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Is my Employer Obliged to Let me Return to Work?

By: Emma Jones - Updated: 14 Aug 2023 | comments*Discuss
Is My Employer Obliged To Let Me Return To Work?

Q.I have been off sick from my job as a carer for 6 months with a bad back and am keen to return to work. My Dr has signed me back to work, but on light duties only. My employer says that I have to be fully fit for work or do not return at all. I thought that my employer was obliged to offer me "suitable" work if it was available until I am fully fit. Can you please help?

(Mrs Suzanne Morris, 26 September 2008)


Being forced to take time off work because of an injury or sickness can be difficult to cope with, both financially and emotionally. After being signed off for six months I can understand your keenness to get back to your job and it is good that you want to return to work as soon as you are able.

As a carer the nature of your job will probably involve a lot of physical activity and lifting which could be harmful to your back. Whether your injury was caused by your duties or not, returning to work could exacerbate it. Due to the nature of your sickness, your employer may be wary about allowing your back to work, in case you injure yourself further. Your employer will want to protect themselves from any accidents and has the right to carry out a health and safety risk assessment to decide whether it is safe for you to return to work.

You mention that your doctor has said that you are able to go back and do ‘light duties’ but this will obviously be dependent on whether such duties are available in your line of work. As you suggest, your employer is obliged to offer you suitable alternative work if it is available. However, they do not have to create suitable light work for you if there isn’t anything that is already in place. If they would still need to employ someone else as well to do the parts of the job that you are unable to deal with and would have to create specific duties for you, then they may have a valid argument.

Talk to your employer about the situation and find out exactly what their concerns are. If you still have no resolution then the best thing to do is to seek advice on your specific situation from the citizen’s advice bureau or through ACAS. If you feel that your employer is treating you unfairly then you should follow the grievance procedure, as laid out in your contract. If you have no luck dealing with the dispute internally then you have the right to take your employer to an employment tribunal if you think they are discriminating against you because of your sickness.

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Dude - 4-Jun-18 @ 3:26 AM
Snowy- Your Question:
Hi I am currently on light duties work are trying to bully me in to returned to full duties is this legal?

Our Response:
Light duties are not considered a permanent. Light duties are arranged to give the individual with a temporary injury or illness the opportunity to do meaningful work while they are recovering. The goal is for the employee to return to their usual and position. Light duties determined by the department on an individual basis which should be laid out by your department head/ employer. If you feel you are being treated unfairly, then you should speak to your employer directly regarding this matter. If you feel you are being bullied and you have tried resolving this issue informally, please see link here .
WelfareAtWork - 22-Mar-18 @ 11:20 AM
Hi I am currently on light duties work are trying to bully me in to returned to full duties is this legal?
Snowy - 21-Mar-18 @ 5:30 PM
hi ifi return to work on light duties a different work load can they reduce my salary and if so can they reduce it below the minimum wage
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Flo - 5-Dec-17 @ 1:09 PM
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Kinglouie - 19-Nov-17 @ 12:23 AM
Hi, my employer is refusing a return to work until I have had a function capacity assessment. I have been signed by my GP to do no lifting duties of which the company has allowed previously. They are. Ow saying these duties don't exist which is rubbish because 90% of my job is desk based anyway. Because they are keeping me away for this assessment surely they are obliged to pay me. Legally
Bez79 - 27-Sep-17 @ 5:00 PM
David - Your Question:
Hi, im off work from 7 months slipdisc, my gp advice me to go back to work on light duries but my employer said they not offer light duties anymore. I feel treated unfairly because two people on different shift are on light duties.Before I go off sick it was about 5 people on light duties (bad back notice from doctor). I dont know what to do ? I feel discriminate what I can do ? Could you help me please

Our Response:
If you feel you are being treated unfairly, I suggest you give ACAS a call to see whether you have a case to follow the grievance procedure. Much depends upon whether your employer has given you the support they need to get back to work quickly and safely. Your employer needs to be able to show he/she look for ways to support you - eg considering whether the job itself is making you sick and needs changing. However, please also keep in mind you can be dismissed if you have a persistent or long-term illness that makes it impossible for you to do your job, please see link here. As specified in the article, your employer is obliged to offer you suitable alternative work 'if' it is available. However, they do not have to create suitable light work for you if there isn’t anything that is already in place.
WelfareAtWork - 30-Nov-16 @ 1:45 PM
Hi, im off work from 7 months slipdisc, my gp advice me to go backto work on light duries but my employer said they not offer light duties anymore . I feel treated unfairly because two people on different shift are on light duties.Before i go off sick it was about 5 people on light duties (bad back notice from doctor) . I dont know what to do ? I feel discriminate what i can do ? Could you help me please
David - 29-Nov-16 @ 10:08 PM
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