What about returning to work?

If you are off sick with back strain, even for a short period, you may not be able to return to your original job straight away. The laws prohibiting disability discrimination (now found in the Equality Act 2010) impose a duty on employers to make 'reasonable adjustments' for people with disabilities.

What amounts to a 'reasonable adjustment' will depend on your particular circumstances, i.e. your health condition and your job, but it could include, for example, a phased return to work, or changes to your workstation or work routine. Any changes should be based on advice from your GP and must be discussed and agreed with you.

Remember that your employer has a duty to take reasonable care of your health and safety at work. Your employer should carry out a risk assessment of your role and your working environment when you are ready to return to work, to make sure you are not at risk of the condition recurring.

If your employer is not sympathetic or helpful, you might be better off going to the next meeting with your trade union rep if you are a member of a trade union, or with a colleague if not. See the Union Finder section of this website; for advice on joining a trade union and for help finding the right trade union for you and your job. You have the right to be accompanied at meetings with management.

The TUC has called for all employers to be legally required to have a rehabilitation policy framework in place. See the TUC webpages on rehabilitation.

In January 2015, the government began rolling out the Fit for Work service aimed at helping employees who are off work through illness or injury return to work more quickly.

Once an employee has reached or is expected to reach four weeks sickness absence they can be referred by their GP for a Fit for Work assessment by an occupational health professional who, if the worker agrees, will look at the issues preventing a return to work. The referral will usually lead to a Return to Work Plan. If the worker agrees, the Return to Work Plan is then sent to the employer and the GP.

The assessment will be with an occupational health professional such as a nurse, doctor or physiotherapist and will often be carried out over the phone.

Anyone can be referred to the service so long as they are in paid employment, are off sick and are likely to return to work. 

There is also an advice line open to everyone who wants help with returning to work. The advice line for Scotland is 0800 019 2211 (open 9am-5pm, Mon-Fri). For England and Wales, it is 0800 032 6235 (open 8.30am-6pm, Mon-Fri). There is also a Welsh Language line on 0800 032 6233.

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.