Being invited to a welfare meeting at work can seem daunting, especially when you have been off sick for a while. We’ll try to put your mind at rest by taking a look at what to expect, and how they should be conducted.
Preparing to return to your job after an absence can be unsettling. You might be worried about fitting back in and how you’ll cope back in your role.
If you have been asked to attend a welfare meeting before or upon your return, it is a routine process which is designed to check in on your wellbeing. This type of meeting might also be referred to as a wellbeing meeting, or a return to work interview.
What to Expect
There is no need to panic, these face to face meetings are standard practice. They should never be used for disciplinary purposes, and may also be referred to as “wellbeing meetings”.
They should be used to support you in the transition back into your job and give you the chance to air any concerns. When a member of staff is absent for 4 weeks or longer, they are considered to be on long term sickness.
This will usually mean a welfare meeting on return to work, which is good practice as part of the employer’s duty of care.
Under the Equality Act 2010 an employer must make reasonable adjustments for employees with disabilities. A meeting is the best way for them to discuss your needs.
HR managers are advised that the overall feel of these meetings should be informal, supportive, and with the employees’ best interests in mind. Conversations around illnesses should be respectful and handled sensitively to avoid any upset.
These HR managers guidelines on how to conduct welfare meetings should help set your mind at rest.
What is a Welfare Meeting?
Welfare meetings assess the well being of the employee after long term sick leave due to an illness, injury, or health condition.
The aim is to integrate the member of staff back into the workplace smoothly while taking proactive steps to manage absences. It will normally take place at work, with the employer, employee and perhaps a member of the HR team.
These meetings are typically held at the end of an absence, to support the employee upon their return. When an individual is off for a long period then the welfare meetings are used as part of the keeping in touch process.
In the meeting, you will be asked about your health and any concerns you have. Your employer should be aiming to gain a better insight into your health issues. It helps them plan possible next steps and to get a clearer understanding of when you may return.
You should not mix up a welfare meeting with a disciplinary meeting. They are very different processes, and if further action is a possibility, you should be made aware of it before the meeting.
What Will Happen During a Welfare Meeting?
During a welfare meeting, you will have a conversation with your employer about your illness and planned return to work.
It gives your employer a chance to find out a bit more about your health and to put anything necessary into place. The meeting will usually have a fairly informal air to it with your boss and perhaps a member of HR present.
Where Should The Meeting Take Place?
It will often be conducted at work, however, this should be open to discussion if an employee is uncomfortable about this. Sometimes, due to the illness or injury, the individual’s home will be a more appropriate location. When there are some issues or tensions to resolve, a neutral setting would work better.
What Will Be Talked About?
A range of topics will usually be covered, tailored to the employees own set of circumstances.
Typical areas covered during the meeting include:-
Your manager or HR representative may ask you for an update on your health. They may also ask to see a note from your doctor regarding your fitness for work.
The information gives your employer a better idea of the situation and they can begin to plan what will happen next. This will either be your return or an extended period of leave needed.
Your Rights & Private Medical Information
There’s no obligation to provide detailed medical information to your employer. You need only provide enough information for your employer to understand how your health may affect your work, and help them understand what reasonable adjustments you may need.
Employees do not have to disclose any medical conditions which do not impact their work.
You also have the right to medical confidentiality in the workplace if you disclose information about your health to your employer. Under GDPR regulations, which are implemented in UK law by the Data Protection Act 2018, they are obligated to keep your private information secure, and can only share it with your explicit consent.
There should be adequate time for you to ask any questions you may have.
This might be about your return and your job role. Perhaps you won’t be up to all your usual responsibilities or hours and this is the perfect time to broach such matters.
Consider anything you’d like to discuss beforehand, and use the opportunity to air any concerns. Hopefully you’ll have your mind set at rest, and get clarity on what to expect moving forward.
A Supportive Experience
A welfare meeting should feel supportive and should in no way feel like a disciplinary meeting.
There should also be no pressure for you to give a definite return date if this is unreasonable. The meeting is not a way to force you back early or to guilt you.
It is so that everyone is clear and has the appropriate expectations going forwards.
What Questions will I be Asked?
To help you feel in control and prepared for your upcoming welfare meeting, we’ve put together some common questions, along with why they are asked. We’ve also prepared a few questions that should not be asked, to help you understand the boundaries that should be respected during your meeting.
Nothing that’s asked of you should make you feel uncomfortable. Remember that if you do feel uncomfortable with any questions asked during a welfare meeting, you can politely ask for clarification in the first instance.
5 Common Welfare Meeting Questions
1. How are you feeling at the moment?
Why it’s Asked: In many welfare meetings this is the opening question. It’s an opportunity for you to let your employer know how your feel about coming back to work, and provide an indicator of your overall health.
