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The University of Southampton
Human Resources

Return to Work Meeting


It is good practice for a line manager and employee to meet following an illness or injury, which has resulted in an absence from work, regardless of the length of absence. This meeting is often called a ‘return to work’ meeting or interview and is designed to enable open dialogue where support and guidance can be offered to staff. The meeting also demonstrates a duty of care, signals that the absence was noticed and provides an opportunity to discuss any underlying issues associated with the absence and is an opportunity to bring the employee up to speed with anything they have missed at work.




The meeting

Short term absence

Long term absence

The WARM approach

Summary of step

Policy and forms


Depending on the circumstances, a return to work meeting can often be carried out in just a few minutes in a very informal conversation with the employee, particularly if they have only been absent for a day or two and this is not a regular occurrence. This can be as simple as welcoming them back, asking whether they are fully recovered and updating them on anything that has happened whilst they were away. However, it is essential that a return to work discussion is undertaken and recorded for each period of absence and for everyone who is absent, this ensures the process is fair and consistent and can be relied upon for any future discussions.


Managing an effective return to work meeting requires understanding, structure and preparation if it is to produce a positive result. One suggested method is to use the WARM approach (‘welcome’ stage, ‘absence’ stage, ‘responsibility’ stage and ‘move on’ stage), details are found below.

Prior to the meeting, managers should review their employee’s absences over the 12 month immediately preceding the employee's return, to identify if there any underlying issues or patterns of absence. Managers can view their staff member's sickness absence history on MyView by:

  1. Clicking the 'My People' tab
  2. Clicking 'Team Time Management'
  3. Selecting the staff member and clicking 'Next'
  4. Clicking 'Open SICK History'

Arrange an appropriate venue for the meeting that will put the employee at ease. Remember, the return to work meeting is not part of the disciplinary process. Ensure that the meeting will be uninterrupted as some information communicated during the interview may be private.

Any previous return to work records should be revisited and reasons for previous absences noted.

The meeting

During the meeting, depending on the specific circumstances, it may be appropriate for managers to take the opportunity to remind the employee of the importance of full attendance wherever possible and that in line with University policy, follow up action will be initiated where an employee has reached the trigger points detailed in the University's Sickness Absence Policy (i.e. four or more absences and/or absences exceeding 20 days in the previous 12 months).

Managers should make a record of the meeting using the return to work meeting record provided below.  The record should be brief and factual and the employee should be given an opportunity to review it. The contents will be particularly valuable should the individual later reach the trigger points detailed above.

Once the return to work meeting record has been reviewed and the absence has been recorded by the employee or their manager in MyView, the manager is responsible for creating a formal record for HR to upload to the employee's file by completing the Return to Work form HR Request on ServiceNow attaching the short form to the ticket.

Short term absence

In relation to short-term sickness absence, the return to work meeting:

Long term absence

In relation to long-term sickness absence, the role of the return to work meeting is to facilitate discussion of the process around an employee's return to work and to help achieve a smooth and effective return to the workplace. As such, it often takes place prior to the employee's return to work. Although some of the areas discussed at this interview will be the same as for short-term absences, the approach will differ slightly.

Where long-term sickness absence is concerned, the return to work meeting:

The WARM approach

The ‘welcome’ stage

The purpose of this stage is to make the employee feel valued when they return. You should tell the employee that their work contribution has been missed. This should be a positive introduction to the process and help to put the employee at ease.

The ‘absence’ stage

This stage is concerned with discovering the reasons that led to the employee’s absence and it is important that the employee is allowed to state these reasons uninterrupted. This stage of the return-to-work meeting should also serve as a tool for establishing whether the employee is fit to resume their duties.

You may wish to explain the impact of the employee’s absence on their work and on their colleagues.

The ‘responsibility’ stage

At this stage of the discussion you will be aware of your employee’s reasons for their absence. It is important now to make the employee understand that they are responsible for doing what they can to reduce the likelihood of a similar situation arising in the future.

This is also an opportunity to start a discussion with the employee over underlying issues, which might be causing the absence. Questions about how the employee is coping with their workload and their domestic situation may be considered here. However, be aware that the employee may not wish to discuss the issue with you.

At this stage you may need to consider signposting the employee to support services such as EAP and whether a referral to Occupational Health is appropriate.

The ‘move on’ stage

This final stage focuses on getting back to work, catching up on any work missed and agreeing post-absence priorities. This stage should be viewed as an opportunity for both parties to agree some positive action.

Summary of steps

  1. Employee returns from sick leave
  2. Employee submits absence on MyView and manager authorises the absence (if the absence hasn't already been recorded)
  3. Manager schedules return to work meeting and downloads copy of return to work meeting record
  4. In preparation for meeting manager checks the employee's absence record over last 12 months and reviews the return to work guidance on the HR website
  5. Manager holds return to work meeting with employee
  6. Manager records discussion and any outcomes of meeting in the short form
  7. Employee is given opportunity to review manager's record of the meeting
  8. Manager completes Return to Work form on ServiceNow attaching a scanned copy of the return to work meeting record - manager and employee are notified by email
  9. HR upload the record to the employee's file

Policy and forms

Sickness Absence Policy - Sets out the University's policy on how sickness absences should be managed

Return to Work Meeting Record - Provides a template for recording the discussions and any outcomes so the Return to Work Meeting Record can be accurately completed

Return to Work Meeting Record Form - Once the meeting has been held the person who conducted the interview needs to complete the HR Request on ServiceNow to create a formal record which will be sent to HR to be upload to the employee’s file

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