What is a phased return to work?

Employers will often suggest a ‘phased return to work’ if you have been off for several weeks due to illness or injury. Find out how this works and what you might need to consider. 

Mature woman at work


Being off work for some time can be stressful and worrying. An accident or a serious illness can have an effect on your mental health as well as on your body, so returning to work gradually can be less daunting and better for your recovery.

What is a phased return to work?

With a phased return to work, an employee returns to their job in a gradual way following illness or injury.

The general approach is to usually work a reduced number of hours at first, which gradually increases in line with your recovery.

A phased return to work is usually suggested by a GP or an occupational health specialist. The length of the phases and what’s involved will depend on your job and the illness or injury you’re recovering from.

Returning to work after sickness

If you have been off work due to sickness for a few weeks or more, your employer or doctor might suggest a phased return to work. This is common practice if the illness has left you more tired or less physically able than before.

Your employer will meet with you to discuss and agree a suitable way forward. This might involve shorter hours or lighter duties for a set period of time. Once you are back at work, you should have regular meetings with your manager and the HR representative to check that the phased return is working well and whether the approach should be reduced or extended.

A plan example might involve a four week period where you work 50% of your hours, followed by a further four weeks working at 75%.

Phased return to work after depression

The way that employers view and manage people with mental illness is improving all the time. If you have had depression or another mental health issue, you can often feel more tired and sometimes more susceptible to stress.

A phased return can help you cope with the challenges of work and build your confidence, making you less likely to need further sick leave. Be honest with both yourself and your employer about how you feel about returning to work, and how you think it can work best for everyone.

Guidelines and points to note

The details of your phased return to work should be agreed in advance between you and your employer. It can be reviewed at any point.

Make sure you are given a clear return to work schedule – stating the start date and either your new hours or new duties, and how long these arrangements will be in place.

You should also be given clear details of how you will be paid during your phased return. You will usually receive your normal rate of pay for the hours worked, and you may also gain sick pay for the time you’re not working.

If your illness or injury has left you with a disability, by law your employer must consider making ‘reasonable adjustments’ to help you return to work.

Can I request a phased return to work?

You can certainly request a phased return, but employers aren’t obliged to agree. Yet it may be that a phased return means you can go back to work at an earlier point in your recovery – so this can work in your employer’s favour.

Generally, having ongoing discussions with your employer during your sick leave should help you get back to work at the right pace for you.

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