Return to Work Programs

Published 23 Oct 2017

Safe Work NSW, who takes a leading role in advancing policy to upgrade work health and safety and workers’ compensation policy, has helped create specific rules regarding return to work programs. Primary among them is that all employers must have a return to work program consisting of “formal policy and procedures to help injured workers with their recovery and getting back to work”. The rules require that employers clearly convey the return to work program to workers with attendant penalties if they fail to do so. This consultation with the workers or any union representing them must occur within a year of the creation of the company.

At this point, the regulations bifurcate for category one employers (those who are self-insured, or insured by a specialized insurer and who employs more than 20 workers, or have a basic tariff premium exceeding $50,000 per annum), and category two employers, which are those who do not qualify for category one.

Category One Employers

Category one employers must formulate their return to work program according to the Guidelines for workplace return to work programs. This 43-page document covers extensively the different aspects and requirements of the program. These include sections on the obligations of the employer, worker, insurer, nominated treating doctor, and workplace rehabilitation provider; how to develop a workplace return to work program; preventing occupational injuries and illness; consulting workers and unions; providing suitable duties; returning to work not to disadvantage workers; and return to work coordinators. Category one employers are required to involve a return to work coordinator.

Category Two Employers

These employers are allowed to adopt the standard return to work program, developed by WorkCover NSW. It contains a form in which company details are entered and then posted in locations where employees can readily view it. In this case, the company formulates a general program for supervising different aspects of return to work procedures. Then, for an actual employee injury, the employer comes up with an individual plan tailored to the return to work of the injured employee. A crucial segment of this individual plan is the offering to the worker “suitable duties”, ones that are fitting given the worker’s injury and subsequent capacity to work. WorkCover approved workplace rehabilitation providers and scheme agents/insurers can assist the company with drawing up this individual plan.  Owner builders and companies in which family members are the only employees are exempt from the return to work program requirement.

Agent/insurers are also required to assist injured workers in their return to work. Similar to the employer, they too must develop a general injury management program followed by a specific individual injury management plan for managing and coordinating the treatment, rehabilitation, and return to work of the worker. The coordination is necessary because the agent/insurer, employer, and doctor must work together to come up with the individually tailored plan.

Injury Management

Some of the key attributes of successful injury management and effective return to work programs include:

  • Systems already in place ensuring that people know what to do in case there is an injury
  • Reporting of a workplace injury to the workers’ compensation agent/insurer within 48 hours
  • Early injury treatment and assistance for return to work
  • Appropriate return to work and awareness that the workplace is a good place for worker recovery
  • Timely payments of medical expenses and weekly benefits

It is comforting to know that Safe Work NSW has taken an effective role in creating work health and safety and return to work programs. However, should you have an issue or problem in this area, please take advantage of a free consultation with Gerard Malouf and Partners, who have over 30 years of experience in insurance, accident and negligence compensation claims.