David Price: Supporting an employee in returning to work after leave due to mental health

back to work
Going back to work after a health set-back can be a difficult process

Supporting an employee in returning to work after leave due to mental health

Returning to work for an employee who has been suffering from mental health issues can be an extremely daunting and terrifying prospect. They may feel apprehensive about how the workplace has changed, what their colleagues may think and how they will cope with the re-integration into a former routine. It is for this reason that employers and their management teams should focus on a strategy to help alleviate these concerns and make the transition as fluid and stress-free as possible.

Ensuring that your management teams are well versed in how to deal with this situation in a compassionate and professional manner will help provide piece of mind to the employee, whilst also meeting the employer’s duty of care obligation to all their employees. Below are the factors that employers should consider to ease employees back into work.

Return to work meetings

The primary step in supporting an employee back into work after a long period of sickness is to arrange a return to work meeting with the individual. This should be arranged prior to the employees first day in order to assess how the employee is at the present moment and whether they are fit enough to return to their duties. The meeting will also help determine any health and safety concerns that employers should be aware of.

Additionally, the meeting will provide employers with the opportunity to discuss with the employee the support they may need upon returning to work and what reasonable adjustments the business can make in order to facilitate this. From an employer’s perspective, the meeting will also provide time to conduct any necessary risk assessments prior to their first day back, whilst ensuring that the employee is not given to much too soon. Everything from this meeting should be documented for safe keeping and referred back to if needed.

Occupational Health Assessments

One of the possible outcomes of the return to work meeting is to assess whether an Occupational Health Assessment would be beneficial. The purpose of these assessments is to provide an independent and impartial detailed fitness to work assessment, which will look in depth at the employee’s job description and whether they can fulfill this based on their current capabilities given their medical condition. Recommendations will be made from this report regarding possible adjustments that the company can implement, for example, incorporating longer rest breaks or flexible working to accommodate medication side effects and so forth.

Accessing what you can do to support the employee to allow them to remain in their role will also ensure that if your employee may be considered to have a disability under the Equality Act 2010 that you are also meeting your obligation from a duty of care perspective to consider making reasonable adjustments within the work place.

Occupational Health Assessments also enable employers to consider whether a phased return to work would be beneficial to the employee based on their current capabilities. GP’s/treating specialists may often recommend a phased return to work as they provide the employee with extra time to re-adjust and can reduce the likelihood of them going off sick again. The Occupational Health assessment will help employers decide the best course of action to take within the realms of the employee’s job role and the businesses capabilities.

Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)

Employee assistance programmes help provide support to all employees including those with mental health issues. EAP’s are intended to provide support to employees who are experiencing personal difficulties either within or outside the workplace, which may adversely impact their work performance.  EAP services generally include a confidential telephone advice service and/or one-to-one counselling sessions with a fully qualified counsellor.

The benefit of this service for an employee returning to work after leave due to mental health is that it will provide them with access to help and support 24 hours a day, giving them piece of mind and reassurance. Additionally, EAP services can reduce the amount of pressure placed on management, allowing them to continue running the business, safe in the knowledge that their employees will be supplied with constant support.


About David Price

David Price is Group Director for Health Assured: a provider of innovative health & wellbeing solutions. He advises employers daily on how to encourage and develop a healthy workplace, whilst outlining best practice guidance on how to combat and control workplace stress and anxiety. David’s career has always centred on the development and wellbeing of employees. Before joining Peninsula, David spent several years in the senior management team at a leading national training provider, which helped more than 78,000 UK businesses start up. He has also worked for the Department for Work and Pensions and is a long standing member of the UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).
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One Comment - Write a Comment

  1. This is so important David but I would go a little further. I think employers need to investigate the causal factors for the work related stress absence and provide the means for the returning employee to overcome these. The issues causing the initial absence can be diverse, but often come down to a lack of work related skills that means the employee no longer copes with their situation, their workload or perhaps their relationships and, therefore, they buckle under the pressure. Having witnessed this myself, as a professional I now offer support to employers to train-in these skills so that employees return to work with more resilience and confidence and are, therefore, more likely to stay in work and give their best.

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