A period of extended leave could be due to a physical illness, a period of poor mental illness, or if an employee has faced a recent bereavement.
With the current COVID-19 pandemic, a significant proportion of the world’s workforce may be sent into self-isolation or quarantine. Those who are classed as high risk are facing up to 12 weeks of self-isolation as the pandemic spreads and more is learned about the virus.
In the current situation, banks and financial services firms may face either a lot of long-term absence or see employees returning to a work environment after a long period of working in self-isolation.
Here are the best steps to take when supporting an employee returning to work after a long period of absence.
Make Sure Your Employee Is Ready to Return
Though your contact will be limited during a leave of absence, it is important to start discussing their return a couple of weeks before their agreed return to work date.
This is important in terms of tracking your employee’s wellbeing and work out their ‘readiness’ to get to work. In most cases, those who have been on a long leave of absence will be feeling positive to return back to a daily routine, but you may find others are anxious about their return.
It is your responsibility as an employer to decide if an employee is well enough both physically and mentally to return to work without the return having a further detrimental effect on their health. This could lead to further extended leave in worst-case scenarios.
Most companies will conduct a return to work interview with a returning employee, either virtually through a webcam discussion before their return, or on their first day returning from work.
What To Ask At A Return To Work Interview
It is important to flag up any responsibilities on your side for a return to work interview, covering both practicalities and the holistic needs of your returning employee.
In large companies, seek the support of your HR department and occupational health providers for information on how to support your employee. You may need to make reasonable adjustments before the employee is able to return to their job.
At a return to work interview, you will need to cover the following:
Update on any major operational or business changes which have happened during the absence
Flag up all reasonable workplace adjustments
Discuss any plans for a phased return to the workplace, or a return which can be phased
Allow open and honest discussion about any other issues the employee is concerned about, such as a lack of confidence or ongoing mental health issues which need to be considered
These interviews should be friendly and informal, reassure your employee of the support available, especially in terms of reasonable workplace adjustments.
Planning For a Phased Return
After a significant leave of absence or a particularly difficult time in an employee's life, such as a major bereavement, it is important to consider the possibility of a phased return to the workplace.
This can be better for both employer and employee in the long-term, as this allows the employee to grow back into their role instead of taking a further leave of absence. Providing a level of extra flexibility and trust will also strengthen your relationship with that employee.
A phased return to work usually lasts 1-6 weeks, but this should be tailored to the employee and what they want. Starting with manageable hours such as two days a week, or a few mornings a week, the hours the employee is in work will eventually increase until they are working full time.
Make Reasonable Adjustments
If an employee is returning to work after a physical illness, or recovery from an accident, your workplace may be required to make reasonable adjustments.
These are changes to the layout of a workspace, adjustments to work stations, provision of special equipment or software, or a change of tasks and responsibilities.
The specifics of these adjustments need to be discussed in a return to work interview and need to be applied before your employees’ return to work.
Talk To Your Returning Employee Regularly
No matter the reason for long-term leave, it is vital that you keep up contact with your returning employee to make sure they are comfortable with their working situation after their extended period away.
Keep up regular 1-2-1s for the months after their return where open and honest discussion is encouraged.
If there have been discussions around the extended leave of absence, especially around leave taken around mental health, it may also help to speak to the team working closely with the employee to ensure that they are informed of any workplace adjustments which they need to know about.