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Managing the return to work process: a guide for employers and workers

Despite the physical and financial risk of workplace injuries, when managed correctly, employee injuries can be a positive experience for all involved. But the first step is to recognise that both employers and employees play a role in the return to work process, and when cooperating together, return to work outcomes can be achieved quickly and efficiently.

The next step in the process is to understand the health benefits of work; a concept which should be acknowledged and accepted by both parties in order to achieve the best outcomes. Here’s a quick recap…

The final and perhaps most important step, is to understand employer and employee obligations in the return to work process. And beyond that, what else should and can be done by each for the most effective injury management, reducing physical and financial risk.

Employer obligations
Beyond the legislation which outlines what is legally required from employers, there is more that employers can do to get injured workers back to work sooner. Here’s a summary:

  • Report the injury to your insurer as soon as possible – legally you have 48 hours to make a claim however the sooner you report the incident, the more likely you are to have the injured worker back to work sooner.
  • Offer support – while your to-do list just grew significantly now that you have an injured worker, it’s important to remember that they will also have a growing list of concerns. Positive encouragement and understanding of the situation throughout the process will help your worker to feel as though they are supported. Ask them what they need, and put the answers into action.
  • Regular communication – ensuring regular communication while the worker is off work, and again when they return, is critical to gain a positive response and willingness from the employer to get back to work as soon as possible. As with support, communication reaffirms to the employee that they are valued and appreciated.
  • Provide suitable work – the purpose of alternate duties is so that the employee can recover at work, not only saving money on lost time and efficiencies, but also ensuring that the worker is improving their functional capacity through movement, and maintaining positive mental health. For the best possible outcome, suitable duties should be determined collaboratively (where reasonably possible) so that the injured worker is reassured that they are still a respected employee whose wellbeing is valued.
  • Involve the worker in the Return to Work Plan – as with suitable work duties, it’s important to involve the injured worker in the development of their Return to Work Plan. The worker should have a say in the goal of the plan, which should focus on current capabilities rather than restrictions, as well as breaks and work hours based on these capabilities.
  • Prepare colleagues for the workers return ­– anxiety and nerves are common in employees who have been off work for some time. It’s important that they feel supported by colleagues as well as management upon their return, especially if they are not returning to their pre-injury capacity. Ensure other staff are aware the worker is returning, as well as any changes to their role, and that they offer support and encouragement where possible.

Employee obligations
While legally speaking, the majority of obligations fall upon the employer, employees have a responsibility to take care of themselves, ensuring their injury does not get worse or return. Here’s a summary of employee obligations:

  • Report the injury to a Supervisor as soon as it happens and answer any questions honestly.
  • Actively participate in the development and management of the Return to Work Plan – and make every effort to follow the plan, advising of any difficulties or changes throughout the process.
  • Communicate – openly and honestly to all parties throughout the process, including your employer, Return to Work Coordinator, doctors and others. Open communication is key to returning to work sooner.
  • Comply with all advice and use correct work methods – this means if the injury is physical, follow correct ergonomic procedures and correct work methods, to ensure your injury is not aggravated further. If the injury is psychological, ensure you voice any concerns, stressors or problems with your Supervisor as soon as they occur, so that solutions can be put in place and further injury avoided.
  • Always follow the advice of treating practitioners and doctors

Managing the return to work process can seem like a daunting process, however it’s encouraging to note that while many injured workers take some time off work, in 2018 the return to work rate was above 80%.

For the best chance at maintaining good return to work outcomes, speak to Work Options about how we can help to protect your business.

Related reading:
Why work is the best treatment for injury recovery
Case study: when altering your reactions can affect RTW outcomes
Common injury management mistakes guaranteed to rise insurance premiums


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