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How can your small business maintain effective relationships when a worker is injured?

Supporting and staying in regular contact with your injured worker while they are away from work makes a positive difference to their mental health, recovery and return to work.

Small to medium sized businesses can face complex challenges when a worker is injured at work. You may have limited experience in the workers’ compensation process and not know how to support recovery at work by providing suitable duties.

While managing an injured worker’s rehabilitation and doing what is best for the business can seem stressful and may come with unexpected costs, investing in early rehabilitation and return to work is worthwhile. Research confirms that injured workers who are supported by their employer are up to five times more likely to return to work, compared with workers who had a neutral or negative experience with their employer.

As well as saving your business money by reducing staff turnover, training and separation costs, a supportive approach assists organisational health, and improves morale by sending a message to workers that your business has fair processes and genuinely cares.

Check out the Managing the relationship with an injured or ill worker during return to work: A guide for supervisors in small and medium businesses by Safe Work Australia. It has conversation starters, discussion tips, and templates for supervisors, including on designing effective suitable duties.

The guide recommends you:

  • Contact your worker as soon as they are off work, with a phone call or text message to show support early. Ask your worker how they are and show genuine concern; actively listen; ask open-ended questions (“Are you getting the help you need?”), and let them guide the conversation as much as possible.
  • Keep in regular contact with your worker while they are away from work. You’re not expected to be a counsellor, but make it clear that their return to good health is the priority and you are available for support.
  • Prepare to welcome your worker back gradually when they are nearing return to work. Start a supportive conversation with “I’d like to talk to you about how I can help you gradually and safely return to work” or “We can make this work even if you can’t do everything that you normally do”.
  • Regularly check in with your worker when they return to work as they may need more support to start with. Be positive, take time out together, update them on what they’ve missed and emphasise that you will support their recovery at work.

You need to know your obligations to support workers after an injury. As well being required to support your worker’s rehabilitation and early return to safe work, you must also report the injury and start the claim process.

More information

If you or your worker is finding the return to work process stressful, support is available by calling or visiting a G.P., the Workers’ Psychological Support Service on 1800 370 732 or Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14. Help is also available at Beyond Blue on 1300 244 636 or Beyond Blue’s NewAccess for Small Business Owners.

Also check out the National Return to Work Strategy 2020-2030 for insights into why employer/supervisor support is so important.