Return to work process for small employers

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.

Who is a small (Category 2) employer? 

A Category 2 employer:

  • has an average performance premium of $50,000 or less per year, or
  • is insured by a specialised insurer and has 20 or less employees.

If you don't meet the above criteria, refer to Return to work process for medium to large (Category 1) employers.

As a Category 2 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 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 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

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.

Suitable employment

Under the legislation, a worker who is able to work, must in cooperation with the employer and us, make reasonable efforts 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)

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.

Develop a recover at 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 (download the sample Recover at work plan for employers tool below)
  • 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.

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 your insurer and consider organising a case conference with the injured worker and doctor.
  • Where a worker refuses to participate in a recover at/return to work plan, it's appropriate to seek assistance from your insurer.