SUMMARY: When an employee is returning to work after a mental health leave, it can be a critical time to support success. Proper planning can address potential issues including working relationships and performance. This begins while the employee is still off work.

This section offers additional information to assist you in Developing a Workplace Plan during the return to work process.

Maintaining contact during leave

Maintaining contact during leave can be essential to helping the employee feel connected to the workplace. It must be done in a way that the employee would say feels supportive.

Organizations should identify the most appropriate person to maintain contact with the employee who is off work. It should be someone who has a good relationship with the employee, and could be a supervisor, manager, co-worker, Union Representative, or someone from Human Resources.

You should:

  • Clarify with all employees that it is policy to stay in touch during leave.
  • Be patient as this contact may be difficult for the employee during the acute phase of illness, but valued as the employee begins to recover and think about returning to work.
  • Ask if there is anything you can do to help.
  • Avoid questions that may be interpreted as an investigation of the employee's absence.
  • Share information about organizational events and news that are not specifically related to the employee's job or tasks. This is to avoid increasing stress related to feelings of worry or anxiousness about the work.
  • Communicate in the way the employee prefers – phone calls, voicemail messages or e-mails.
  • As the employee becomes well, ease the transition back to work by including the employee in workplace events and celebrations.
  • Ensure that an employee off work due to mental illness receives the same acknowledgement (cards, flowers or greetings) as an employee off work for a physical illness.

Return to work planning

  • It is recommended that in addition to reviewing the content below for planning purposes, you consider using Supporting Employee Success – A Tool to Plan Accommodations that Support Success at Work. This free resource can help clarify job expectations, identify employee abilities and develop accommodations that take mental health into account.
  • Consider recommendations from treating professionals.
  • Begin with tasks that the employee agrees would be easiest for them to accomplish.
  • Gradually increase the employee's working hours over a period of time.
  • Allow flexible scheduling to attend medical appointments.
  • Consider employee energy levels at various times of the day and schedule work accordingly.
  • Minimize stressors that might impact the employee's well-being – lighting, noise, etc. See Accommodation Strategies and Developing a Workplace Plan.

    An employee talks about resolving work issues while taking mental health into account.

  • Consider removal of non-essential tasks to allow the employee to stay focused on performing their primary duties. An example might be removing responsibility for organizing staff events if someone else can easily do it.
  • Discuss with the employee how they would like information to be shared with co-workers. This can include how the employee will respond to questions about their health, their absence and any changes in work responsibilities.
  • Consider re-orientation or re-training that may support the employee's success.
  • Return to Work Discussion – Review this guideline to assist in return-to-work discussions with employees. Information courtesy of Mental Health Works.
  • Return To Work – Addressing co-worker reactions when mental health is a factor – This article provides an overview of strategies to address co-worker concerns. Information courtesy of the Ontario Occupational Health Nurses Association.