2. Can you give an update on your current health situation?
Why It’s Asked: This is to help your employer understand any developments in your health condition. Your response can help them understand reasonable adjustments they may have to make. If you have not yet been able to return to work, it can give them insight into how long you may be absent.
3. What can we do to make your return to work easier?
Why it’s Asked: This is an opportunity to discuss any reasonable adjustments that your workplace could make to help support you in returning to work.
4. Are you taking any medication which might affect your ability to do your job safely?
Why it’s Asked: If you are in a role where safety is a consideration, such as driving or operating heavy machinery, your employer will want to make sure the work environment will be safe. You are not obligated to disclose any medication that would not impact performance.
5. Do you feel able to do all aspects of your job?
Why it’s Asked: Your employer wants to understand if there’s any support or adjustments you need to return to work. For example, if you might need a phased return to work to help you build resilience to full time work again.
If you’ve been off with a stress related illness caused by work, asking questions about your overall welfare and how you feel about the work environment is a way for your employer to meet their responsibilities regarding duty of care at work and stress.
Questions That Should not be Asked at a Welfare Meeting
Understanding the boundaries of a properly conducted meeting is important, and there are questions that should not be asked.
- Detailed questions about diagnosis and treatment – employers do not require a detailed medical history. They only need to understand the general nature of your health issue in order to make workplace adjustments. However, you shouldn’t be asked about medication that would not impact your work, or in depth information on surgical procedures.
- Information about your personal life – unless your life outside work has some relevance to your ability to perform your job, delving too deeply is inappropriate. For example, questions about your living situation, family, or lifestyle.
- Queries about your future health situation – Asking you to predict if you may become ill again if you’ve not been given a prognosis regarding your condition by a medical professional, is a question you should not be expected to answer.
- Any questions that put pressure on you to return to work – a welfare meeting should be a supportive experience. Pressure to return too early could be counter productive.
If you are concerned about being asked inappropriate questions during a welfare meeting, prepare a calm response in advance.
You could simply say “I’m uncomfortable discussing that in this situation.” or if you wish to assert boundaries around medical confidentiality you could say “I believe that is private information which I’m not required to disclose.”
Can I be Sacked at a Welfare Meeting?
A welfare meeting cannot be used to dismiss a member of staff so there is no need to be worried. It is a way of opening up the lines of communication so that everyone is on the same page.
Employers have the chance to get an update on your health. At the same time, employees can ask questions and find out what their boss’s expectations are. For an employer to lawfully sack an employee, a very robust procedure needs to be followed. Failure to follow the correct steps may result in claims of unfair dismissal.
You can be dismissed while on long term sick leave but doing this is a complicated process. The procedure to sack an employee is there to protect both parties. There would need to be several conversations held with you including conducting assessments, and looking at making reasonable adjustments to allow you to return to work.
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After Your Meeting
You’ve attended your meeting and probably feel somewhat relieved but what happens next? During your meeting there should have been some sort of action plan put into place.
You may receive an email or letter outlining what was discussed during the welfare check. You should keep a copy of this safe for your own records. If an agreed return date was reached, then this will be included in the letter. Alternatively, there might be a date for the next meeting if you are going to be off a considerable length of time.
You will also be asked to update your employer if any additional health issues come to light or your diagnosis changes. You may need to send over proof of appointments attended or referrals that have been made.
In some cases, the overall outlook may look less promising, meaning you cannot return to work for the foreseeable. This may start the ball rolling for more formal procedures to begin, such as a capability meeting.
Can I Refuse a Welfare Meeting?
Welfare meetings are usually kept informal with the sole purpose of supporting the employee. This technically means you can refuse to attend but this is not recommended, you will do better engaging with the process.
Refusing to attend a welfare meeting leaves your employer in a bit of a predicament. They have a duty of care and also the managerial responsibility of handling staff absences.
By refusing to attend a welfare meeting, you make building those next steps more difficult. Your boss may see this as a failure to comply with abscence policy which could result in a more formal approach.
These meetings are as much for your benefit as anyone else’s and gives you a chance to have an honest conversation. It should also help you feel part of the team, valuable and supported during your illness.
An employee cannot be suspended in a welfare meeting. This meeting is initiated so that the employer can understand the illness in finer detail. This then allows next steps to be approached and an action plan put into place. If a welfare meeting makes it clear that the employee cannot return then dismissal procedures should be followed.
Welfare meetings are considered a fairly informal chat between employer and employee. This doesn’t mean you cannot request someone to come with you. An employer doesn’t have to honour this but in most cases they should agree if it is reasonable to do so.