Return to work process for medium to 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.

Who is a medium to large (Category 1) employer?

A Category 1 employer:

  • has an average performance premium more than $50,000, or
  • is self-insured, or
  • is insured by a specialised insurer and has over 20 employees.

If you don't meet the above criteria, refer to Return to work process for small (Category 2) employers.

Employers are 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 their employee

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 wellbeing.

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

Your return to work program

You must develop a customised return to work program within 12 months of becoming a 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.

The return to work program must also align with the icare Injury Management Program (PDF, 0.5 MB) and be reviewed at least every two years.

The icare Injury Management Program provides information for employers about how icare and it’s claims service partners will work with employers and their injured employees in managing work-related injuries and illnesses.

For more information refer to the Guidelines for workplace return to work programs published by the State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA) and the icare Injury Management Program.

Suitable employment

Under the legislation, a worker who is able to work must, in cooperation 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 about:

  • 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)

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

Notify us if 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. For more information about suitable employment contact your insurer for assistance.

Support your worker

The workplace is the most cost-effective return to work intervention, and the support of employers is crucial.

Early and regular contact with the injured person to provide the support and assistance they need, as well as clearly communicating options for returning or staying at work can help improve return to work outcomes.

To provide a supportive and positive environment, you or your injured worker's direct supervisor (if applicable) can:

  • discourage blame
  • ask appropriate co-workers to stay in touch
  • address and resolve outstanding issues
  • advise your workers of their rights and responsibilities.

To learn more, visit When a worker is injured: A compensation guide for employers.

Develop a recover at 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.

  • 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.

Return to work coordinators

As a Category 1 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 Return to work coordinators page