Employers' Return to Work Obligations
Supporting your injured worker to return to safe and sustainable work as soon as possible is necessary to meet your legal obligations, is good for your worker and is good for business. It can help increase productivity and keep the cost of your WorkSafe Insurance premium down. It benefits your worker by reducing the financial, health and emotional impacts on them and their family.
Your legal obligations
When one of your workers has an incapacity for work, you have obligations under the law to help them return to work. These obligations are to:
- Plan for your worker's return to work:
- obtain relevant information about your worker's capacity for work
- consider reasonable workplace support, aids or modifications to assist in your worker's return to work
- assess and propose options for suitable or pre-injury employment to your worker
- provide your worker with clear, accurate and current details of their return to work arrangements
- monitor your worker's progress
- consult directly with your worker about their return to work, with their treating health practitioner (subject to the consent of the worker) and occupational rehabilitation provider (if involved)
- for a period of 52 weeks, provide your injured worker with suitable employment if they have an incapacity for work or pre-injury employment or equivalent when they have returned to full capacity.
- nominate and appoint a Return to Work Coordinator who has an appropriate level of seniority and is competent to assist you meet your return to work obligations.
make information about return to work available to all workers
- if a host, cooperate with the labour hire employer's efforts to meet their return to work obligations and facilitate the worker's return to work.
If a worker's injury arises during the course of labour hire employment, there are specific obligations for both labour hire agencies and host employers.
- Labour hire and return to work
- Compliance Code 4 of 4: Cooperating with labour hire employers about return to work
When an employer's return to work obligations start
Your return to work obligations start even before the claim has been accepted by your WorkSafe Agent (the Agent). Your return to work obligations commence on the first day you receive either:
- The injured worker's Certificate of Capacity
- The injured worker's claim form
- Notification from your WorkSafe Agent that they have received either of these documents whichever is earlier.
In addition to return to work obligations under Victorian workers compensation legislation, there are other State and Commonwealth laws that employers need to be aware of which apply to their workers. These are summarised below.
Occupational Health and Safety requirements
Employers have obligations under Victorian occupational health and safety (OHS) legislation, including to provide a safe work environment. Employers need to consider their obligations under OHS legislation when planning a worker's return to work.
Privacy and confidentiality requirements
Victoria's workers compensation legislation, information privacy legislation and health records legislation regulate the exchange of personal and health information. Employers should be familiar with these requirements as, in the course of managing a worker's return to work, employers will have access to confidential information about a worker.
Anti-discrimination and labour requirements
The legislation prohibits an employer or prospective employer from engaging in the following discriminatory conduct relating to a worker pursuing a claim for compensation or for notifying an employer or WorkSafe of an injury under this legislation:
- dismissing, or threatening to dismiss, a worker from employment
- altering, or threatening to alter, the position of a worker to the worker's detriment
- treating a worker less favourably than another worker in relation to promotion or re-employment.
There are also other State and Commonwealth discrimination laws that require employers to make reasonable adjustments to hours, equipment and conditions to accommodate a worker's injury or illness regardless of its cause, nature or permanency. These laws apply to all workers, whether full-time, part-time, temporary, permanent or casual. It may be unlawful discrimination to treat any worker less favourably at work because of their illness or injury, or allow them to be treated less favourably by others.
In addition, employers need to comply with labour laws, industrial awards and agreements under which their employment arrangements are regulated. WorkSafe and its Agents are not able to provide advice regarding these laws and requirements. However, it is recommended that you become familiar with these and other relevant requirements.
Meeting your legal obligations
Everyone's circumstances and experiences may differ, but supporting your worker by appropriately planning their return to work can help their rehabilitation and get them back to their normal life.
As the employer, your attitude, support and understanding following an injury will affect the relationship between your organisation and your injured worker. Maintaining appropriate contact with your worker is crucial in helping them while they recover and return to work
The following are some key actions you can take early in the process that will facilitate your worker's return to work:
- contact your worker to ask how they are and to offer support
- provide your worker with relevant return to work information
- let your worker know that your organisation takes health and safety seriously and what you are doing to address the hazards that led to their injury
- tell your worker who the Return to Work Coordinator is and that they should expect a call from the coordinator soon
- ensure your worker has received the brochure Introducing WorkSafe, A guide for injured workers
- be prepared to make appropriate workplace changes to accommodate your worker's return to work
- advise your other workers what you will do to support and assist them and their injured colleague during return to work and ask them to do what they can to support their colleague
- visit work safe.vic.gov.au/rtw, which has helpful information for employers and workers about return to work.
WorkSafe actively monitors and enforces compliance with the legislation. A Return to Work Inspector may visit your workplace to assess whether you are adequately complying with your return to work obligations. Inspectors will help ensure you are appropriately informed. If appropriate, they will issue an improvement notice requiring you to comply with your obligations.
For more information about Return to Work Inspectors, refer to WorkSafe's fact sheet Return to Work Inspectors or visit worksafe.vic.gov.au.
Employers who breach their return to work obligations also risk prosecution and financial penalties of up to 180 penalty units for a natural person and up to 900 penalty units for a body corporate per offence. For information about the value of penalty units, refer to worksafe.vic.gov.au.
A work-related injury or illness can have a big impact on what your injured worker is able to do. They may not be able to do what they did previously, either at work or at home. Your injured worker's return to work is a team effort. It involves you, your Agent, your worker, their treating health practitioner and occupational rehabilitation provider (if one is involved).
Workers also have return to work obligations, including to make reasonable efforts to return to work with their employer or, if necessary, another employer, and to actively participate and co-operate in the planning for return to work.
For more information about employers' return to work obligations, please:
visit our website worksafe.vic.gov.au
call the WorkSafe Advisory Service on (03) 9641 1444 or freecall 1800 136 089
- email firstname.lastname@example.org
- contact your Agent
- contact your industry group representative.
You are legally obliged to help an injured worker get back to work as soon as safely possible. These obligations and details of how you can meet them are outlined in the following publications:
- Information for employers – Return to work obligations
- A guide for employers – What to do if a worker is injured
- Return to Work Information Template
- Return to work arrangements template
- Step by step guide to assessing suitable employment options
Compliance codes have also been developed to comprehensively detail how you can meet your obligations.
Return to work issues can impact an injured worker's rehabilitation and return to work. Regular communication is often the best way to avoid return to work issues arising.
However, if a return to work issue does arise, you and the worker must attempt to resolve the issue. The following information outlines steps to resolving return to work issues, plus the latest Ministerial Direction gazetted in June 2016 for the issue resolution process under the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013 .