Skip to content

Understanding the benefits of return to work planning

Best practice

You can support effective return to work planning by:

  • reaching out to your worker as soon as possible to discuss the support you can provide, with their return to work as your common goal
  • intervening early and offering flexible working arrangements and/or suitable duties
  • offering simple and easy to understand information about the workers’ compensation process
  • taking a person-centred approach by understanding how their injury may be affecting them physically and mentally
  • having open, collaborative and goal-oriented discussions with your worker, insurer and the worker’s health and rehabilitation providers.

Why is this important

Return to work planning and having a documented rehabilitation and return to work plan (RRTW plan) for an injured worker is important to support early return to work.

A RRTW plan is a tailored, written plan which promotes collaboration and outlines how stakeholders will work together to get the worker back to work safely and quickly. It sets out the roles, responsibilities and actions required of stakeholders involved in RRTW and considers the worker’s and the organisation’s needs and circumstances.

As an employer, your attitude towards your returning worker can have a critical influence on return to work outcomes. If possible, you should offer alternative work duties to support recovery at work. The suitable duties program you develop for an injured worker details how to do this and is a key component of their RRTW plan.

Your insurer is responsible for coordinating the development and maintenance of an injured worker’s RRTW plan.

Research undertaken by Monash University confirmed that return to work planning can be a simple, yet effective return to work intervention, and found direct associations between having a written RRTW plan and improved return to work outcomes:

  • Workers who reported having a return to work plan had an increased chance of return to work.
  • While in the first 30 days after the claim, having a written or unwritten plan did not impact return to work, it was significantly better than having no return to work plan.
  • After 30 days, a written return to work plan increased the return to work by 3.4 times. Having an unwritten plan increased the chance of return to work by 2.2 times.

Safe Work Australia's Taking Action report noted that collaborative, goal-oriented discussions about return to work planning are key to maintaining a positive relationship with an injured worker and achieving better return to work outcomes.

Your toolkit

  • Read more about planning a return to work, RRTW plans and the laws relating to RRTW.
  • Early intervention is key to an early and safe return to work. Supporting your worker immediately means they are more likely to recover quickly and return to work safely. Good outcomes are also more likely if you can empower your injured worker to be involved, take responsibility for their own situation and understand the health benefits of good work.
  • Check out the ‘Australian workers’ understanding of workers’ compensation systems’ report for advice on improving how you communicate to workers about workers’ compensation.
  • Take a person-centred approach by:
    • talking with the worker to understand their experience, preferences and views
    • focusing on the workers’ strengths, abilities and skills, and making accommodations to support them to return to safe work earlier
    • making your injury management program flexible so you can adjust it based on your injured worker’s needs and progress
    • encouraging your worker to take part in RRTW planning to talk about their goals and to suggest their own solutions
    • being clear about why and working with the worker to find another option if a solution they suggest can’t be accommodated
    • personalising all correspondence, including letters, emails and messages.
  • Read about suitable duties programs and access a suitable duties program template (DOCX, 0.15 MB). You should also ensure that suitable duties programs meet the Guidelines for standard for rehabilitation (second edition) (PDF, 0.58 MB).
  • Watch the presentation from Julia Bunn, Queensland President of the Australian Rehabilitation Providers’ Association (ARPA) for practical strategies to help employers and rehabilitation and return to work coordinators, insurers, and medical and rehabilitation providers to work together to manage return to work planning for primary and secondary psychological injuries. Julia also shares tips on how to achieve successful return to work outcomes by taking a person-centred approach and planning effectively with the help of an expert health provider.