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Getting back to work

Returning to work after a work-related injury or illness is an important part of recovery and helps you get life back to normal quicker. It’s a team effort between you, your employer, WorkCover (or a self-insurer) and your medical or rehabilitation provider.

This guide outlines the steps involved in starting your recovery and getting you back to work. It also helps you understand who’s responsible for what in the process. Information in this guide is relevant for both injured workers and employers.

First steps

If an injury or illness has happened at work, the first thing you need to do is seek medical assistance and let the right people know it’s happened.

I’m a worker

Most importantly, see your doctor or go to the hospital immediately. Let your employer know you’ve been injured or are ill as soon as you can. They can then record the incident and tell WorkCover (or a self-insurer) about it.  You may be eligible for workers’ compensation under the Workers' Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003.

Our If an injury occurs – How to guide will take you through exactly what to do, step by step. It includes the types of injury or illness that are covered and how to make a claim so you can focus on recovery.

I’m an employer

If one of your workers has been injured you have responsibilities around recording, reporting and possibly notifying of the incident and/or injury. View the If an injury occurs – How to guide to find out more about reporting an incident, whether or not an injury is notifiable, who you need to notify and more.

You also have responsibilities when it comes to supporting your worker back to work.

Next steps

The steps below will guide you through the process of getting you back to work or – if you’re an employer – supporting your worker.

I’m a worker

Submitting a claim for workers’ compensation straight away is very important. It means you can focus on recovery and getting back to work as quickly and as safely as possible.

Workers’ compensation can cover things like lost wages and medical and rehabilitation costs while you’re getting better. Find out more about what can be covered.

Your doctor will tell you whether you should take time off work or need to limit certain work tasks. They’ll put this information on your work capacity certificate, which you’ll need to give to WorkCover (or self-insurer) and your employer.

All claims go through a decision making process. Learn more about how to make a claim and what the claim process is.

Starting the rehabilitation process early will lead to the best outcomes for both injured workers and employers.

I’m a worker

Your doctor will help you understand the medical treatment you need. This could mean treatment by an allied health professional or in some cases might mean surgery. You may be referred to see a specialist to work out the best course of action to treat your injury or illness.

You should begin rehabilitation as soon as possible and often this can happen in the workplace. The longer you stay off work, the less likely you are to go back. An early return to good work has benefits to your physical health and mental and emotional wellbeing.

I’m an employer

As part of your health and safety responsibilities you must help injured workers get back to work as soon as they can. This not only helps their recovery, it’s also good for your business. Contacting them early after an injury has happened, to start planning their return to work, shows genuine concern and helps your worker feel supported.

Read more about the benefits of getting back to work for both injured workers and employers.

I’m a worker

When working out how best to support you in getting back to work, WorkCover will work with you, your employer and your doctor or other health provider to put together a rehabilitation and return to work plan. Together, we’ll make sure the process is personalised to you.

We do this because everybody is different, meaning injury or illness can affect them in different ways. It’s important we treat you as a unique person with individual needs.

When planning your return to work, we’ll look at two approaches.

  1. Biopsychosocial
  2. Person-centred

Biopsychosocial means to ‘understand the whole person’ and person-centred means the primary focus is on you, as the injured worker.

Learn more about these two approaches and how they’re applied to support you better.

Additional support

If you’re struggling to deal with your injury or illness and how it’s affecting your life, we can help you by providing adjustment to injury counselling as further support.

In many cases you’ll be able to either stay at work while you recover from your injury or illness or get back to work quite quickly with the right support and planning.

I’m a worker

Your employer is obligated to help you back to work, but you also have certain commitments, like taking part in medical treatment and rehabilitation programs that are recommended and giving a copy of all current work capacity certificates to WorkCover (or a self-insurer) and your employer.

You also need to actively participate in planning your return to work and be prepared to do other work until you’re able to do your usual tasks.

A Rehabilitation and Return to Work Coordinator might be assigned to you. If not, a person in your workplace will be tasked with the role. They’ll work with you to put together a return to work plan that's right for your situation and workplace.

Learn more about what’s expected of you on your recovery and rehabilitation journey.

I’m an employer

When a worker has experienced an injury or illness, you need to talk to them about how you can support them to come back to work, as soon as it’s safe to do so. You need to take time to understand how the injury is affecting them both physically and mentally, and what this means for their recovery and ability to return to work.

You’re obliged to provide workplace rehabilitation and make any necessary changes to their work arrangements while they recover. This is called suitable duties.

Find out more about your obligations around supporting your workers’ return to work.

I’m a worker

Being injured or ill doesn’t mean you can’t still contribute positively to your workplace. If your injury or illness means it’s not possible for you to do the things you normally do at work, your employer must find other tasks for you to do.

There are many positive benefits to suitable duties for both injured workers and employers. Your employer and/or Rehabilitation and Return to Work Coordinator will work together with you to identify the right suitable duties and put together a plan that suits your needs and individual return to work goals.

Learn more about suitable duties.

Your suitable duties plan

The plan is an official document that sets out the tasks you’ll do at work while you recover. It’ll also state how long you’ll do these for and whether they’ll change as your work fitness improves.

Find out how to put together a suitable duties plan or find out about identifying suitable duties for particular job roles.

I’m a worker

There might be some instances when suitable duties in your usual workplace aren’t possible. This can be for safety or practical reasons. It doesn’t mean you have to stay at home until you’re fully recovered or that you can’t get back to work in some way.

The Recover at Work program can temporarily place you with a host employer who is able to offer suitable duties while you get better.

Learn more about Recover at Work.

If your claim has closed and you’ve been unable to go back to work, our Employment Connect program can help improve your employability if you need to find a new job.

Learn more about Employment Connect.

If you need to find a new job there are also other resources available to help you.

I’m a worker

There are a number of ways WorkCover can help support you while you’re recovering from a work-related injury or illness.

You may be able to access payments that will compensate you for lost wages while you’re off work. You may also be covered for medical and rehabilitation expenses, or other costs relating to your treatment, or even a lump sum payment.

If you need urgent support, WorkCover can now help you get the treatment you need sooner.

Learn more about payments and support that may be available to you.

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