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Complex workers’ compensation issues – Communicating with injured workers

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Communicating with employees who are absent on workers' compensation has benefits for both workers and employers, but it is vital employers find out how often a worker would like to be contacted, according to a regulator's customer services general manager.

Some injured workers want a lot of contact with their employer while they are off work, while others want very little, WorkCover Queensland's Sharon Stratford told OHS Alert.

How often an employer should contact a worker also depends on "the nature of [the worker's] injury, timing of treatment and how long the worker is likely to be off for," she says.

"Contacting the worker too frequently could be perceived as prying or placing pressure on the worker to return to work."

Failing to contact the worker at all, however, can discourage workers from participating in the injury management process.

"In some cases, workers can even become angry and resentful, resulting in unsuccessful return-to-work attempts," Stratford says.

"This in turn impacts on claims durations and costs, and ultimately increased premium costs for employers, as well as a poor health outcome for the worker and their family."

Stratford says that early and regular communication from employers "plays a very important role in an injured worker's recovery and successful return to work following an injury."

Master Builders Queensland director of policy John Crittall told OHS Alert that when an employer contacts an injured worker, "the purpose of the contact is critical in building a stronger relationship between the worker and the company."

"[The worker is] dealing not only with their injury but they are also without their normal support networks," he says.

"Not only are they worried about their injury but also other things like how the injury will impact on their employment status.

"Contact from a supportive employer lets workers know that they're a valued member of the team and can alleviate uncertainty about their job situation.

"A strong feeling of support from the company also assists the worker to participate in their recovery and rehabilitation activities."

Crittall says the most important reason for contacting an injured worker "is to offer support and assistance wherever they possibly can".

"Employers should not be intrusive or judgmental, but should seek to highlight the importance of the worker and build on the existing relationship," he says.

Stratford says an employer should identify the most appropriate person in the organisation to maintain contact with the worker, which will normally be "someone the injured worker has a level of trust and rapport with".

"Research has shown injured workers like their supervisors to maintain contact with them following an injury," she says.

A personal approach to communication is best, she adds, and a supervisor would normally know the best way to communicate with the worker.

Contacting by phone, however, would usually be the most appropriate way to start.

"Some employers later visit workers at home, although this can be intimidating initially," Stratford says.

"Other employers arrange a get-well card to be sent [and] signed by work colleagues."

WorkCover recently released a guide on communicating with ill or injured workers, which encourages an employer to:

  • be empathetic in its communications, as this demonstrates it cares about the worker's wellbeing
  • make contact with the worker as soon as it is aware of an injury
  • invite the worker to meetings or functions they might be able to attend, and send newsletters and updates about any announcements made while they are away;
  • remain positive when speaking over the phone and avoid placing blame about the injury
  • focus on things the worker can do, rather than things they can't
  • reassure the worker that their job is safe
  • listen to concerns they might have and address them promptly
  • ask the worker if they feel they could return to work and discuss suitable duties
  • tell the worker they look forward to their return.

*This article is courtesy of OHS Alert, which published the article on 19 November.

Last updated
29 May 2017

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Published: 10 Jan 2014
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