How small businesses can help injured employees recover at work

As an employer you have a requirement to help an injured employee continue to work, or return to work, as part of their recovery from injury or illness.

A worker places a book in a bag while a colleague looks on in a book store.

As part of their recovery, you must actively participate in the development of a 'Return to Work Plan' for each employee that sustains an injury at your workplace.

Here we explore how you can support your injured worker's recovery and meet your legal obligations at the same time.

Supporting injury recovery at work: why is it important?

Taking time off work may be necessary in the recovery process for your injured employee, but it can also be detrimental to, and potentially delay their recovery. The longer your injured employee stays away from work, the less chance they have of returning.

Supporting the return to work of your injured employee is an integral part of their recovery both physically and mentally. It shows all employees that they are valued and promotes a positive work culture. Research shows that good outcomes are more likely when a worker is supported to work whilst recovering in the workplace following a period of injury or illness.

Supporting your injured employee to recover at work also helps your small business by:

  • reducing the length of time your injured employee has away from work
  • reducing the cost of training and hiring new staff
  • maintaining the skills and knowledge of an experienced employee
  • maintaining a good employer/employee relationship.

What are suitable duties?

If a worker is not able to immediately return to their normal duties, an employer is obligated to identify if suitable work is available in the workplace. Duties that are suitable for your recovering employee will depend on the nature of their injury and recovery process as well as your work environment.

Having meaningful work to do will help your employee feel valued and engaged. If your business relies on an employee to perform manual labour for example and they can no longer do this task, you must consider other types of duties available within your workplace to match their skills and abilities as they recover.

This could include modified tasks and duties such as:

  • offering flexible work hours
  • modifying your employee's duties
  • giving your employee a different job
  • offering cross training opportunities
  • allowing work at a different workplace
  • a combination of the above.

Suitable duties must be offered wherever possible and should be, as far as reasonably practicable, the same or equivalent to the type of work your employee was performing at the time of their injury. Suitable duties must be compatible with your employee's recovery process and Return to Work Plan. Penalties may apply if you don't meet these requirements.

Planning for suitable duties

If an employee has sustained an injury at work and is unable to perform their regular duties, being prepared can prove crucial to keeping your small business moving forward.

Some strategies to consider include the following:

  1. identifying suitable duties
  2. creating a suitable duties register
  3. developing a suitable duties program
  4. working with a workplace rehabilitation provider when appropriate.

By preparing a list of suitable duties that can be offered to your injured employees, you can reduce the amount of disruption to your small business and focus on developing a tailored program to support your injured employee as part of their recovery.

Struggling to find suitable duties for your injured employee?

Speak with your claims manager to see if a rehabilitation provider is necessary

If you're struggling to identify duties for your injured employee to perform during their recovery, a workplace rehabilitation provider may be able to help.

Workplace rehabilitation providers offer expert advice on preparing a 'Return to Work Plan' to support your injured employee. A workplace rehabilitation provider will consult with you about your employee's specific needs in their 'recover at work' program and can also assist in identifying suitable duties to add to your 'suitable duties' register.

Your claims manager will advise if a rehabilitation provider is appropriate for your claim. Working with an experienced workplace rehabilitation provider can help identify suitable duties, facilitate communication between all stakeholders and provide additional support for both you and your injured employee.

Consider a work trial

A work trial places your employee with a host employer, where they can perform suitable duties until they have recovered enough to return to your business. Work trials are funded by the State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA) for a maximum duration of 12 weeks.

For example, if your worker's usual duties involve manual tasks and no non-manual tasks are available then a work trial may be appropriate to allow your employee to work for up to 12 weeks with another employer who can provide suitable duties while they recover. This may assist your small businesses with the cost of an injured employee while providing support for your employee to continue working while recovering.

Have a chat with your claims manager to see if a work trial would be appropriate for you and your employee.

SIRA's Recover at Work Assist for Small Business program

SIRA's Recover at Work Assist for Small Business program helps small employers overcome financial hardship when providing suitable work to help their worker recover at work after a work-related injury or illness.

How does it work?

You may be eligible to receive an assistance payment of up to $400 per week for a combined total of up to six weeks.

This payment helps to offset the costs of making alternative arrangements to cover your employee's usual duties while they participate in a recover at work plan and build capacity to return to their pre-injury duties and hours. For example, you may use the funds to employ a casual staff member or offer overtime to existing staff.

Talk to your claims manager for more information on eligibility and the program.

Can’t find suitable duties?

Finding suitable duties can represent a challenge for small businesses.

In some cases, you may not be able to find suitable duties to offer your injured employee. If this happens, you are still required to demonstrate that you participated in the recover at work planning stage in the following ways by:

  • consulting with your injured employee, their supervisor and an approved workplace rehabilitation provider
  • showing that you carried out an adequate assessment of suitable or pre-injury work options
  • describing which factors are restricting your ability to provide suitable or pre-injury employment to your injured employee. If you can't offer suitable duties to your employee who is capable of work, you must notify the insurance agent managing the employee's claim.

If suitable duties cannot be identified it is very important to have this discussion with your case manager because:

  • not offering an injured worker suitable employment may have an impact on the cost of your workers insurance premium
  • a breach of your obligation to provide suitable employment may result in you receiving a financial penalty
  • it's an offence to dismiss an employee because of a work-related injury within six months from when they first became unfit for work due to the injury or illness.

Employers should always discuss with their case manager if they are eligible for additional programs and resources to help their injured or ill workers recover and return to work.