Purpose Previous research on the role of managers in the return to work (RTW) process has primarily been conducted in contexts where the workplace has declared organizational responsibility for the process. While this is a common scenario, in some countries, including Denmark, there is no explicit legal obligation on the workplace to accommodate RTW. The aim of this study was to gain knowledge about the potential roles and contributions of managers in supporting returning employees in a context where they have no legal obligation to actively support RTW. Methods Nineteen Danish hospital managers participated in a one-on-one interview or focus group discussions aimed at identifying barriers and facilitators for supporting employees in their RTW. Five individual interviews and two focus group discussions were conducted. Transcripts were analysed using thematic content analysis. Results Four main themes were identified: (1) 'Coordinator and collaborator'; (2) 'Dilemmas of the RTW policy enforcer'; (3) 'The right to be sick and absent'; and (4) 'Keep the machinery running…'. Our findings indicated that supervisors' capacity to support returning workers was related to individual, communication, organizational, and policy factors. Instances were observed where supervisors faced the dilemma of balancing ethical and managerial principles with requirements of keeping staffing budgets. Conclusion Although it is not their legislative responsibility, Danish managers play a key role in the RTW process. As has been observed in other contexts, Danish supervisors struggle to balance considerations for the returning worker with those of their teams.