HSE calls for return-to-work to be seen as part of recovery

Employers need to see returning to work after a period off sick as part of the recovery process rather than the end of it, according to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).

The HSE published guidance in November on getting people back into work after being off sick (OH News, December), and has now fleshed out its recommendations.

It is estimated that long-term sickness absence costs UK businesses more than £3.8bn a year.

While long-term sickness represents only 5 per cent of cases, it accounts for 33 per cent of working days lost.

The guidance, Managing sickness absence and return to work, has stressed that early intervention is the key.

“Work is essential to good health and well-being if properly managed. Return-to-work is part of the recovery process and can safely happen before symptoms die down,” it has recommended.

The “journey” from going on long-term sick leave to leaving paid employment need not be inevitable, it argued.

Employers also need to be aware that sickness is affected by a combination of personal and work factors, it added.

It is much easier to put in place a systematic approach to dealing with sickness absence if you do it in co-operation with employees and their representatives, it suggested. This should include:

  • Checking and recording sickness absence
  • Training managers in how to deal with sickness absence and disability
  • Involving absent staff in planning their return to work
  • Taking a close look at wage arrangements and conditions or work
  • Planning reasonable adjustments and controlling risks
  • Looking at the way you manage work to prevent poor health being made worse by work.

A written policy, while not a legal requirement, is often a good idea, as it can set out expectations, roles and responsibilities across the board, added the HSE.


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