Timing of return to work | Bolt Burdon Kemp Timing of return to work | Bolt Burdon Kemp

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Section #2

Timing of return to work

If you’re thinking about working following a brain injury, or you have an employee looking to return to work after injury, there are a number of important things you will need to think about.


Is a return to work possible?

First of all, it’s important to know that there is no ‘normal’ timeframe for returning to work after brain injury. Some employees will sadly never be able to return to work after a brain injury.

The severity of the injury suffered often plays a part. People who have had a severe brain injury are less likely to be able to return to work, although some people with major brain injuries make excellent recoveries and do go back to work.

Conversely, people who have suffered milder forms of brain injury are more likely to be able to work. However, there is no hard and fast rule, and some people with mild brain injuries are unable to work.

  • Any brain injury, no matter how ‘mild’ can effectively amount to a major trauma to the injured person’s life.
  • It’s not just about the brain injury itself – the emotional and psychological consequences of altered lifestyle and family dynamics after brain injury can have a huge impact on ability to return to work.
  • The realisation that a person with a brain injury may never get back to how they were before their injury can be particularly difficult.
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In Summary

Whether someone can work after brain injury and the type of role they will be able to work in will depend a lot on the individual’s circumstances.


When can a return to work be considered?

Recovery and rehabilitation from a brain injury can take a long time (months or years) and is sometimes ongoing for life. Ongoing recovery and rehabilitation should not stop somebody who has had a brain injury from working. However, the level of recovery reached, the particular requirements of a job role and what adjustments can reasonably be made will need to be considered when thinking about a return to work.

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Top Tip

A return to work can be considered when the injured person has made enough of a recovery to start thinking about work again.

Employees with more severe brain injuries are more likely to lack insight into their capabilities, and could attempt to return to work too soon, which may not end well. It’s usually better to wait until they are ready rather than going through the stress of an unsuccessful return to work. Communication is key between both parties, but it can be difficult to balance the privacy rights of the employee and the information that an employer needs to help plan for an employee’s return to work.

Employers should also resist putting pressure on employees to return to work before they feel they are ready, as this can cause undue stress to the injured person; this can strain relationships and the trust needed for the parties to effectively communicate and work together in everyone’s best interests.


How is work suitability assessed?

Existing documents can give some information about work suitability:

  • There will most likely be numerous summaries and progress reports written about the person who has been injured, by the medical professionals involved. Progress reports and discharge summaries can provide helpful information for considering whether a return to work could be considered.
  • Additionally, if the injured person has a legal claim, they may have been assessed by experts who provide reports about the injured person’s physical, cognitive and emotional condition. 
  • If the injured person has access to funds as a result of a legal claim, they may have a case manager and/or therapists who will agree to provide up to date information on the injured person’s progress.
  • It is also necessary to consider what the job role involves. This can be established from job descriptions, but these can often vary from what the job requires in reality. Speaking to the employee and their line manager can be a good way to establish the day-to-day duties and requirements of the role, as well as how any necessary adjustments could reasonably be made.

However, workplace needs after brain injury will be unique to the employee. There is no ‘one-size fits all’ and even if there are already documents in existence about the injured person’s condition, the employer should arrange for a full occupational health assessment of the employee’s abilities following brain injury. This should be completed by a qualified medical professional.

An employee does not have to consent to undergoing an occupational health assessment. If they do, they have the right to see the report before it is disclosed to their employer, and it will only be disclosed to the employer with the employee’s consent. However, it may be very difficult for the employer to help the employee return to work safely, or at all, if they are not provided with this report.

The outcome of an occupational health assessment could be that the injured person is unable to return to work, which can be extremely disappointing if the employee and employer are keen for the return to work to happen. Further medical advice can be sought, and the views of the employer and employee should also be considered, but there would need to be a good reason to act contrary to occupational health advice.

Employers are under a duty to consider alternative employment for employees returning to work after a brain injury if it appears they may not be able to return to their previous role (with or without adjustments being made to that role), but in some situations this will not be possible either; this could depend on the size of the employer, what roles are available and the impact of the brain injury on the employee. It can occasionally be reasonable to require an employer to create a new role for the employee, but this is not often the case. Employees who are facing a situation where their employer has assessed that they are no longer able to employ them should seek specialist advice on their options if they have concerns about the assessment/their employer’s decision. Please see the list at the end of this guide for signposting to further support.

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Top Tip

Workplace needs after brain injury will be unique to the employee. There is no ‘one-size fits all’.

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In Summary

Employers are under a duty to consider alternative employment for employees returning to work after a brain injury if it appears they may not be able to return to their previous role


We're here to help you.

We hope you find this guide useful, whether you are reading this from the perspective of an employer, or if you have had a brain injury and are contemplating returning to work after a brain injury.

If you would like to speak to a member of our brain injury team about an ‘employment after brain injury’ related query, please complete the contact form below, or give us a call on 020 3411 5839.

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