When you are injured, the message has been to rest up, look after yourself, and return to work when you are healed. This is not necessarily the best course of action, however.
Fair Work Australia uses enforceable undertakings (EU) to fix a problem and make sure it doesn’t happen again. An EU is a written agreement between Fair Work Australia and someone who has not followed an Australian workplace law (such as an employer). They are typically used instead of taking an employer to court, generally where:
- an investigation has shown that workplace laws have not been followed
- the employer is prepared to voluntarily fix the issue and
- they agree to preventative actions for the future.
Combined with a new WorkSafe campaign that aims to alert everyone involved in an injured worker’s rehabilitation, EUs give employers an opportunity to voluntarily fix issues, agree to preventative actions, and – in regards to WorkSafe – demonstrate a proactive willingness to get workers back in the workforce.
The campaign aims to educate the injured worker, the worker’s family, the employer, the GP and other health professionals of the benefits of returning to some form of work when it is safe to do so.
Getting back to work after an injury is just as important for a worker’s mental health as it is for their physical recovery. By proactively expanding a businesses ‘back to work’ policy, injured workers, their GP and their employer can work together to plan the worker’s return. Even a couple of hours back at work every week undertaking light duties can have enormous health benefits.
While keeping people safe at work is a priority, it is important for an employer to demonstrate how those who are injured have the best support available to get back to work.
Regular communication between an injured worker, their employer and their doctor from early on to help to ensure a smooth return to work.
Setting a date. The date an injured worker expects to be able to return to work after an injury has a big impact on when they’ll actually get back.
Alternate duties. Injured workers – with their employer and their doctor – are advised to focus on what they can do rather than on what they can’t, and to discuss options for safe alternative duties during recovery.
Proactively choosing to return to work. Studies show that getting back to work after an injury is an important step on the road to recovery. Worksafe advises that an injured worker doesn’t have to wait until they’re 100 per cent recovered to get back to safe work.
It is worth reminding employers that this type of return to work is not only good for an employee’s rehabilitation; it is also good for business. It can ensure important skills and knowledge are retained, helps maintain productivity levels and employee morale, and keeps the cost of your insurance down.
For employers, return to work obligations start from the first day you become aware of an employee’s injury. Broadly, as an employer your obligations are to:
Provide ongoing employment
The aim is to support your employee so they can get back to their pre-injury role wherever possible. Where they have some capacity for work, you need to provide them with suitable, safe employment for 52 weeks (not necessarily consecutive) while they recover fully. If your employee has no capacity for work straight away, you still need to actively plan for their eventual return.
Plan for your employee’s return to work
You need to provide your employee with suitable, safe duties based on their capacity for work; offer them reasonable workplace aids, modifications and support; and communicate clear and current information about the return to work arrangements with them.
When planning, you need to consult with your employee and the health professionals treating them (with your employee’s consent) about their capacity for work and return to work arrangements. Once your employee is back at work, you need to regularly monitor how they’re going and review or revise their arrangements if needed.
Appoint a Return to Work Coordinator
The person you appoint must have an appropriate level of seniority and be competent to assist you to meet your return to work obligations. If you pay more than $2 million in remuneration in a year, you are required to have a Return to Work Coordinator appointed at all times.
You need to make return to work information readily available to all employees in your workplace – not just when there is an injury.