Under the Equality Act 2010 (or the Disability Discrimination Act in Northern Ireland), your employer has a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to working conditions or environments to enable you to do your job.
Reasonable adjustments which could help you get back to work and continue with your day-to-day job may include:
- Changing your job description to remove tasks which would now be hard for you to achieve
- Changing or reducing your working hours, or making them more flexible – for example, allowing you to travel to and from work at less busy times, so you can avoid rush hours where you are more likely to be exposed to colds, viruses, and so on.
"Luckily my boss let me work flexible hours and take work home with me. She was really patient and supportive until I was able to work full time again.”
Find out more about your legal rights when it comes to making adjustments to your work by reading Discrimination at work.
- Phasing your return to work so you build up your hours gradually
- Adjusting your performance targets
- Making alterations to your work environment or workstation
- Allowing you to work at home some of the time
- Letting you delegate some of your work
- Allowing you time off for medical appointments
- Letting you take an occasional rest at work
- Arranging telephone conferences to save you travelling
- Helping with transport to and from work
- Finding you a parking space nearby
- Ensuring suitable access if you have to use a wheelchair or crutches
- Adapting the toilet facilities if necessary
- Organising extra training or refresher courses for you
- Asking your colleagues to help with your work when they can.
If you can't get back to work because you're waiting for your employer to make adjustments for you, or to train you in the use of new equipment (for example, a computer screen reader), this should not be recorded as an 'absence from work'. You may be entitled to full pay during the period you are waiting.
However, in some circumstances your employer may not be able to make adjustments for you to return to your current role or a similar one. This can be for a number of reasons, for example, if you work in a role that requires set hours, and there are no other suitable positions for you. In this case, your employer may consider terminating your employment. However, they should meet with you beforehand to discuss ways of avoiding this.
Other ways your employers can help
Your employer can also help you to reduce the stress of returning to work:
- Ask them whether they offer an Employee Assistance Programme. If so, it might include a confidential counselling and advice service
- Ask them if you can have a preliminary meeting, where you can ask what's been happening while you've been away, and how it might affect you and your work
- Someone at work could agree to be your 'buddy' or mentor, so you can talk to them about any emotional or practical problems caused by your return to work. Make sure you choose someone you won't be embarrassed to discuss personal matters with, and be sure to agree it with them and their manager in advance
- Discuss any other steps you feel would help you to return smoothly
You might also find it helps to make a few informal or social visits to work to catch up with your colleagues before your first official day back.
Look after your health
It sounds obvious, but the fitter you are, the better you'll be able to deal with the pressure of returning to work.
Make sure you're eating well to boost your energy. Listen to your body, notice whether you need a rest after meals, or after a short walk or standing up for a while. You may need to treat yourself gently when you return to work.
Updated January 2017, next review due December 2017.