Five tips to support the return to work process

Helping workers return to their normal job after an injury is called ‘return to work’, and it’s an important step in their recovery.

Research shows that work is generally good for health and wellbeing, while long term work absence, work disability and unemployment can have a negative impact on health and wellbeing.

WorkCover Queensland Customer Group Executive Melanie Stojanovic explains that the return to work journey goes smoothest when all parties work together, namely the injured worker, their employer, WorkCover, and the treating doctors and health practitioners.

“Every claim is different, so planning a safe and early return to work requires input from all parties to determine what the injured worker is capable of doing, and what modifications to their normal duties or alternative duties might be available for them in their workplace,” Melanie said.

“Communication is key to a positive return to work outcome, which leaves the worker feeling supported and confident as they get back to their normal life after an injury.”

Here are five tips to consider when a worker is injured:

1. Support and communicate from time of injury

Employers should contact their worker as soon as they are aware of their injury to offer support. This contact should be maintained throughout their recovery to ensure an open line of communication so that any barriers to return to work are identified and appropriate solutions are found. Listen to the worker’s concerns and address these promptly. Regular communication also helps the worker to feel valued and that they are missed by their colleagues.

Find the right balance though, as some workers may interpret regular contact as pressure to return to work before it is safe for them to do so. Discuss the timing and frequency of contact early on so you are both comfortable with it.

2. Participate in return to work planning

Start considering what other duties you may have available in your workplace that could be performed safely by the worker. You may have alternative duties that could minimise or even prevent the need for time off work.

Use an individual, person-centred approach to find solutions to any potential barriers; don’t assume that duties that were suitable for another injured worker will necessarily work for this worker. While it helps to have a bank of options ready, be flexible as you work with the worker, WorkCover and the treating health practitioners to determine an appropriate way forward.

3. Stay in touch with WorkCover and the treating doctor

Return to work planning works best when each party has as much information as possible about what the worker can do. Our injury information pack includes suitable duties plan and letter templates that you can complete with your injured worker. The worker can then take these along with them to their treating doctor so the doctor is aware of all the possible duties the worker could perform when completing their Work Capacity Certificate.

Stay in touch with your WorkCover Customer Advisor as well as they are responsible for monitoring and revising the return to work plan, including timeframes for treatment and recovery. Their claims experience can help guide you along the way.

4. Review and check in after return to work

Once the worker has returned to work, remember to check in with them to ensure they are feeling confident and comfortable, and are not aggravating their injury. You may need to make additional modifications to their workload as they continue their recovery and build their work fitness.

5. Improve return to work processes

It helps to develop workplace processes and practices to manage return to work in case of an injury. This will foster a supportive culture and allow you to make improvements to processes wherever necessary. The time immediately after a worker has returned to work after injury is an ideal time to review what went well, and what you can change for future.

Resources to learn more about the return to work process:

Source: WorkSafe QLD, 20 March 2018