Whether an injury occurred at work, or outside of work hours, returning to work after sustaining an injury, or any extended period of leave, can feel overwhelming. This is particularly the case where the injury occurred at work if the employee feels nervous about another incident occurring. (This should not be the case, as after an incident, there should be responsive action to reduce the likelihood of this occurring again.)

Fortunately, there are simple steps both staff and employers can take, to reduce the stress of this transitional process. Ideally, reducing time away from work after an injury, and supporting staff on their return will improve this transition. Research has shown that having extended time off reduces the likelihood of an employee returning to the workforce post-injury.

Health professionals also play an important role in this transition; treating the patient appropriately, whilst advising on an injury management program, so the employee can return to work as soon as possible. Employers and their employees both have key responsibilities in this process, to improve outcomes for the employee and their return to work.

Steps for an employee to take:

  1. Seek treatment immediately when you sustain an injury. Ensure you obtain a medical certificate report the incident as soon as possible.
  2. Cooperate with health practitioners, the relevant workers’ compensation provider and employer throughout the recovery process.
  3. Make it your goal, in consultation with your doctor, to return to work by a particular date.
  4. Retain all medical certificates – they are required when lodging a compensation claim.
  5. Double check you have signed and completed all relevant forms in full, to prevent processing delays.
  6. Where relevant, submit required workers’ compensation paperwork to your employer.
  7. Keep your employer informed about your condition; including improvements and setbacks, so they can adjust your return to work program accordingly.
  8. If you are concerned about a lack of income, after injury, check with the insurer the claim has been lodged. You may arrange sick or annual leave with your employer, or inquire at Centrelink about financial assistance.
  9. Seek your health practitioner’s advice on how to safely stay active during the recovery period.

Steps for an employer to take:

  1. Formulate a rehabilitation and return to work policy and procedure.
  2. Keep lines of communication open while staff is off work. This prevents the formation of psychological barriers; which can negatively impact the injured employee’s mental health, while they are off work.
  3. Coordinate with safety professionals to reduce the risk of exacerbating the injury upon return to work.
  4. If you find it difficult to determine alternative tasks for the employee while recovering from their injury; consider engaging an occupational therapist. They are trained to recognise light duties which can be conducted successfully without aggravating existing injuries, in various work environments. For example, they may identify an opportunity which is less physically demanding, during the recuperation period, such as filing.
  5. You may need to consider encouraging your employee to work reduced hours, in the initial stages of recovery and to gradually build back up to full hours, in consultation with their doctor.
  6. When possible, employers should talk to the doctor about the expected time frame for an injured employee’s recovery and which duties would be safest.
  7. Keep in mind that their doctor won’t be aware of every opportunity for alternative duties within your workplace. Try to keep an open mind about what a suitable duties program might look like.
  8. If alternative duties are not an option within your workplace, you should speak to your workers’ compensation insurance provider about other options.
  9. Contact Workplace Central to discover how our workforce management solutions can help facilitate a return to work program, within your organisation.

The employee and employer can work together to ensure returning to the workforce is successful for both parties.