Instituting return to work arrangements

It is a requirement that each employer creates a return to work program within 12 months of becoming an employer. This program must be redeveloped every two years in consultation with employees and any relevant unions.

The program needs to include the following things:

a. Policies for preventing workplace injuries.

The preventative aspect of the return to work program is significant. It should include a plan to monitor the workplace to ensure that it meets safety requirements, and a regular method of communicating workplace health and safety advice to all employees and contractors. This is an important part of developing a culture of workplace safety.

b. Policies to ensure that injured workers who are returning to work receive suitable duties.

It is a requirement that employers provide employees who are returning to work with suitable work which, so far as reasonably practicable, is the same as, or equivalent to, the duties which the worker was performing at the time of the injury.

In order to determine whether particular duties are suitable, the employer is required to consider whether the employee is incapacitated, what skills and previous experience the employee has, any treatment or rehabilitation needs of the employee and any formal return to work plan that has been implemented.

It is important to note that an employer cannot claim that duties are unsuitable merely because it does not need anybody to perform those duties or are different to the previous duties of the employee before the injury.

c. Policies for ensuring that an injured worker who is returning to work is not disadvantaged.

It is important to make sure that no employee who is returning to work is disadvantaged because of his or her injury. This requires employers to plan ahead to ensure that the employee receives all of his or her legal entitlements, along with any benefit, such as a promotion, that he or she was going to receive prior to his or her injury. It also requires employers to make inured employees returning to work aware of a dispute resolution process that can be implemented to resolve any disputes during the return to work period.

d. The nomination of a return to work co-ordinator.

One of the most important things that a return to work program must do is to identify the Return to Work Co-ordinator, who will be tasked with implementing the return to work program. The Co-ordinator is the key communication point between the injured employee, the employer, the insurer, and any practitioners involved in the injured worker’s rehabilitation.

All Return to Work Co-ordinators must have completed a course approved by WorkCover. It is recommended that they have dispute resolution and case management skills, along with a thorough understanding of the organisation’s return to work program.

Employers should attempt to maintain a constructive relationship with return to Work Co-ordinators. A cooperative relationship between the employer and the co-ordinator will ensure that the return to work program is implemented smoothly. It will assist the employer and co-ordinator to identify suitable duties for the injured employee, and will allow the employer to better manage any potential disputes between itself and the employee.

e. A focus on facilitating an early return to work.

The program should deal with the initial stages of the return to work process, including strategies for contacting insurers and establishing case files in the immediate aftermath of the injury. These initial steps have an important role in speeding up the return to work process and ensuring that employees are back at work as soon as they practically can be.

If you need assistance on this or other matters, give JFMLAW a call on 02 9331 0266. A member of our team will be happy to help.

John Morrissey

T: +61 2 9331 0266

John Morrissey has been a practising Sydney solicitor for 30 years, and for the past 20 a sole practitioner and the principal at JFMLAW.

His main focus employment law, advising small to medium-sized firms and their employees of their rights and obligations.

For many years he was a lecturer at UTS to students obtaining Masters in Human Resources Management with a focus on performance management and creating a culture of delivery in workplaces. John has acted for a significant number of employers, not only in developing a performance based culture in the workplace but also solving particular problems that arise relating to unfair dismissal, contract disputes, improper use of intellectual property or other property as well as enforcements of restraints of trade.

John is very happy to speak to any employer who has an issue on a free of charge basis by a phone call. Please feel free to ring John at anytime up to 6pm most days.
John Morrissey

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