Supporting injured workers to return to work

It makes good business sense to support an injured worker to return safely to work as quickly as possible. As an employer, you also have certain legal responsibilities if an employee is injured at work.

Discrimination against an injured worker is against the law, regardless of whether the injury was sustained at work or outside the workplace. An ‘injured worker’ includes a person with a temporary or permanent disability, physical or otherwise.

Getting back to work can reduce the financial and emotional impact on a worker and their family. It can also be an important factor in helping them recover and return to normal life. However, a worker should not feel pressured into returning to work. Make sure they are given enough time  to recover from the injury or illness, have a reasonable return-to-work plan and appropriate duties when they return.

Appropriate duties

When a worker does return, make sure that they are given appropriate duties and assistance while they recover from the injury or illness. This might include making reasonable adjustments to the workplace. 

One of the most common complaints to the Commission is that employers refuse to consider letting employees return to work on reduced duties or before they are fully recovered. Instead, employees are told, ‘we are not going to accommodate you’ or “we have no suitable work for you based on your statement of capacity”. But a requirement that a worker must be fully fit before returning to work may be unfavourable, depending on the circumstances.

Related resources

The Commission also offers training for employers and has a range of publications and resources on discrimination and the law.

Responsibilities

As an employer, you have an obligation to help an employee return to work and to ensure that they are not treated unfavourably because of their injury or illness.

Injuries at work

Employers also have certain legal responsibilities under the Accident Compensation Act 1985 if an employee is injured at work. Injured employees are only required to return to work when they are well enough to do so and they are entitled to access an occupational rehabilitation program, if required.

In addition, an employer must:

  • hold the injured person’s position open for 12 months
  • help a worker return to their job within 12 months of an injury (if they are capable of doing so)
  • help a worker to return to different or modified duties within 12 months of an injury (if they are fit for work but not able to perform their previous duties)
  • consider workplace support aids or modifications to assist an employee’s return to work
  • nominate a return-to-work coordinator with the ability to assist the employee to prepare to return to work.

Occupational health and safety 

An employer must provide a safe working environment for everyone connected to the organisation, including workers, contract staff, clients, customers and others.

In cases where an employer needs protect the health, safety or property of any person, including the injured worker, you can:

  • refuse to employ an injured worker or,
  • refuse to allow an injured employee to return to work. 

However, before you take this step, you must consider if there are any alternatives.

Planning

Start planning for an injured employee to return to work as soon as possible. This process will involve setting realistic and progressive goals, in consultation with the injured worker and their health professional. A return-to-work plan is a requirement during the planning stage.

Communication and assessment

An employer is responsible for assessing the type and level of support the injured worker will require and maintaining regular communication with the worker during the recovery period.

Developing a return-to-work plan

A return-to-work plan sets out the practical steps to assist the injured worker return to work. It could also explain how the injured worker will be supported to remain at work while they recover.

Offer of Suitable Employment 

If the injured worker is able to work, the return-to-work plan must, by law, include an Offer of Suitable Employment. This is a written outline of the suitable duties that have been identified to support the injured worker return to work. 

Worksafe Victoria has the relevant forms and further information about developing and implementing a return-to-work plan

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