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Phased returns from long term sickness absence and the impact on pay

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We have had two clients recently ask us about the payroll implication where a phased return is implemented.


Q: A Fit Note we have received from our employee has advised us that a phased return to work over a four week period would help the individual ease back into the role at work. The individual has had a lengthy period of time off and is currently on nil pay (as has exhausted both company and statutory sick pay). While we are keen to get the individual back to work I am unsure where we stand in relation to pay for the phased return to work and I am unsure if there are any guidelines I need to adhere to. As the individual is returning to work does this mean I have to pay for the non-working hours, I want to be fair to the individual but also want to have a fair approach for us as the employer! I am keen for the individual to return to work and support her in the best possible way, and the suggested return to work seems reasonable given the period of time the individual has been absent from work. The individual is looking forward to returning to work, and agrees a phased return to work will be of benefit to her.

A: In the event that you do not have an absence policy it is important you consider what if anything, you have done previously in regards to other employee’s in a similar scenario. For example, if it is common practice to pay employees for any hours un-worked throughout a phased return to work then it is important you treat this employee in an equitable and consistent manner during their phased return to work.

There are no set guidelines in regards to a phased return to work, however the usual arrangement is that the employee is paid only for the hours actually worked. In some cases this will potentially mean that the employee’s pay will reduce during a phased return to work until their hours increase again. It is worth highlighting that the employee will have continued to accrue annual leave during their absence.

One option open to the individual is for them to consider whether they want to use any or part of these annual leave days to top up any hours un-worked during the phased return to work period. This way the individual will be using accrued annual leave and not disadvantaged (in terms of pay) during the phased return to work – this of course is an option only and it would be unfair for the individual to be made to do this.

It would be a good idea if possible to have a chat or meet with the individual prior to her return to work. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss and agree upon the detail of the phased return to work plan. The plan should include details of both parties agreed expectations, including; any amended duties; reduced hours; any gradual increase in worked hours and over what time period; any review dates and the date you would anticipate her to have returned to her normal substantive duties.

Details of the meeting and the agreed phased return to work plan should be followed up in writing. Review meetings should be conducted in a supportive manner and should allow you to assess how the individual is getting on in her return to work and whether there is anything further you can do to support her at work. Details of any subsequent review meetings should be followed up in writing.

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