How to support an employee returning to work after illness or injury

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An employee may have time away from work to recover from physical or mental illness, an injury or to care for someone else. They need your support during their recovery and when they return back to work. But how can you support them?

Clear communication is key. Ask your employee what they might need from you during their time off work and when they return. Be upfront about what you need as an employer too. It is best not to make any assumptions, but to discuss things openly and respectfully. Agree on how much time they need off work and what their transition back into work may look like. Once you have agreed on arrangements, write them down so you can refer back to it and make changes where necessary.

Check in with your employee throughout their time off, but be discerning. You would not want to make them feel hassled or pressured into returning to work, before they are ready. Balance being caring and respecting their privacy. Talk about how you could be flexible to support them back to work, for example by adjusting work schedules or reducing hours if possible.

With the employee’s agreement, some changes might include:

  • swapping some tasks for others they are more able to do
  • adjusting work schedules so they can work when they feel most well
  • reducing work hours, if possible, then building up as their health improves
  • allowing time off to go to medical appointments or counselling
  • adjusting the physical work environment, eg maybe so they can sit, or altering noise or light levels for their comfort
  • flexible sick leave, and leave without pay provisions in employment agreements.

Monitor and review the plan you have agreed on regularly. This will ensure the plan is working well for both sides.


You must treat any issues with mental health the same way you would physical health. Refer to resources from Mental Health NZ to learn more on how to support employees who are battling mental health issues.


Be prepared

It is best to have a workplace policy in place for supporting employees staying at work or returning to work after injury/illness/dealing with a life changing situation. Here is a great tool from to make a start on a policy.

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