of their return to work arrangements
The manager and employee may wish to agree the pattern of the phased return on a week by week basis to assess progress and capability as time goes on.
Any arrangements agreed will take account of both the employee’s personal health needs and the needs of the organisation.
Upon phased return to work
The following process may apply on the first day of the employee’s return to work:
- The manager will have a Return to Work discussion with the employee.
- The manager will again confirm the details of the Return to Work Plan with the employee. If this has not already been done, the manager and the employee should sign the Return to Work Plan to confirm their commitment to the arrangements, retaining a copy for future reference. The manager will forward a copy of page 1 to the OHR Absence Administration Team to enable the phased return to be logged.
After the phased return
Upon conclusion of the phased return period the manager will complete the final section of the Return to Work Plan to record:
- the date of the employee’s successful return to full duties and hours or
- their reversion to sick leave
A copy of this page should be emailed to the OHR Absence Administration Team so that the phased return may be closed.
Non-attendance recording during a phased return
Days (or part days) of planned non-attendance for which the employee is eligible to receive full contractual salary in relation to their phased return to work will be recorded as ‘Phased return’ in the Oracle credit column of the employee’s monthly time record via the Return to Work Plan.
If the employee is absent due to illness during their phased return to work when they were expected to be at work undertaking their phased return to work programme, they will be classified as being on sick leave and sick pay will apply.
The manager will need to open a new sickness absence for the employee and to inform the Absence team that the phased return has been interrupted. Upon the employee’s return to work the sickness absence should be closed in the usual fashion and the phased return re-opened.
The end date of the phased return may be adjusted, but should not exceed 6 weeks from the original start date of the phased return.
Phased return impact on pay
If a phased return to work programme can be accommodated, Sick Notes are not required as the employee will no longer be classified as being on sick leave and sick pay will not apply.
During the phased return the employee will be paid at the rate they would have received had they been on full sick pay. They will be paid at this rate both during periods of attendance at work and for periods of planned non-attendance, in accordance with their return to work plan recommended by the medical practitioner.
Allowances will only be paid appropriate to the actual duty and hours worked. Employees on a phased return may not undertake bank, relief or casual work.
Overtime will not be authorised or paid until the employee has returned to working their normal contracted hours and duties.
Where an increase in the hours worked under the phased return to work programme is proposed this should be considered as part of the regular review process and Medical practitioner endorsement obtained before any change is implemented.
Difficulties during a phased return
During the period of a phased return to work, the manager should regularly discuss progress with the employee on an informal basis and identify any possible problems.
If the employee is experiencing difficulty in undertaking their phased return to work, they should bring this to the attention of their manager at the earliest opportunity in order that adjustments to their programme can be considered.
The manager should hold a formal review meeting with the employee at the midpoint of the agreed phased return period and a note of this meeting should be taken and may be shared with the appropriate HR Advisor.
If at this stage the employee is experiencing difficulties relating to their recovery which impacts on the Return to Work plan, the Occupational Health Practitioner may be asked to meet with them to review the situation and provide further advice.
The employee may also wish to consider contacting Staff Welfare and/or their trade union representative.
If not fit to return to full working hours or duties
If it appears unlikely that the employee will be able to return to their full normal working hours and duties at the end of their agreed return to work programme, the Accounting Officer should seek further advice from the Occupational Health Advisor and OHR, to achieve the most appropriate outcome.
If sick leave resumes, the employee’s sickness absence will be managed in accordance with the Management of Sickness Absence Policy and Procedure and capability procedures may be invoked as appropriate.
Contacts for further guidance
For queries regarding this policy and guidance please contact your HR Advisor or Business Partner at the Office of Human Resources.
Alternatively, you may wish to contact the Occupational Health Service, Staff Welfare or your trade union/staff association representative.