In an ideal situation, getting back to work should be a relatively easy road with no major problems. Sometimes it can be just that, but other times it can be challenging either for workers, employers or both.
There are some common things that get in the way of a successful return to work. These barriers can be injury-related, social, personal, or environmental.
Common rehabilitation and return to work barriers are:
- A belief that a worker can’t go back to work until they’ve completely recovered.
- An employer might think a worker is overstating how much their injury is affecting them.
- Disagreement on whether a worker can return to work.
- A worker may worry they'll re-injure themselves if they go back to work.
- Stress factors that may have contributed to the injury might still be present in the workplace and hard to avoid.
- A worker may not think they have the ability or skills to do any sort or work, even if it’s adjusted.
Finding a solution together
The good thing is that a lot of these issues can be resolved with meaningful communication between you, whether you’re an employer or an injured worker. These conversations should start as soon as possible after an injury has happened.
It’s best if you, as a worker, can be open and honest about your concerns and expectations around getting back to work. Talking about these things with your employer is encouraged and leads to better outcomes.
If you're an employer, you're in a good position to identify any barriers and work towards finding solutions that suit your business and your injured worker. WorkCover or a worker’s doctor can also help.
As an employer, it’s good to ask:
- about the effect the injury has had on your worker (make sure you use the biopsychosocial approach)
- how much your worker wants to get back to work
- how well your worker understands their injury and medical treatment
- what your worker is able to do outside work and what their support network is like
- whether your worker is worried about money as a result of their injury
- whether there are any other negative stresses in the workplace, either with their work or colleagues.
As an employee, how does this help you?
Once any barriers have been identified, solutions can be found and talked about. This could mean simple reassurance that you are safe and protected at work. It could also mean further discussions with your doctor or other health professional.
Sometimes you, your employer, WorkCover and your doctor or health provider need to get together to talk things through. This is called a case conference. You might even need support from WorkCover so that your employer and supervisor understand how important it is for you to make sure you stick within the limitations of your suitable duties plan.
Most people can do some kind of work, even if it’s not their usual tasks. It’s important that you’re as committed to finding solutions as your employer. If your doctor indicates you’re able, but not willing to get back to work in some way, your benefits could be affected. WorkCover is here to support you and your employer to make sure your recovery stays on track.
What happens if we don’t agree?
Sometimes there can be disagreement between a worker and their employer over a workplace rehabilitation and return to work or suitable duties plan. If this happens, there are things you can do to help resolve the dispute.
Working through potential problems often involves negotiation, a process where those involved can each give input on an issue so agreement can be reached. It should be fair and make sure relationships are supported.
Negotiation can sometimes be difficult as each side has a different point of view or wants a different outcome. WorkCover is here to offer support and guidance, with medical input, if this happens.
Tips for discussions
- Make sure the issue is clear.
- Try not to let emotion cloud the discussion. Stick to the facts.
- Take a short break if needed, then come back.
- A venue change can sometimes help.
- Focus on common ground.
- Consider using a mediator.