Returning to work after surgery

Everyone will need some time off work after having an operation, but the length of time will depend upon several factors, such as:

  • The type of surgery they have
  • Any underlying medical conditions they may have as well
  • How well they were before surgery
  • The type of work they do

How much time off will a member of staff need after surgery?

The type of surgery a person has will have an impact on how long they need to have off work. Having a small operation on your wrist, for example, will require less time than a total hip replacement. However, it does depend upon the job role too. Someone who works with their hands must lift or use a computer and may need longer to recover before they can return to work.

Underlying medical conditions can be affected by having surgery and could potentially increase the length of time off work. They may need to spend longer in the hospital, and their recovery may be more complicated.

If people have emergency surgery, they may be acutely unwell before surgery. Their recovery may take longer as their body will need to recover from the illness leading to the surgery. Even with planned surgery, if someone has been immobile prior to surgery, it may take longer for them to regain their mobility again.

The type of work someone does plays a big role in when they are fit to return to work, especially if there are safety implications for the employee, the rest of your staff and members of the public.

How can you manage the return of an employee following surgery?

Their surgeon or GP will give them advice on how long they would expect them to be away from work. However, the advice is often generic and not considering the role of the employee or that you, as an employer, may be able to offer alternative roles or reduced hours. The employee may not have informed the GP or surgeon what their job fully entails. There will be some employees who are desperate to return, and you need to make sure that they are fit enough. Just remember, employees, do not need to be 100% fit to return to work if they are able to safely do their job, or you can make adjustments.

There isn’t a one size fits all approach to this. The Royal College of Surgeons does have some information on its website. However, their advice will not be tailored to your work environment or your business needs.

Fit notes

Healthcare professionals cannot issue a fit note for the first 7 calendar days of someone’s absence. You do have a legal obligation if someone’s medical condition falls under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments for them by law.

The government website gives the following advice on fit notes given to employers:

  1. Check whether your employee’s healthcare professional has assessed that they are not fit for work or maybe fit for work.
  2. Check how long your employee’s fit note applies for and whether they are expected to be fit for work when their fit note expires.
  3. If your employee may be fit for work, discuss their fit note with them and see if you can agree on any changes to help them come back to work while it lasts.
  4. If your employee is not fit for work, or if they may be fit for work but you can’t agree on any changes, use the fit note as evidence for your sick pay procedures.
  5. Consider taking a copy of the fit note for your records (your employee should keep the original).

Occupational Health Professionals are qualified experts in the field of Occupational Medicine. They know your workplace and can offer a professional, impartial opinion on someone’s fitness for work.
Find out more about our Occupational Health and Health Surveillance services.