Back To Work Interview – A Guide For Employers

A back to work interview is a meeting that is held with an employee when they return to work after an absence.


James Rowland

Commercial Director James leads Account Management, Sales and Marketing at Neathouse Partners.


05 December 2021


11 July 2024
6 min read

A back to work interview is a meeting that is held with an employee when they return to work after an absence. The aim of this meeting is to welcome the employee back to work, discuss the reason for their absence and confirm that they are ready to return to work.

It can be tempting to skip the back to work interview so that you can get your employee straight back into the workplace, especially if their presence is being missed. However, it’s important that you don’t underestimate the importance of a return to work interview and the benefits that they can bring.

In this article, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about back to work interviews, from the benefits of making return to work interviews part of your absence management policy to what you should include in the interview.


Is It A Legal Requirement To Have A Back To Work Meeting?

Whilst holding a return to work interview is part of the absence procedure of many organisations, it is not a legal requirement. This means that you are not legally obliged to hold a return to work meeting when a member of staff returns from an absence.

However, it is considered best practice to conduct an informal return to work meeting after a period of absence, especially if that absence has been long term or has been a regular occurrence. This is because back to work meetings offer many benefits to both the business and the employee, whilst ensuring that the staff member is question is feeling ready to return to their duties.

Read on to discover the benefits of holding return to work interviews, as well as learning what you should cover during the meeting.

Looking for advice on return to work interviews?

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Return to work meeting


Benefits Of Return To Work Interviews

Return to work interviews can benefit both employers and employees, and both parties can benefit from having a return to work interview in place.

They provide a clear structure for the return, which can help to ensure that both employer and employee are happy with the arrangement. Employees may feel more comfortable returning to work if they know that they have an interview arranged with their boss, and employers can be reassured that their employee is well enough to return to the workplace.

Here are some of the key benefits of holding return to work interviews:

  • Ensure that your employee is ready to return to the workplace.
  • Demonstrate to your employee that their absence was noticed and that they were missed.
  • Give an opportunity for the employee to be updated with anything they may have missed whilst they were not at work.
  • Deter any non-genuine future absences.
  • Identify whether anything at work contributed towards or triggered the absence, such as stress.
  • Identify any adjustments that could be made in the workplace to reduce the chance of future absences being required.
  • Detect any trends that might be present in an employee’s absences.

When Should You Do A Return To Work Interview?

If you’ve decided to make back to work interviews part of your absence management policy, you might be wondering when it is appropriate to hold a return to work meeting. Whilst some employers choose to hold the meeting after every absence, others may decide to only hold the interview if the absence reaches a certain threshold, for example, if the length of absence exceeds one week.

If you’re looking to deter non-genuine sickness absences, we’d recommend holding a return to work interview after every period of absence. Ideally, this interview will be held as soon as possible when the employee returns to the workplace. This is because the return to work interview is the perfect opportunity to ensure that your employee is fit to return to their role, so it’s important not to delay the meeting wherever possible.

Absence Management Policy


Who Should Be Present?

Holding a return to work meeting is not a legal requirement, so there’s no rules when it comes to who should be present at the interview. However, most employers choose to keep this meeting informal, with just the employee and their line manager or supervisor in attendance.

By keeping the return to work meeting informal, the employee is more likely to feel comfortable to share details of their absence and discuss any concerns that they might have around returning to work.

Alternatively, the meeting could be conducted by a HR representative or another manager, in the absence of the employee’s line manager.


Return To Work Interview Questions

When you’re preparing to hold a return to work interview, you might be wondering what sort of questions you should ask your employee. It can be helpful to think of the return to work interview as a meeting, rather than an interview. Rather than asking a series of questions, it can be valuable to instead have an open discussion with your employee about their absence and their return to work.

By asking too many questions, you may leave the employee feeling pressured to provide more detail than they are comfortable with. An open discussion enables your employee to share as much as they feel comfortable with, without feeling under pressure.

However, it can be helpful to have a set of questions to guide your discussion. This will help to ensure that you cover everything that is needed and give you something to say should the discussion come to a dead end.

Having a documented format for return to work meetings will also help to ensure that all employees are dealt with fairly and consistently. This could prove vital if a claim is later made at an employment tribunal.

