Return to Work Interview – What Happens & Employee Rights

Being absent from work for any length of time can be unsettling. More so the case if you have to face a return to work interview on your return. Whilst they can seem daunting, a back to work meeting is an opportunity for a welfare check to help you get back to work.

It’s understandable to be concerned about your rights when off work sick. Perhaps you are concered about why the meeting is happening, and if your job is at risk.

However, back to work meetings are standard practice within organisations. They have proved to be a successful way of reintegrating the staff member back in after some time off. This type of meeting can be beneficial to both you and your employer.

For the employer, it can make up a fundamental part of managing absences. For the employee, it can help them return in a controlled way, helping them feel valued and included.

What is a Return to Work Interview?

A return to work interview is an effective way of welcoming a member of staff back after a leave of absence.

This can be after long term sick leave, maternity leave, or a return to work after time off due to stress. In the case of the latter, a meeting may be needed to discuss changes if the stress was work related.

It is reassuring to think of them as a check in point for everyone concerned. You will have the chance to update your boss on your health and any concerns you have about returning.

Managers will be able to fulfil their duty of care responsibilities and bring up anything else that needs to be discussed. It can be a formal meeting but sometimes they may just involve a chat over a drink and biscuits.

Return to Work Interview Questions

You might feel less apprehensive about your back to work interview if you had an idea of the questions you might be asked.

Our list of sample questions will help you be prepared at your meeting.

  • What was the reason for your absence?
  • Have you recovered now?
  • Do you have any accompanying paperwork?
  • Do you feel able to return to your role?
  • Will we need to make any changes for you?
  • Can we support you in any way?
  • Is your GP happy with you returning?
  • Do you need to change anything with your working day?
  • Do you need any refresher training or help?

You should not be asked any questions about misconduct or problems with your performance. The meeting should have a supportive tone, and all the queries aimed at helping your transition back to work go smoothly.

Other Things That May be Discussed at Back to Work Meetings

The content of back to work meetings can vary, but there are many common talking points.

Often, the detail included in these sorts of meetings will depend on your illness and absence time. We cover some of the topics that may be discussed below.

More Information Regarding Your Illness

Your illness might be a topic that is explored a little more in detail during the meeting.

You might be asked some questions to help your boss understand more about your illness. This will help them to gauge how your health was, in comparison to now. Also, it is useful in the event they need to adapt anything in the workplace.

This will allow them to identify help they can provide you with to smooth your return to work.

Managing Absences

One reason for these meetings before you restart your role is to help manage absences in the workplace.

Therefore, your boss may touch on this topic during the meeting. Staff illness is often one of the most challenging aspects of running a business. Meetings before returning to your job help your boss understand more about your absences.

It also allows them to assess if they can put anything in place to better support you.

Reasonable Adjustments

Back to work meetings give employers the chance to see if they can make any reasonable adjustments.

For example, it may be that an employee returning needs to take on a part time role for the time being. Or perhaps some of their job role responsibilities won’t be possible in the interim. For example, if you have hurt your back you might need a specialised chair if you work in an office environment.

Any reasonable requests that will help a successful return to work can be discussed during the meeting.

Work Related Illnesses

If the illness was caused by the working environment then this should be discussed. Measures can be put in place to reduce the likelihood of it happening again.

Work related stress, for example, is a big reason for absences in the UK. Your boss should be supportive and offer any help necessary to help you ease back in. This might involve sharing the workload more evenly across the office.

If there has been conflict in the workplace, the meeting is also a good opportunity to talk about this and get reassurance about the work environment.

Meeting Format

Back to work meetings will normally take place at a mutually convenient time for both parties. This may take place during your first day back or a few days before your expected return.

The location of the meeting will vary but it will usually take place in the workplace. Sometimes though, it may be over the phone, online, in a neutral venue or even at an employee’s home.

If you are not comfortable with the location then it is your prerogative to ask for this to be changed.

Who Can Attend the Meeting?

The meeting will usually take place between the employer and the employee.

In some cases, there may be the need for a trade union representative to attend. You can ask if you can take someone along with you for support.

It is worth noting though that this is not something your employer has to agree to.

Can I Refuse the Interview?

Technically, you can refuse to attend a back to work interview if you wish.

If you do refuse though, it may prompt your boss into taking disciplinary action. You should check your contract carefully before outright refusing, as it may well be a contract breach.

Ultimately, a back to work meeting is there to help you return successfully. Engaging with the process is a good opportunity to resolve any issues and start fresh.

If things do deteriorate between you and your employer, being able to demonstrate you were willing to engage with all processes can help you if a tribunal becomes necessary.

Return to Work Interview Employee Rights

When you agree to your return to work interview, it is important to understand your rights as an employee.

Whilst these meetings are mostly informal, you do still have rights and they should be conducted appropriately.


Employee privacy is a very important element of any workplace and care must be taken to ensure employees’ rights to confidentiality are met.

Meetings should be carried out in a private area, away from the earshot of other employees.

No Probing Questions

Questions should refrain from being too probing. While it is expected for an employer to ask questions about an illness, this shouldn’t make anyone uncomfortable.

An inclusive environment should be maintained at all times.

Data Protection & GDPR

Any information stored is subject to data protection and must be kept in the strictest of confidence.

This data should not be accessible to any but the relevant people. Information held on file should not breach the employee’s rights to privacy.

Employers must get this right. Failure to do so could result in a hefty fine, as H&M found out, in 2020. They recorded details not only from return to work meetings and forms, but also information gained during informal “corridor discussions”. This information was widely accessible to up to 50 members of management.

It resulted in a 35.3 million euro fine. The practises were considered a serious disregard of employee data protection.

Are Return to Work Meetings a Legal Requirement?

Return to work meetings often makes up part of the absence process.

This means they will likely be a condition of the contract. A contract, signed by both parties, is a legally binding document. Failure to attend may result in disciplinary action.

Benefits of Return to Work Interviews for Employees

Back to work meetings offer a range of benefits for everyone involved in the process.

  • An effective way to make staff accountable for absences.
  • Helps keep short term sickies to a minimum.
  • Helps with absence management data.
  • Supports employees reintegrating into the workplace.
  • Helps find solutions to avoid future absences.
  • A way of monitoring any trends with time off.


Is a return to work interview a formal investigation?

A return to work interview is not a formal investigation or interrogation. It is a chance for any worries to be discussed and to find out more about the employee’s illness. They are conducted as part of the process of managing staff absences.

Are return to work interviews a legal requirement?

There’s no legal reason why a return to work interview is a legal requirement. It is normally used as an informal meeting to help a staff member return to work successfuly after an absence.

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