Helping an employee to return to work after a long illness

Of the many difficult personal issues that businesses have to deal with, one of the most important is helping an employee who has been off work for a long time to return to their position.

Long-term sick absence is a perennial problem in business, and it has negative effects on both sides of the employer-employee relationship. For the employer, there will obviously be the effect on productivity, but more importantly, the employee will be dealing with the psychological effect of not working, which can include worrying about loss of earnings and struggling without a daily routine.

There are a number of ways that you can help employees return to work. If they are struggling financially, then there are a number of options that they can pursue, such as debt advice groups or even investigating whether they might be entitled to a PPI refund through

It is also important to acknowledge that returning to work after a prolonged absence can be a difficult transition for employees. Here are three ways in which an employer can help their employee to return to work with minimal difficult.

Stay in touch

The first stage is to ensure that you keep in contact with your employee regularly throughout their absence. This contact should not be used as a way to discuss returning to work, but should focus on the employee’s wellbeing, keep them up to date with what is going on in the office, and retain that important link.


When your employee has told you that they will be able to return to work, the next stage is to talk with them about reasonable adjustments that you can make to the workplace or about other ways of working that will make things easier for them. It may also be that they aren’t ready to make an immediate full-time return to work, in which case you could discuss with them the process of a phased return. Whether they make a full or a phased return, it is important to discuss adjustments that could help to make things easier for them, which could include aids or adaptations to their work environment or supervision and support.


It is vital to deal with an employee’s return to work in a sensitive and transparent way. Make sure that you maintain an open-door policy that enables the employee to feel they can approach you at any time, communicate openly at all times, and listen sensitively to any issues that the employee raises. You could also encourage the employee’s colleagues to get involved in the process of helping them back to work. This can be useful in promoting team spirit as well as making the employee feel valued and welcome.

The process of returning to work for employees who have been off for a long time can be a difficult one. By following these principles, you can help to minimise difficulties and work towards the full reintegration of the employee into the workforce.