Managing return to work

The return-to-work plan

A return-to-work plan is essential for ensuring a successful return to work. Ideally, a return-to-work plan for someone coming back after an episode of mental illness should address the interpersonal environment in a way similar to plans for return to work after physical injury that address the physical environment. This may mean making reasonable adjustments for particularly stressful tasks or interactions with colleagues or clients.


  • develop a clear, written return-to-work plan
  • ensure the employee is actively involved in the development of the plan
  • ensure that the plan is agreed to by everyone affected
  • make sure the plan is flexible and adjustable to allow for changes in the employee’s mental health or workplace circumstances
  • ensure that the plan lasts for a sufficient time period to allow the employee to recover
  • be clear on the duration of any amended duties or supports. In most cases such measures will be temporary
  • monitor the plan to ensure that tasks and hours remain appropriate and sufficient supports and resources remain available
  • take steps to keep everyone informed and make sure the plan is respected

It is also useful to make sure that the return-to-work plan has a clear endpoint and a clear plan for what to do if it has not been successful. This can avoid difficult situations dragging on indefinitely due to the fact that those involved don’t know what to do or are reluctant to address the issues.

Below are some examples of templates that you may want to use to help you develop a return-to-work plan for an employee returning to work after a mental health problem.

Return-to-work templates Word Documents

Janine's* story
"It is really important to strike the right balance between giving someone returning to work too much responsibility and taking away those things that give them a sense of belonging in the workplace. Sometimes the temptation can be to say to someone that because they are not well, they don't need to work in a team. But that can actually take away one of the things that helps them at work and gives them social support and a sense of belonging. It does depend on circumstances though, and it's important to weigh up the costs and benefits for the person."
Occupational Physician
*not her real name
Carlo's* story
"We had someone come back after quite a long absence and there had been quite a few changes in the business. We thought about that person like a new employee and arranged something like an induction process with meetings lined up with various people who showed them the new systems. It was good to do it systematically like that so the person didn't have to find out about new things by making mistakes or having to ask all the time."
*not her real name