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Supporting employees with long term health conditions

Advice and guidance for employers in supporting employees with long term health conditions returning to and continuing in work

​Due to the current COVID-19 situation, employees may be absent due to non-COVID related health conditions as well as those relating to COVID-19. It is important to remember the nature of absence when preparing and carrying out any return to work support.

If an employee has a long term condition, then vocational (work) rehabilitation can help them return to and remain in work. This also benefits the organisation in retaining a productive member of their team.

The workplace is a suitable environment to support employees and provide interventions that allow them to come to work or continue at work. Other agencies can provide appropriate healthcare or treatment, which the employer can also access and use for support.

  1. Supporting a return to work
  2. Risk assessment and health conditions
  3. Next steps
  4. Legislation impacting on long term health conditions

​1. Supporting a return to work

When supporting an employee with a long term health condition, it is important to treat each employee as an individual rather than focus on their health condition, as each person will deal with their condition differently. If an employee has had a recent diagnosis of a long term health condition, there may be a period of adjustment for both employee and employer in coming to terms with the diagnosis and the effects this might have. This may also involve a period of absence from work.

There are some general steps that can be used to determine what support would benefit your employee. Some workers will also require more specific support pertinent to their health condition. When planning workplace adjustments, or a return to work plan, with your employee, consider the following

  • do you need further independent medical advice from their GP / health professional or occupational health adviser?
  • is the worker on medication for their long term health condition that might impact on their ability to come to work, for example for early shifts or to continue doing shift work?
  • does their health condition impact their ability to drive therefore need to rely on public transport?
  • do they get tired during the working day (this is especially important if they have been off work for a longer period of time)?
  • do they need regular breaks to allow them to take their medication during their time at work?
  • do they need time off to attend specialist appointments?
  • are there particular signs, symptoms or side effects of medication that might manifest at work that first aiders or close colleagues should be aware of?
  • based on the information you have gathered, do you need to review your Health and Safety arrangements?

Your organisation should have a supportive return to work policy taking into account the effect that a person’s treatment programme might have on their physical and mental wellbeing. This policy should reflect arrangements for all illnesses.

Meeting the employee

The employee and employer should meet regularly

  • during absence from work
  • before their return to work
  • and after their return to work.

This should be a mix of agreed formal meetings and more informal contact (having coffee, texting or calling). Discussions could agree items such as

  • who will contact the employee when off
  • how and when to contact the employee when off
  • informing colleagues about a health condition
  • details of planned absences
  • details of what support is required and available from the workplace.

Creating a return to work plan

When the time is right, develop an agreed written return to work plan and be prepared to alter it if timings don’t quite work.

The return to work plan will include actions that are appropriate adjustments under the Equality Act 2010 and should consider

  • authorised absence for treatment and support visits which may be outwith the normal organisation sickness absence triggers
  • adjusting workload and work targets and adopting flexible working to reduce the impact of fatigue
  • varying start or finish times or, permitting employees to work from home
  • if the work is proving tiring or puts the employee or others at increased risk then you may need to consider temporary redeployment, to help the individual remain at work
  • arranging a "Buddy" for employees returning after prolonged illness to support them and help them find their way back into the organisation
  • considering impacts of journey times to work and access to and use of public transport (if they are unable to drive)
  • temporarily reducing or preventing certain work tasks such as interactions with the public to reduce the risk of infection or to maintain personal dignity
  • if there are salary or other financial concerns, then it's important to have these conversations early and to offer additional support
  • ensuring an individualised risk assessment is carried out for work tasks when an employee requires work adjustments or returns to work.