The Royal Australasian College of Physicians says that the longer an employee is away from work after an injury, the less likely it is that they will return. After 20 days away, there is a 70% chance they will return – but only 35% chance after 70 days.
Additionally, studies show that getting back to normal as quickly as possible after an injury can help you recover faster, and have positive benefits for your physical and mental health. Doing meaningful work and being with colleagues in a social workplace can be ideal for your recovery.
Therefore, it’s important to either remain at work or get back to work gradually while you recover from a work-related injury, even if you perform different or lighter tasks temporarily.
Returning to work after a WorkCover claim is not always simple, so it’s important to understand your options and obligations. A workers compensation lawyer can help you get everything you’re entitled to.
Immediately after your injury
If you are injured at work, you need to get treatment quickly. As soon as possible afterwards you need to:
Report the Incident
- report your injury to your employer, who will record the incident details and inform WorkCover.
2. Get a work capacity certificate from your doctor, and give it to your employer and submit it with your WorkCover claim. This outlines your injury, capacity to work, possible return to work options, time frames, etc
Make Your Claim
3. Make a claim with WorkCover or your employer if they are self-insured.
Your employer should contact you soon after your treatment to start discussing your return to work in a reduced capacity.
When you’re required to return to work
Returning to work after a WorkCover claim and work-related injury, you will be required to return to work as soon as you’re able. However, it is also in your best interests to work with WorkCover, your employer and your health professionals to decide when and how you can return to work in some capacity.
The longer you’re away from work, the harder it is to return. Many people lose confidence in their ability to do their job. Some start to suffer from depression or other mental health issues, often due to financial stress.
Being around your colleagues again and doing meaningful work will usually have positive effects on your mental and physical health.
Claim payments when you return to work
Your WorkCover claim payments for medical and other expenses won’t necessarily stop when you return to work. If you’re doing fewer hours than before your injury, you may still get weekly payments to cover your lost income.
What is a rehabilitation and return to work plan?
A rehabilitation and return to work plan maps out how you will return to work after your injury. The document will include:
- Stages for returning to work
- Any medical treatment you need
- Your current work skills, capabilities and duties
- Which tasks you can and can’t perform
- Any equipment or workplace changes you will need
- Any mental health concerns
- A review date for the plan.
WorkCover will work with you, your employer, the rehabilitation and return to work coordinator, and your health providers to develop a rehabilitation and return to work plan that is tailored for you. You should be involved in every stage of this plan.
The best outcome when returning to work after a WorkCover claim is to do the same job with the same employer as before you were injured, but that’s not always possible. You might need to do similar tasks (‘suitable duties’) or a new job with the same employer, or even obtain a new or similar job with a new employer.
If you can’t return to your pre-injury role immediately, you might be given ‘suitable duties’ until you’re ready – lighter or different tasks. You and your employer will work with your doctor and insurer to determine what you can do.
Doing suitable duties will:
- help you recover from your injury faster
- increase your ability to do more physically demanding tasks as you improve
- keep you in touch with your workplace and colleagues, which will assist with your mental health.
You will be monitored and supported as you perform these duties to make sure they’re helping you recover, not hindering you. They will be upgraded in line with your recovery.
If your employer has no suitable duties, WorkCover can place you with a host employer temporarily.
Your return-to-work obligations after a WorkCover claim
If you are injured at work, you must see a doctor immediately and report the injury to your employer.
After you receive treatment, your employer will contact you to discuss a return to work plan. To meet the requirements of your WorkCover claim, you will need to:
- participate in recommended medical treatment and rehabilitation programs
- give a copy of any work capacity certificates to WorkCover and your employer
- assist in planning your return to work and do your best to get back to work
- communicate openly and regularly with your doctor, WorkCover and employer, including about any changes in your condition
- undertake other suitable work if necessary until you can return to your usual work.
Your employer’s responsibilities after a WorkCover claim
Your employer must help you return to work safely if they can. They need to:
- develop workplace rehabilitation policies and procedures
- report your injury to WorkCover and start the claim process
- communicate with your doctor
- contact you to discuss returning to work when you can
- provide opportunities to recover at work, including flexible work arrangements and suitable duties if possible
- assist in creating rehabilitation and return to work plans
- appoint a supervisor and/or rehabilitation and return to work coordinator to support you
- monitor your recovery and amend your duties as you improve.
If you disagree on a return to work plan
The return to work process can be complex and you might encounter some challenges. For example, you and your employer might disagree about your workplace rehabilitation and return to work or suitable duties plan.
You might disagree about whether you are able perform certain duties or should return to work at a certain time. You might feel you will re-injure yourself if you return too early. Also, stressful workplace situations that led to your injury in the first place might still exist.
All of these are important factors to consider. Hopefully you can work with your employer to resolve the dispute through negotiation. You might need a ‘case conference’ with your employer, WorkCover and health provider to discuss your situation.
However, your WorkCover claim benefits could be affected if your doctor feels you are able but unwilling to return to work in some way. So you should consider getting professional legal advice if you feel you’re being forced into a return to work plan that is detrimental to your recovery or could aggravate your injury further.
Future entitlement for pre-existing injury
Under WorkCover legislation, you are entitled to workers compensation if you have a ‘recurrence, aggravation, acceleration, exacerbation or deterioration of any pre-existing injury or disease’ that is related to work.
If the injury relating to this claim flares up in future, it will usually be considered a ‘material change to your condition’ – a new injury altogether – so you will be covered. WorkCover will usually want you to lodge a new claim, but that may not be necessary. Benefits might continue to be paid under the pre-existing claim and claim number.
However, if the pre-existing workplace injury flares up while you’re not at work, you might not be entitled to WorkCover benefits. The worsening of your symptoms might be considered a new injury that is not work related.
If you need to make a claim for an aggravation of your pre-existing work-related injury, contact an experienced workers compensation lawyer, like our team at Main Lawyers.
When a WorkCover claim ends
WorkCover will stop providing benefits to you when your doctor considers your injury to be ‘stable and stationary’ – no further treatment will improve the injury. At this point, WorkCover will close the file, whether you can return to work or not.
If you have a permanent injury
If WorkCover closes your file because the injury is ‘stable and stationary’, you can ask to be assessed for a permanent impairment. If you are deemed eligible, you may receive a lump sum payout.
WorkCover will organise a medical examiner to assess whether you have a permanent impairment due to your work-related injury. They will then send you a notice of assessment, which outlines the degree of permanent impairment and the amount of lump sum compensation you are eligible to receive.
We strongly recommend getting independent legal advice before you make any decision about a compensation offer.
Want to know more?
Workers compensation is a complex area of law, and a qualified WorkCover lawyer can make sure you get everything you’re entitled to.
At Main Lawyers, our highly experienced workers compensation lawyers will work through your options when returning to work after a WorkCover claim and explain everything clearly.
If you can’t come to our office, we’re happy to visit you at home in Brisbane or on the Gold Coast. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation discussion about your WorkCover claim and returning to work.