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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness
 Work and mental health

Planning and preparing for your employee’s return to work

As an employer you can help ease the transition back to work

At an early stage in planning for your employee’s return to work you should look at whether there are any factors that may have contributed to your employee having to take sick leave in the first place and to ask how many of these factors were related to or exacerbated by their work.  You can then start to suggest possible ‘reasonable adjustments’ to change the way in which your employee works or to mitigate the factors that might have contributed or caused their mental ill-health.  There does have to be a pragmatic approach from you as an employer and from your employee because some organisational factors may be beyond your control and may have to be mitigated rather than removed completely.

You may want to seek advice from your occupational health advisor when developing these adjustments.  In turn your occupational health advisor can seek information from your employee’s GP, once your employee has given written permission for his/her GP to share their personal information.  A culture of open and honest communication will help to facilitate these contacts and discussions.   You will need to emphasise to your employee, their health and care professionals, and occupational health support that you want to work in partnership.  This is to ensure that a valued employee can return to work in such a way as to make a contribution to your organisation whilst the individual at the centre of this is protected in terms of health and well-being.

As an employer you can help ease the transition back to work by briefing your employee on any developments in projects or the workplace during their absence.  In addition, you will need to think about what information is communicated to colleagues and clients about your employee’s absence and any changes to their work patterns on their return. 


Links to resources

Practical guidance for line managers


The ‘Line managers’ resource’ is a practical guide to managing and supporting people with mental health problems in the workplace.  This guide is aimed at line managers and includes a section with guidance on communication between GPs and occupational health professionals as well as a section on preparing to return to work.


Health and Safety Executive

These pages are aimed at employers and contain useful information on good practice.  There is a link to a ‘Return to work questionnaire’ which will help you to identify the demands which may have exacerbated your employees illness, the support and changes you could discuss and agree as part of your employees’ return to work.

There are also links to sources of advice and help when returning to work


Employers’ Forum on Disability

The Employers’ Forum on Disability has produced briefings and guides on a range of issues relating to managing sickness absence, planning for an employee’s return to work and how you can work with healthcare professionals such as medical advisers, GPs and occupational health services.

Non-visible disabilities line manager guide’ includes a return to work checklist, advice on keeping in touch during sick leave agreement and extensive examples of ‘reasonable adjustments’.  

The ‘Practical guide to employment adjustments for people with mental health problems’ is a briefing with case studies and a section on harassment and how employers can help to protect employees from discrimination from their colleagues and workmates.

A practical guide to disability management and the medical adviser’ is a briefing which explains how organisations can access medical advice on making reasonable adjustments.  It sets out the circumstances when such advice is most helpful and how to work with both your employee, GP, occupational health service and a medical adviser.

Case studies and good practice

Time to change

Is an ambitious programme to end discrimination faced by people who experience mental health problems.  The programme is a partnership between the national mental health charities, MIND and Rethink, and is evaluated by the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College, London.  The website includes information specifically for employers supporting employees to return to work.  This part of the website includes links to guidance on the legal implications for employers of managing long-term sickness.


Fit for Work Services

Fit for Work Services help people to stay in or return to work more quickly after illness or when they develop a health condition or impairment.  There are a number of schemes around the UK run by case managers who work to ensure that clients receive appropriate support on time.  The scheme is guaranteed to run until March 2011. 


Health Work Wellbeing

Health, Work and Well-being is a cross-Government initiative to protect and improve the health and well-being of working age people. It includes case studies, links and resources.  The case studies are particularly useful in providing ideas on working with your employees to improve health and wellbeing in the workplace.