Here are some of the most common questions that are asked during a back to work interview.

  • How do you feel now?
  • Do you feel ready to return to work?
  • Have you seen your GP regarding your condition?
  • Are you taking any medication? If so, are there any side effects that we need to be aware of?
  • Is this a long term, recurring or ongoing condition?
  • Was your absence caused by or contributed to by anything work-related?
  • Can we make any adjustments that may help with your attendance?
  • Is there anything you need support with during your return to work?
  • Do you have any questions regarding your return to work?


Return to work interview questions


Tips For Success

Holding a return to work meeting can feel daunting, especially if it’s the first time you’ve conducted this type of interview. However, this is an important part of any absence management policy, both in terms of ensuring that your employee is well enough to return to work and in reducing non-genuine sickness absence.

Here are a few tips to help you to prepare for a successful return to work interview.

1.     Choose A Private Meeting Room

Find a private space to hold the meeting. This interview will discuss personal matters and should be handled sensitively, so it’s important that the employee feels comfortable in their surroundings and is not overheard.

2.     Follow Process

Document your return to work process and keep the same format for each back to work interview that you conduct. It might help to create a tick sheet or form that is completed during the interview to ensure that everything is covered and the process is fair and consistent for every employee and every absence.

3.     Keep It Pressure-Free

Try to help the employee to feel at ease. This means not putting any pressure on them – remember, they are under no legal obligation to reveal details about their absence unless they choose to do so.

4.     Don’t Question Validity

It’s important that you don’t question the validity of the absence without concrete evidence to suggest that their absence was non-genuine. If there is evidence, this would be a disciplinary matter, rather than being dealt with through a return to work interview.

5.     Keep It Informal

The word ‘interview’ might sound formal, but there’s no reason that the return to work meeting needs to be formal. In fact, keeping the process informal and making it feel more like an informal chat than an official interview can help your employee to feel at ease, making them more likely to discuss any adjustments that may make their return to work easier or reduce the chance of future absences being required.

6.     Keep Notes

It’s important to ensure that you keep notes of the conversation. The easiest way to do this is by having a standard form that is completed during every return to work interview. This helps to ensure that every meeting is consistent, as well as making sure that your conversation is properly documented. This document should then be signed by both the employee and the manager to avoid any future disputes.


Related Questions

How Long Can A Phased Return To Work Last?

When an employee has been absent from work for health-related reasons, their doctor or medical provider may suggest that they could benefit from a phased return to work. This helps the employee to ease back into their role, making the transition easier.

Whilst the majority of phased returns last between two and six weeks, there is no set timeframe for this process. The length of the phased return should be decided between the employee, their employer and their medical provider. The phased return should be reviewed at regular intervals to ensure that the employee feels comfortable with the transition and help to avoid any recurrent absence.

Can HR Verify A Doctor’s Note?

If you are in any doubt that the fit note provided by an employee is not genuine, you are able to call the doctor on the phone number provided on the phone to verify it. Whilst the doctor or receptionist will be able to confirm whether the note was written by the doctor in question, they will not be able to provide any further details regarding the absence, and you should not ask for any more information.

Can An Employer Ignore A Doctor’s Note?

If an employee has been signed off by a doctor as not fit for work, this should be accepted by the employer and the employee should not be asked to work. If the doctor provides advice on reasonable adjustments that could be made to facilitate a return to work, this should be considered by the employer.

Whilst you are not legally obliged to make the requested adjustments, it’s important to note that without the adjustments, the employee will be considered not fit to work, so should remain on sick leave for the duration of the sick note.


Get Expert Advice Regarding Return To Work Interviews

Whilst a return to work interview is not a legal requirement, many businesses have made this part of their absence management policy to reduce the occurrence of non-genuine sickness absence and to enable employees to feel supported in their return to the workplace after a period of absence.

If you need advice regarding holding a back to work interview or incorporating this into your absence management policy, our team of expert HR advisors are on hand to offer advice and support. Contact us today to find out how we could assist your business.

Need expert advice on back to work interviews?

Fill out our contact form or call us on 0333 041 1094.


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