How employers can help injured employees get back to safe work
Helping injured employees get back to safe work as soon as possible is not only good for their rehabilitation; it's good for your business. It can ensure you retain important skills and knowledge, help you maintain productivity levels and employee morale, and keep the cost of your WorkCover insurance down.
An injured worker doesn't need to be 100 per cent recovered to return to work. We know that the longer a person remains off work following an injury, the less likely they are to ever return. In fact, six months after a work-related illness or injury, 20 per cent of employees are still off work. Most of these are from small and medium-sized businesses, and this often has a significant impact on day-to-day operations.
You can find everything you need to know about return to work as an employer below:
- The return to work process
- Your return to work obligations
- Your employee's return to work obligations
- Tips for helping injured employees return to work
- Resolving return to work issues
- If your employee can't return to work
- Where to find more information
When your obligations begin
Your return to work obligations start from the first day you become aware of an employee's injury. This may be when you receive a claim form for weekly payments or their Certificate of Capacity, or if your WorkSafe Agent lets you know that they have received these documents.
A Certificate of Capacity provides information about your employee's injury and their health professional's assessment of what they can do, which will help you plan suitable duties for them while they recover.
Your employee needs to have a Certificate of Capacity to make a claim for compensation. Regardless of whether they make a claim, or whether it's accepted, you need to start planning for and supporting them in their return to work early on.
Broadly, your obligations are to:
Provide ongoing employment
The aim is to support your employee so they can get back to their pre-injury role wherever possible. Where they have some capacity for work you need to provide them with suitable, safe employment for 52 weeks (not necessarily consecutive) while they recover fully. If your employee has no capacity for work straight away, you still need to actively plan for their eventual return.
Plan for your employee's return to work
You need to provide your employee with suitable, safe duties based on their capacity for work; offer them reasonable workplace aids, modifications and support; and communicate clear and current information about the return to work arrangements with them.
When planning, you need to consult with your employee and their treating health professionals (with your employee's consent) about their capacity for work and return to work arrangements. Once your employee is back at work, you need to regularly monitor how they're going and review or revise their arrangements if needed.
Appoint a Return to Work Coordinator
The person you appoint must have an appropriate level of seniority and be competent to assist you to meet your return to work obligations. If you pay more than $2 million in remuneration in a year, you are required to have a Return to Work Coordinator appointed at all times.
You need to make return to work information readily available to all employees in your workplace – not just when there is an injury.
WorkSafe has developed four compliance codes to help you understand and comply with the law:
- Compliance Code 1: Providing employment, planning and consulting about return to work
- Compliance Code 2: Return to Work Coordinators
- Compliance Code 3: Return to work information
- Compliance Code 4: Cooperating with labour hire employers about return to work
Other legal requirements
You should also familiarise yourself with other relevant State and Commonwealth laws that apply to employees, including your requirement to:
- provide a safe workplace under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004
- respect the privacy and confidentiality of employees' personal information
- not engage in discriminatory conduct
- comply with labour laws, industrial awards or employment agreements.
Return to Work Inspectors
A Return to Work Inspector appointed by WorkSafe may visit your workplace to provide education and, if required, enforce Victoria's workers' compensation legislation to help you achieve a positive return to work outcome.
Your employee also has obligations. They need to make a reasonable effort to return to work in a suitable capacity, cooperate with health professionals in assessments of their capacity for work, participate in return to work planning and use occupational rehabilitation services that are provided to help them return to work.
Your employee also has the right to nominate someone (such as a friend, family member, union representative or colleague) to be their return to work representative to support them throughout the process.
Return to work is a team effort and your relationship with your employee can have a significant impact on the speed of their recovery and their return to work. That's why it's so important to:
Remember that you're part of a team – regular communication between you, your employee and their health professional can help to ensure a positive outcome. Ask for your employee's permission to contact their health professional to discuss how you can help them get back to safe work.
If your employee is away from the workplace, keep in touch with them so they feel connected with what's happening at work. Once they're back, ask how they're going and whether you need to review or revise their arrangements. Use encouraging language to help your employee feel positive about what they can do.
Set a date
Start planning early and work with your employee and their health professional to set a date for when they'll get back to work. Even if the date changes, it's good to have something to work towards.
Have everything ready for your employee's first day back so they understand what they'll be doing, especially if it's different to their usual role. Be sure to let their colleagues know they're coming back to work so they can help you make the workplace a welcoming and supportive environment for their return.
Focus on what your employee can do, rather than on what they can't. They may not be able to do their pre-injury role initially, but you can work with them and their health professional to put together a plan to help them get them back to their normal role. You can also look at what kind of alternative duties are available in your workplace to help them get back.
Having a positive outlook and slowly building on what your employee can do over time will help them stay motivated and focused on their recovery.
Cooperation and regular communication between everyone involved in return to work can help to ensure it's a smooth process. However, if issues arise it's important to address them quickly so they don't become barriers to your employee getting back.
Anyone involved in return to work can raise an issue:
- your employee or their doctor/other treating health professionals
- you/your Return to Work Coordinator
- your WorkSafe Agent.
You are obliged to have a formal issues resolution procedure in place to deal with return to work issues. It's best, however, if you and your employee try and resolve any issues together through your normal communication first. The sooner issues can be resolved, the more successful the outcome is likely to be for everyone.
If your workplace doesn't have an issues resolution procedure in place, the law prescribes that you use WorkSafe's Return to Work Issues Resolution Procedure.
GP Return to work Case Conference
Your WorkSafe Agent may also decide to initiate a GP Return to Work Case Conference. This is a face-to-face meeting of around 30 minutes attended by you, your employee, their doctor and the WorkSafe Agent.
The purpose of the meeting is to discuss your employee's capacity for work, overcome any issues or barriers to their return, and make return to work arrangements.
In unusual circumstances, it may not be possible for you to provide your employee with suitable employment while they recover, or ongoing after your obligation period.
If you're concerned about this, you need to contact your WorkSafe Agent immediately to discuss the options and next steps. You will need to demonstrate to your WorkSafe Agent and to WorkSafe that you have made every effort to comply with your return to work obligations.
Visit our website
Read our publications:
- A guide for employers: What to do if a worker is injured
- The basics you need to know: Return to work coordination
- Labour Hire and Return to Work
- Supporting the return to work of employees with depression or anxiety
- Your WorkSafe Agent
- Your Return to Work Coordinator
- WorkSafe Advisory Service 03 9641 1444 or free call 1800 136 089
- Your employer association or peak body