Lodging a workers compensation claim can be a stressful experience. Navigating the claims process while recovering from your injury is difficult enough, but it can also be difficult if facing pressure from your employer to return to work.
Once your claim has been processed and you’ve recovered from your injury, returning to work can be a daunting prospect. Communicating and working with your employer and colleagues can help to ensure that your requirements are met and that you return to work quickly and successfully.
Return to Work Obligations
Workers compensation systems are put in place to support workers in their recovery from an injury and assist them in getting back to work. These support systems require obligations from both employees and employers to be met.
A recovering worker is responsible for returning to work as soon as they are able and without unnecessary delays. Likewise, if the worker can do lighter duties, their employer has a legal obligation to provide them with a suitable alternative to regular work.
If you’ve been involved in a workplace injury claim, consulting with your doctor before returning to work can help you decide whether you are ready.
An injured worker’s successful return to work usually involves the following factors:
- Early contact with the worker’s supervisor or manager
- A supportive claim management process
- Relevant and effective workplace programs in place
- Cooperation, consultation and coordination between all affected parties
In situations where the extent of injuries prevents a return to the original workplace, a compensation claimant still has a legal duty to attempt to find suitable work elsewhere once they have adequately recovered.
Returning to Your Job
Once you’ve been cleared by your doctor, your workers compensation claim shouldn’t impact how you’re treated at work. However, it may lead to you working fewer hours while you continue to recover.
Re-entering the workforce with a ‘black mark’ due to a workers compensation claim is a common concern for claimants, but research indicates that the majority of people who return to work feel that they are treated fairly by employers and co-workers.
Employers are legally unable to discriminate due to the circumstances of your injury and claim, as long as you are able to perform the key requirements of your role. If you return to work and feel victimised or discriminated against, you may have grounds for legal proceedings.
Different states in Australia have programs in place to help those who’ve been injured to return to their workplace or can assist them in finding new work or learning new skills to enter a more appropriate role.
If you’re entering a new role and your medical history is requested in writing, you must disclose your past injury and compensation claim or risk waiving the right to claim again in future, due to aggravation of past injuries.
The Employer’s Duty
Handling a worker’s compensation claim can also be difficult for employers. Depending on their location, employers have a number of responsibilities to fulfil during and after the claims process. Employers in most cases must:
- Plan and facilitate their worker’s return
- Monitor and record the worker’s progress once they are back at work
- Provide a safe working environment
- Have a return to work coordinator approved
- Protect the worker’s information
- Avoid discriminatory conduct
The best way for employers to meet their obligations is to communicate with and support their employee so they can return to work as easily as possible.
Stress When Returning to the Workplace
Returning to work after an injury can be stressful for all parties. Psychological injuries in particular, as opposed to physical injuries, have proven to be more difficult for workplaces to manage and have resulted in a lower rate of successful return to work.
Mental health, stress and trauma are important issues which can impact workers once they return to work. Open and regular communication with returned workers can help to support them without fearing repercussions from having made a claim.
Treating or allowing an employee to be treated in a different way because of an injury or claim can be considered unlawful discrimination. If a dispute arises with your employer relating to your work-related injury or compensation claim, remember to always seek legal advice before resigning or accepting a redundancy.
Open, honest communication and a sincere desire to meet obligations can help injured workers to re-enter the workplace quickly and successfully.