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2016 National Disabled Members' Conference
8 July 2016

A phased return to work may be the best way of helping a person to re-adjust to full attendance at the workplace. This is particularly the case after a prolonged period of absence or the absence is disability related, when returning to full time work immediately could have a detrimental impact on the person’s health or performance. GPs and Occupational Health professionals recognise that this can be beneficial to both the worker and employee and often include it as a recommendation in the Fit Note or Occupational Health report.

A phased return to work offers workers the opportunity to return to work at an earlier stage of recovery from illness by allowing them to do reduced hours with modified duties based on a structured return to work plan.

Conference, for a disabled worker the benefit of the phased return to work can be to allow them to return to work much sooner with reduced pressure and a greater level of support. This has been shown to improve overall wellbeing.

How a return to work program is developed will depend on the reason for the person’s absence, as recuperation rates vary greatly. Those who return to work too soon after illness may not be able to work to their full capacity even though they may appear sufficiently medically fit to return to their jobs. It would be easy for managers to misconstrue issues such as difficulty concentrating, remembering things or making decisions as poor performance, so it’s important for employers to find out about a person’s condition and their expected rehabilitation rates.

Conference, we are growingly concerned how employers are implementing return to work processes, particularly in relation to pay, and the impact this has on workers and in particular disabled workers. A number of employers have policies which mean when the working hours are reduced to accommodate a phased return, the employee is only paid for the hours worked but can make up their pay with accrued annual leave.

Conference, we believe that members should not suffer financial hardship as a result of a phased return and that whilst a large number of employers which UNISON have recognition with will have a sickness absence policies, it is important branches consider what their policy states in relation to pay during a return to work period and where possible negotiate that full pay is received during the phased return to work for all employees.

Conference calls on the National Disabled Members Committee to;

1. Work with service groups and bargaining support group to ensure that any guidance on sickness absence policies includes advice on return to work and the interface with disability leave policies

2. Raise awareness of pay within the return to work period and to urge branches to review their local policies and where possible, seek to negotiate to include full pay for all employees on a phased return, regardless of hours worked

3. Raise awareness of the benefits that phased returns to work have for both workers and employers and the need for employers to get appropriate medical advice before agreeing individual return to work plans.

4. Urge branches to remind employers that those who are struggling in work with a health condition, or have been off work for four weeks or more due to sickness, may need slightly longer than the first agreed time scale allotted for phased return, depending on the person.