Returning to work process for large employers

It's in everyone's best interest to help injured employees recover at work or return to employment as soon as their recovery allows.

Research has shown that an injured employee returning to work during recovery can reduce the harmful physical and psychological effects of of long term disability and work loss. As a large employer, you’re obligated to help an injured employee continue or return to work as part of their recovery from injury or illness by:

  • providing suitable employment
  • developing a tailored return to work program
  • co-creating a return to work plan with your employee
  • appointing a return to work coordinator

Beyond this, we encourage you to be proactive about how you can continue to keep your injured employee engaged in employment, embracing the spirit of inclusive employment practices and having a workplace culture that is conducive to health and well being.

There are many programs and resources available to assist employers and injured employees throughout the return to work process , including helping an injured employee perform other duties whilst recovering from injury or illness.

Discover return to work programs and resources

Defining the size of your company

Large employers, also known as Category 1 employers, are those who either:

  • have a basic tariff premium more than $50,000
  • are self-insured
  • are insured by a specialised insurer and have over 20 employees.

All employers must have a return to work (RTW) program in place within 12 months of becoming a category 1 employer.

If you're not a large employer, the process is slightly different.

Returning to work process for small to medium employers

Suitable Employment

Under the legislation, a worker who is able to work must, in co-operation with the employer and us, make reasonable efforts to return to do so, and may request their employer to provide suitable work.

The most important aspect of an employer’s commitment to helping an injured employee recover at/or return to work in a timely and safe manner is to provide suitable employment.

You have an obligation to provide suitable employment to a worker with current work capacity, unless:

  • it isn’t reasonably practicable to do so
  • the worker voluntarily left employment either, before or after, the commencement of the incapacity for work 
  • you terminated their employment after the injury, other than for the reason that the worker was not fit for employment as a result of the injury.

Note: It is an offence to dismiss a worker because of a work related injury within six months from when they first become unfit as a result of the injury.

The successful identification of suitable employment will ultimately be determined by the quality of information collected with regard to:

  • the worker’s capacity for work
  • the demands and nature of tasks within the workplace
  • how readily these tasks can be matched to help upgrade and improve the worker’s capacity to return to pre-injury duties.

An injured worker can participate in a recovery at work/return to work plan if:

  • they are certified as having current work capacity and/ or
  • they are currently receiving weekly payments of compensation under the Workers Compensation Act 1987 (WC Act)

For more information, see SIRA’s workers Insurance Guide for Employers

Your return to work program

As a large employer, you must develop a customised return to work program within 12 months of becoming an Category 1 employer.

For Category 1 employers, implementing a successful return to work program involves four main activities:

  1. Appoint a return to work coordinator
  2. Develop a return to work program
  3. Consult workers and unions
  4. Implement the program

The return to work program is a summary of an agreed system that an employer must have in place in readiness for the management of workers who suffer a work-related injury or illness. The return to work program is a system agreed by the employer, workers and worker representatives. It is made up of a series of policies and procedures.

The return to work program must reflect the business practices, culture and environment of the workplace. It should also outline your commitment to helping injured employees recover at work and/or return safely and as soon as possible following a work-related injury or illness.

For more information refer to Guidelines for workplace return to work programs published by the State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA)

Developing a recover-at or return-to-work plan

Tailored planning is essential to a successful work outcome for you and your worker. Commencing the recover at/ return to work process as soon as you are notified that your worker has a workplace injury or illness can assist your employee to recover sooner.

When developing a recover at/ return to work plan, you should:

  • give the injured employee an opportunity to participate in its development
  • describe the plan in writing
  • discuss who will receive a copy of the plan and what injury management information should be shared with co-workers
  • provide copies of the plan to the injured employee and the doctor
  • provide a copy of any changes made to the plan to the injured employee in writing.

It’s also good practice to:

  • keep a copy of the plan for yourself and give copies to the insurer and the injured employee’s line manager
  • inform line managers and co-workers (if required) of the plan’s content
  • monitor your injured employee’s progress against the plan
  • update the plan when the injured employee’s medical restrictions change or if there is a change in the workplace that impacts the plan.

Include your employee

Creating a plan in collaboration with your injured employee is more likely to increase the chance of its success.

You need to agree on a clear recover at/ return to work goal to ensure everyone is working towards a common objective.

Listen to their suggestions and concerns. Incorporate their input wherever possible while being clear about the options available.

If you’re unable to agree to the plan, discuss the issue with insurer and consider organising a case conference with the injured worker and the doctor.

Where a worker refuses to participate in a recover at/ return to work plan, it is appropriate to seek assistance from your insurer.

    How to develop a recovery at work or return to work plan

  • Develop a recover at/RTW Goal
    Your injured worker’s recover at/ return to work goal needs to be clear to ensure everyone is working towards a common objective.
  • Review their diagnosis capacity and restrictions

    Include your injured worker’s diagnosis, capacity for work and any restrictions specified by the doctor in the workers certificate of capacity.

