How to help an injured person return to work in a small to medium business

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

Research has shown that an injured employee returning to work during recovery can reduce the harmful physical and psychological effects of long term disability and work loss.1

 This page provides information about the process and support available to help small to medium employers (Category 2) with getting injured people back to work.

As a small to medium 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 and return-to-work program.

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

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.

Additionally, if your basic tariff premium is less than $30 000, you may be eligible to take advantage of the State Insurance Regulatory Authority’s Return to Work Assist program.

Discover return to work programs and resources

Who is a small to medium employer

A small to medium employer, also known as a Category 2 employer, is any employer who is not a category one employer.

A category one employer is an employer:

  • with a basic tariff premium over $50,000 a year, or
  • who is self-insured, or
  • insured by a specialised insurer and has over 20 employees.

If you aren't a small to medium employer, refer to the Returning to work process for large employers

Who can participate in a return to work program

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 work, and may request their employer to provide suitable work.

As an employer, you must comply with this request so far as it is reasonably practicable.

An injured worker can participate in a return to work program if:

  • they are certified as having current work capacity
  • they are currently receiving weekly payments of compensation under the Workers Compensation Act 1987 (WC Act)
  • they have not exceeded 13 weeks from date of injury

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 an injured worker because they are not fit for employment as a result of the injury.

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

Your return to work program

All businesses must have a return to work program within 12 months of becoming an employer. As a category 2 employer, you may adopt the SIRA standard return to work program or you may develop your own.

A return to work program is the formal policy and procedures your business must have in place to help injured employees recover and return to work.

It should outline your commitment to helping injured workers recover at work and/or return to work safely and as soon as possible following a work-related injury or illness.

Your return to work program must be:

  • consistent with the Standard return to work program
  • accessible and communicated appropriately to your workforce
  • provided to any worker on request.

Developing a return to work plan

In the event of a workplace injury, you will also need to develop a return to work plan that is tailored to suit the particular needs of the injured worker.

When developing a recover at work plan, you should:

  • give the worker an opportunity to participate in developing the plan
  • describe the plan in writing (see the example template Recover at work planning tool)
  • 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 worker and the doctor
  • provide a copy of any changes made to the plan to the worker in writing.

It’s also good practice to:

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

    How to develop a return to work plan

  • Include your worker

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

    You need to agree on a clear recover at 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 icare and consider organising a case conference with the worker and the doctor.

    If a worker refuses to participate in a recover at work plan, it is appropriate to seek assistance from icare workers insurance.

  • Review their diagnosis, capacity and restrictions

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

    If this information is unclear, contact the doctor.

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

  • Document treatment and rehabilitation arrangements

    Your plan should include the number, frequency and agreed times of any current or planned treatment and rehabilitation.

    Treatment appointment arrangements will be dependent on the availability of treatment providers and the individual circumstances of the worker.

  • Agree on available duties and hours to be worked

    Your plan should focus on what a worker can do, rather than what they can’t.

    To identify suitable work options, you might:

    • familiarise yourself with your worker’s pre-injury role
    • discuss work options and available duties with your worker
    • speak to your worker’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 worker’s skill set
    • review the capacity of your worker 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 worker, 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 worker recovers is important.

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

    It is recommended that you document 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 worker 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 worker’s support team should be included within the plan.
  • Make an agreement

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

    If agreement is verbal you must note it in the worker’s recover at 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 work plan is used by a range of people it is helpful to include information about:

    • the roles and responsibilities of people involved in the recover at work process such as supervisors, managers, return to work coordinator and co-worker
    • the process for handling concerns or dispute
    • the process for disclosing information
    • any additional support that helps ensure a successful recovery at 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 worker, supervisor, other workplace manager, approved 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, for example from us and/or an approved workplace rehabilitation provider
  • A lack of available duties does not remove your obligation to actively participate in the recover at work planning process.

It is important for the worker 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 us 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.

Both workers and employers must ensure they meet their obligations for suitable employment as required by the legislation.

Call 13 10 50 for more information about suitable employment.

Return to Work Assist for micro employers

If you have less than 5 full time or equivalent employees and a basic tariff premium of $30,000 or less, you are a micro employer and can take advantage of SIRA’s Return to Work Assist program.

The program supports eligible micro employers to offer suitable work through a graded return to work plan, while minimising the financial burden to the employer.

The program is available for up to six weeks, within the first 13 weeks of an injured employees claim.

The program allows your injured employee to continue receiving their weekly payments from the insurer while participating in a graded return to work plan and it allows you to maintain an alternate work arrangement to cover the duties of your injured employee while they’re unable to perform them (e.g. by employing a casual staff member or allowing existing staff to work overtime).

The guidelines for the return to work assist program for micro employers outlines the eligibility requirements for both employees and employers. All submissions must comply with these guidelines.

Please visit the SIRA website for further information.

1Waddell, G and Burton, AK. Is Work Good for Your Health and Well Being? Norwich, UK: The Stationery Office. 2006; Foreman, P. Murphy, G., & Swerissen, H. (2006). Barriers and facilitators to return to work: A literature review. Australian Institute for Primary Care, La Trobe University, Melbourne.