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Occupational Health – Phased Return to Work

Occupational Health – Phased Return to Work

After an injury or a period of sickness absence, we are often asked by managers if adjustments to working hours should be given to their staff to help a phased return to work plan. We are a definitely a big fan of adjusted working hours but they should only be used in the right circumstances as a short term tool to support a return to work programme.

What Are Adjustments to Work Hours?

Adjustments to work hours is when a staff member’s shift patterns, start and finish times or number of hours are changed. The aim of this phased approach is to slowly reintroduce a staff member back into their normal working routine. Any changes must be discussed and agreed between the manager and the staff member before they start. This is typically a short term agreement, but there are situations where a more permanent change is made and contracts altered. Today we are going to be discussing temporary adjustments to working hours.

Who Might Benefit From an Adjustment to Work Hours?

Here are some examples of the types of situations where a phased return of work hours can be very effective;

  • A staff member returning to work after a long period of sickness absence
  • A staff member returning to work when an injury or health condition may not be fully resolved or stable
  • A previous return to work attempt which failed on normal working hours
  • An acute or flared health condition which is affecting sleep health (i.e. effects of medication, pain affecting sleep etc…)
  • An acute or flared health condition which affects commuting in peak hours (i.e. a leg fracture) or causes fatigue and increased symptoms during the working day
  • A staff member with a mental health condition where a more structured shift pattern may help control symptoms when returning to work

What Changes to Work Hours Could A Manager Consider?

Like most Occupational Health recommendations, the manager needs to carefully consider any working amendments and how these can be safely implemented without having a negative impact on the individual, team or company. What is reasonable for one company to put in place, may not be the case for another.

Examples of adjustments to working hours could be;

  • Earlier or later start / finish times
  • Shorter shifts to help the staff member pace back into working hours
  • Change of shift types such as a temporary periods of day shifts rather than night shifts
  • Setting shift patterns to reduce the number of consecutive working days, or a mid-week day off for the staff member to rest
  • Working from home for some work tasks

How Long Should the Temporary Adjustments be in Place For?

Typically a return to work programme is 4 weeks long. A gradual increase in working hours and a return to normal working shift patterns is the goal for the end of week four. In some cases this duration is shorter and occasionally it needs to be longer than this.

What Can an Occupational Health Assessment Help With?

An Occupational Health assessment can give you an independent and confidential review of your staff member’s health. It will determine if any working factors are contributing to the injury or condition as well as advise you on recommendations for working adjustments. With the staff member’s consent, a full report will be shared with you outlining these recommendations.

If you would like to discuss an Occupational Health assessment with our team, please contact us on 020 8901 6545  /