Bradford Factor

Managing the Return to Work

Preparation for the Return to Work Interview

As with all management activity, good preparation will underpin a successful Return to Work Interview. The following factors are key considerations when preparing to the RTW:

Is the employee fit to return to work?

Return to Work after Stress

If you believe that an employee is not fit to return to work you must discuss this with them. You have a moral and ethical duty of care towards the welfare of your member of staff and also their colleagues. Allowing individuals to return to work when they are not fit to do so is a risk. All Management is risk of course, but good management is eliminating risk where practicable, minimising where necessary, but most importantly, knowing and understanding that risk in order to make an informed decision. It is not uncommon for employees to rush back to work when they have been ill. A recent study by the Royal College of Psychiatrists concluded that:

  1. Work is beneficial to health and wellbeing.
  2. Not being in work is detrimental to health and wellbeing.
  3. There are a number of factors that can contribute to the desire to return back to work too quickly:

member, an employee doesn't have to be 100% better or well to do their job, or at least some of it. As the Royal College of Psychiatrists concluded, the benefits of returning to work generally outweigh the downsides. The key thing for you as a manager is that you ask the question and subjectively consider the answer from the perspective of the employee.

What is the employees' absence history like?

This is the most important factor to consider when preparing for the Return To Work (RTW) interview. An irregular absence is clearly not an immediate cause for concern, whilst repeat short term absences should raise your concern. A long term absence, especially if related to the work environment (accident, injury, stress) should also raise concerns. Most beneficial to a manager is the use of the Bradford Factor calculator. Once you calculate the employees Bradford Factor score and identify where it is on the Bradford factor index, you have a clear benchmark on which to focus any discussion / decision.

Are they any special requirements to consider?

This is the most commonly overlooked area of the RTW interview. When an employee is absent you must subjectively review the root cause of their absence. The gravity and time invested will be dependent on the nature of the absence and number of absences in the work place:

  1. Is the absence isolated: (1 individual or many?) For example: 1 individual taking a couple of days for a flu related infection is not uncommon, several at the same time or close to each other should make you pause for thought. Is it normal for this time of year, are other workplaces having similar challenges? If so it may well me germ that is 'doing the rounds', if not, it could indicate that the is an issue in the workplace:
    • Poor ventilation
    • Dirty air-conditioning
    • Insufficient/incorrectly set heating/cooling
    • Poor levels or/inadequate PPE (Personal Protective Equipment): i.g. a security guard making patrols in poor weather without a coat.
    • Be aware of any other factors too. A new 'boss', change of hours, in-house 'politics' etc.
  2. Does the employee have any short/long term special requirements as a result of their absence? A simple question will help answer this. Did the incident/event which caused the absence result in any change to their physical or psychological state? For example:
    1. Physical Injury: For example, an injury causing difficulty in walking for a period (bruising to the knee for example). Dependent on the employee's role, you may need to provide them alternate activity or place them on light duties whilst they return to work.
    2. A surgical operation: All surgical operations have a physical and psychological impact on an individual whether they accept it or not. Individuals can minimalise the impact of their surgical operations, as a coping technique, though this can manifest as a problem later on (gravity and situation dependent).
    3. Mental or Emotional Health issues: Mental Health and Emotional issues are far spanning and often the most uncomfortable to discuss, for both the interviewer and interviewee. Themes such as Emotional difficulties after the breakdown of a personal or professional relationship and Mental Health issues such as an inability to cope with work or work related events, should be dealt with sensitively. These types of emotional and mental health issues are commonly grouped under the term stress. Stress is accountable for the majority of long term absences and the most difficult absence for the employer / employee to deal with. Employees who are absent with stress are likely to:
      1. Be concerned about returning to work:
        • Feeling of failure in role
        • Concern over their career / future opportunities
      2. 2. Be concerned about their colleagues / Managers
        • Fear of isolation / perception of others
        • Fear of bullying
        • Fear of discrimination
        • Fear of mockery (perception of stress)

Correct management of an employee who has been absent due to a stress related incident or situation is imperative. Confirming if the individual is truly fit to return to work will require a review by a medical practitioner and most likely, occupational health. Your role as the manager will be to develop an effective return to work strategy by utilising your knowledge of the employees role, working environment and the situation that caused the initial absence. You must balance the needs of the individual with the needs of the business, after considering the medical report, concerns raised by the employee and occupational health input. A phased return to work is common after a stress related absence, though not always necessary. The key takeaway for you the manager, is that you ensure the right environment and conditions for the return to work and ensure that whatever resulted in the initial stress related absence is resolved/eliminated/reduced.


Preparation is key for facilitating an effective RTW interview. Most important is the employees' subsequent successful return to work and seamless reintegration into the workplace. Knowing your staff well is a real asset. When preparing for their return to work, you will on occasion have to 'place yourself in their shoes', consider events and environment from the employees perspective and ensure that the workplace, people and individual employee are correctly prepared for a successful return to normal operations.

The team at The Bradford Factor Calculator have prepared the following forms and information to support your return to work preparation and interview.

Return to Work (RTW) Interview Checklist 1 - Pre-Interview checks
Return to Work (RTW) Interview Checklist 2 - During Interview checks
Return to Work (RTW) Interview Checklist 3 - Action Plan
Return to Work (RTW) Interview Checklist 4 - Post Interview checks

Bradford Factor Resources

Additional Bradford Factor Resources

For further information on The Bradford Factor (Use, Implementation and Record Keeping), please review our Bradford Factor guides and management strategy information.