Return to work interview questions designed to reduce amounts of sickness absence:

As a guide, the following questions and points can provide a helpful framework for the return to work interview:

  1. Welcome the individual back. They may be feeling worried, particularly if they have been off work for a long period. Putting them at ease should help with having a more open and meaningful discussion.
  2. Explain the purpose of the return to work interview, specifically that the organisation monitors all absence and that the interview is an informal discussion but the information provided is important and will be kept on record.
  3. Be clear that the return to work interview is not a disciplinary hearing, nor is it part of a disciplinary process.
  4. Ask how the individual is feeling now, and if they have sought professional medical advice. Be careful not to be too probing or intrusive, let the employee talk to you.
  5. Ask if the reason for their absence is related to a disability or maternity, as disability and maternity-related absences should be recorded separately to other illnesses.
  6. Ask if the individual feels they need any support from the organisation with the return to work (‘reasonable adjustments’).
  7. Advise them of their absence record to date, and ask if they are in agreement.
  8. Advise if their level of absence has triggered any sickness absence policy markers, if so what the implications are with reference to the absence policy.
  9. Finish by asking if they have any questions.


Interview tips for line managers:

To ensure the interview runs smoothly and is as productive as possible, managers should aim to:

  • Be objective. Personal feelings should not influence the tone or direction of the interview.
  • Ask open-ended questions. This will encourage the employee to share more information about the reason for their absence and feelings about returning to work.
  • Listen and show interest. Make sure the employee feels that their concerns have been heard and give them enough time to express themselves.
  • A return to work interview should always be a positive experience.


While return to work interviews do discourage unnecessary sick days, employers should be careful not to use these interviews as a way to instil fear among their staff. Employees should feel comfortable taking sick days as and when it is genuinely necessary – remember it is their statutory right.

Working while ill may see high attendance rates but risks overall impacting overall productivity (‘presenteeism’). This requires a careful balance to be achieved, and through the return to work interview employers can gain an understanding into how employees can be supported to perform at their best.