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Returning to Work

Published November 22, 2017 (last updated on May 16, 2024) | Adam Wyatt - Copywriter and Content Creator

Returning to Work

Having an employee return to work from an extended absence can be a big adjustment for both parties. Whether an employee is returning to work from long-term parental leave, sick leave, an extended holiday or long-service leave – there are steps employers can take to make the transition back to work easy.

In most circumstances, employees returning to work are entitled to the same job they had before leaving, or they must return to a job similar in pay, status and qualifications. If an employee was transferred to a temporary job or reduced their hours due to pregnancy, they are entitled to continue the same job they had before the change of role or hours.

If an employee was transferred to a temporary job or alternative duties due to injury or illness, they may be entitled to continue the same job they had before. Whether the employee continues the same job as they had before depends on several factors including their ability to perform the role and length of extended leave.

In general, whether an employee plans on returning to work or not, they must notify the employer about their intentions within an agreed timeframe.

How to Manage Returning to Work

Employers and employees should work together to make the process of returning to work after a period of extended leave easy and hassle-free. Here are some useful tips for both parties to consider as part of the return to work plan:

For Employees:

  • Maintain contact with the employer and colleagues while on leave. In cases of parental leave, look into options for childcare in your local area well in-advance of returning to work, speak with management about options for breastfeeding at work and write to your employer at least 21 days prior to your leave ending to confirm your intention to return to work.

  • Try to be flexible and understand that your workplace may have limits on how accommodating they can be.

For Employers:

  • Maintain the desired level of communication while the employee is on leave.

  • Employers are legally required to notify the employee of major changes in the workplace that impact their employment.

  • If an employee is returning to work after parental leave, try to be flexible to accommodate the employee’s childcare routine, be open about workplace policies regarding flexible working arrangements, and ensure there are adequate facilities for breastfeeding.

  • If an employee is returning to work after long term sick leave, start a dialogue with the employee’s medical professional or ACC representative. Discuss any changes that may be required to an employee’s working hours, workstation or job role to accommodate the rehabilitation.

Creating a Return to Work Plan

Depending on the reason for the long-term absence, an employee who is returning to work may need a rehabilitation plan to ease into their normal duties.

While the circumstances of each individual will determine the level of care they need, a return to work plan should:

  • Be prepared with input from the returning employee and if appropriate a medical professional.

  • Have clear outcomes for the employee to follow in order to make their transition back to work successful.

  • Allocate the employee into a role with duties that reflect the skills available to them.

  • Provide additional training and redeployment if they can no longer perform their pre-injury role or responsibility.

As the employee goes through the process of returning to work, employers should monitor and review progress to ensure the plan is working as intended. If there are delays to the recovery and changes need to be made, this should be done with the employee’s full cooperation and in fairness to their individual circumstances.

What if an Employee is Not Returning to Work After Parental Leave?

If an employee decides to not go back to work after their parental leave ends, they must tell their employer in writing at least 21 days before the parental leave ends. An employer can modify the employment agreement to increase the number of days an employee has to give notice of their intention to resign.

An employee will continue to receive their parental leave payments after notifying the employer they do not intend to go back to work.

Employees who do not go back to work will be considered to have ended their employment on the first day of their parental leave. This means the amount of holiday pay they receive in their final pay is based on this condition.

What if an Employee is Not Returning to Work After Long-Term Sick Leave?

It can be difficult to manage a business when an employee is away from work because of long-term illness or injury. If the employee is not able to fulfill their role, there needs to be a discussion on whether to keep the position open – and for how long – and if it is reasonable to end their employment.

There are two ways to end an employment agreement for someone with a long-term illness: medical retirement and dismissal for medical incapacity.

Medical retirement allows an employee to leave the organisation and look for work that is more accommodating for their illness or injury. This should be the first option for employers before resorting to dismissal for medical incapacity.

In a situation where an employer reasonably believes that an employee can no longer perform their role, and/or the employer cannot reasonably keep the role open the employer can end the employment relationship due to medical incapacity.

Ending the employment relationship due to medical incapacity is a lengthy process and requires the employer to consider a range of factors. Read our guide on Long Term Illness here to find out more about the process employers need to follow.

What If an Employer Cannot Keep the Job Open?

An employee cannot lose their job because they applied for or went on parental leave or sick leave. However, if an employee takes more than four weeks of parental leave, their original position may change if it is considered a ‘key position’ or has been made redundant.

What defines a ‘key position’ depends on the size of the business and the level of skills or training required to do that job. An employee can disagree that their job is a key position.

In cases of parental leave, if an employer cannot keep the same job open, the employee enters a six month period known as a ‘period of preference.’ During this time, the employer must offer an employee a job similar in pay, status and qualifications at the nearest given opportunity.

Returning to Work Early

In most cases, an employee can only return to work early or start their preference period early if the employer agrees. If the employee returning to work was caring for the child they gave birth to or was on extended sick leave, employers can ask for a medical certificate to ensure they are suitable to work.

An employee can return to work without permission from an employer if:

  • The employee, their spouse or partner is no longer a primary carer of the child

  • The child was stillborn, miscarried or died

Employees must give at least 21 days’ notice (from the desired date of wanting to go back to work) of their intention to return early.

For advice on how to manage employee’s who are returning to work after a period of extended leave, contact Employsure on 0800 568 012.

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