    If this information is unclear, contact the doctor and ask for clarification.

    If you’re unable to speak to the doctor directly, provide your injured worker with a letter for the doctor at their next appointment.

  • Document treatment and rehabilitation arrangements
    Your recover at/ return to work plan should include the number, frequency and agreed times of any current or planned treatment and rehabilitation.
  • Available duties and hours to be worked

    Your plan should focus on what your injured employee can do, rather than what they can’t.

    To identify suitable work options, you might:

    • familiarise yourself with your injured employee’s pre-injury role
    • discuss work options and available duties with your injured employee
    • speak to your employee’s supervisor or immediate manager and ask for suggestions about how to organise duties to fit current work routines and schedules
    • review all the jobs your business has available and look at how they may align with your employee’s skill set
    • review the capacity of your employee as described on their certificate of capacity
    • provide work that has been ‘put on the back burner’ or any good ideas you haven’t had time to implement
    • determine who else needs to be involved.

    Consider the tasks closest to your worker’s pre-injury duties as your first option. Duties can be offered in any of the following ways:

    • the same job with different hours
    • modified duties
    • a different job altogether
    • at the same or different workplace
    • a combination of these options.

    Indicate what duties have been identified in consultation with the injured employee, and include any workplace modifications that may be necessary and how they are to be arranged.

  • Set a review date

    Regularly monitoring the plan for progress, effectiveness and updates as your injured employee recovers is important.

    It helps support the injured employee, ensures arrangements are consistent with their work capacity, and triggers the need for any adjustments or updates.

    It is recommended that you note any review dates specified by the doctor on the certificate of capacity.

  • Decide on supervisor arrangements

    You may need to nominate a supervisor to make sure the injured employee is only taking on duties within the capacity specified by the doctor.

    Details of these arrangements should be described within the plan.

  • Contact details
    The contact details of everyone on the injured employee’s support team should be included within the plan.
  • Make an arrangement

    Indicate either in writing or verbally the agreement between yourself and your injured employee about the duties identified and the plan.

    If agreement is verbal you must note it in the employee’s recover at/ return to work plan.

    There is no requirement for other parties to agree to the plan. However, it is best practice to seek agreement for the plan from others, particularly the doctor.

  • Other information you may need to include

    As the recover at/ return to work plan is used by a range of people it may be helpful to include information about:

    • the roles and responsibilities of people involved in the recover at/ return to work process such as supervisors, managers, return to work coordinator and co-workers
    • the process for handling concerns or disputes
    • the process for disclosing information
    • any additional support that helps ensure a successful recovery at/ return to work.

What to do if suitable employment can't be provided

If you believe you cannot meet your legal obligations to provide suitable employment, you’ll need to explain why.

At a minimum, you should be able to show:

  • who you consulted with (i.e. your injured employee , the injured employee’s supervisor or other workplace manager, approved workplace rehabilitation provider)
  • you carried out an adequate assessment of suitable or pre-injury work options
  • factors you consider are restricting your ability to provide suitable or pre-injury employment
  • what assistance you have sought

A lack of available duties does not remove your obligation to actively participate in the recover at/ return to work planning process. It is important for the injured employee to stay active and, therefore, imperative that alternative work options or strategies are identified

Notifying us when you can’t provide suitable employment

You must notify the insurance agent managing the employee’s claim if you are unable to offer suitable employment to a worker who has the capacity for work.

Not offering an injured worker suitable employment may have an impact on the cost of your workers insurance premium and a breach of your obligation to provide suitable employment may result in you receiving a financial penalty. Call 13 10 50 for more information about suitable employment.

Return to work coordinators

As a large employer, you must have a return to work coordinator.

They are generally a worker or someone engaged specifically who has responsibility for:

  • educating employees, keeping injury and recover at work statistics, and developing policies and strategies
  • being the main point of contact for the injured employee
  • providing information on benefits and the recover at/ return to work process
  • determining an injured employee’s needs (in consultation with the injured employee, their doctor and the insurance agent managing the employee’s claim)
  • identifying suitable employment, and consulting with the injured employee to develop (and implement) a recover at/ return to work plan
  • coordinating and monitoring the employee’s progress in treatment, rehabilitation services and recover at/ return to work plans

Training requirements

The return to work coordinator must hold:

  • a certificate certifying attendance at the SIRA (or previously WorkCover) two day course: Introduction to return to work coordination, or
  • a certificate certifying attendance at a two day WorkCover training course for rehabilitation coordinators conducted prior to February 1995, or
  • a letter from SIRA (or previously WorkCover) agreeing to exempt them from participating in the above training.

Exemptions from the training requirements can be requested please see the form below to submit a request.

Shared return to work coordinator

A group of two or more category one employers may establish and use a return to work coordinator to develop a shared program.

For more information visit the SIRA website.