A Return to Work Program is an integral part of any injury management system.

You are required to develop a written Return to Work Program for your injured worker as soon as practicable when their treating doctor:

  • advises you in writing that a Return to Work Program should be established for your worker
  • signs a Certificate of Capacity indicating that your worker has partial capacity to return to work
  • signs a Certificate of Capacity indicating that your worker has total capacity to return to work, but for some reason is not able to return to the position held immediately prior to injury.
What should be included in a Return to Work Program
The Workers’ Compensation Code of Practice (Injury Management) 2005 (the Code) outlines the requirements of establishment, content and implementation of Return to Work Programs. The Return to Work Program must include:

  • your business name and the name of your injured worker
  • a description of the goal of the program
  • the actions to be taken to enable your worker to return to work and who is to take them
  • a statement as to whether your worker agrees to the content of the program.

As a minimum, you must ensure the content of the Return to Work Program meets the requirements of the Code. You may include additional arrangements to suit your particular business.

A Template Return to Work Program is available to assist you in developing an appropriate program.

What is expected of you
Seek worker participation & agreement

You must provide your injured worker with the opportunity to participate in the establishment of their Return to Work Program and take reasonable steps to ensure they agree with its content. It is not adequate to simply provide your worker with information about a program developed for them.

If there are any disagreements, you should attempt to resolve them directly with your worker. If issues cannot be resolved, discuss the issue with your insurer and consider arranging a case conference with your worker’s treating medical practitioner.

If attempts to reach an agreement with your worker fail, you are encouraged to confirm the return to work direction with them in writing. If there is a dispute between yourself and your worker, reach out to your insurer to try to resolve it. If this approach fails, you can make an application to the Workers’ Compensation Conciliation Service.

For more information, see the Resolving a dispute section.

You must take reasonable steps to ensure the actions listed in a return to work program are done in a timely manner.
Retention of the worker's position

You must keep an injured worker’s position available during the worker’s incapacity (where reasonably practicable) for 12 months from the day the worker is entitled to receive weekly payments.

If the injured worker attains partial or total capacity to work during this time, you must provide their original position (where reasonably practicable), or another of equal status and pay for which they are qualified and capable of performing.

Intention to dismiss the worker

During the 12 month period, if you intend to dismiss the injured worker, 28 days’ notice of that intention must be given to the worker and to WorkCover WA by completing Form 15G – Notice of Intention to Dismiss a Worker.

WorkCover WA will then determine if any further information is required, and a Compliance Officer may contact you to discuss details of the termination.

Note: If a worker is in receipt of weekly payments at the time of dismissal, they will continue to receive statutory weekly repayments and medical/related benefits.

What is expected of your injured worker
Active participation by your injured worker is essential to successful injury management in both planning and executing their Return to Work Program and making reasonable efforts to return to work.

Your injured worker’s obligations

It is reasonable to expect your injured worker to:

  • report any injury early
  • complete the Workers’ Compensation Claim Form
  • provide original copies of their Certificates of Capacity in a timely fashion
  • attend medical and other treatment appointments arranged by their treating doctor, or where permitted, arranged by you
  • if unable to attend an appointment, take reasonable steps to make an alternative appointment as soon as possible
  • communicate with parties in an open and honest manner and reply to reasonable levels of communication without undue delay
  • to the best of their ability carry out agreed actions as outlined in the Return to Work Program
  • immediately inform the Injury Management Coordinator and their line manager of any difficulties carrying out the Return to Work Program
  • if referred to a workplace rehabilitation service, actively participate in all aspects of the service and work cooperatively with the service provider
  • advise of any changes in their contact details
  • advise of any changes to their treating doctor or other treatment providers.

Resolving non-cooperation

If your worker chooses not to cooperate in the Return to Work Program, you should raise it with your insurer to discuss and attempt to resolve. If this is unsuccessful, you can lodge an application with the Workers’ Compensation Conciliation Service. Please note you must continue to pay your workers their weekly payments, despite any non-cooperation, unless advised otherwise by your insurer. Penalties can apply if you discontinue payments without authorisation.

For more information about conciliation and arbitration, see the Resolving a dispute section.

What is expected from the treating medical practitioner
You and your injured worker can expect a treating medical practitioner to:

  • direct medical treatment
  • provide a diagnosis and prognosis of your worker’s injury
  • produce a First Certificate of Capacity which outlines your worker’s capacity and restrictions and whether you are required to prepare a Return to Work Program
  • regularly review your injured worker’s progress and issue a Progress Certificate of Capacity at each review if your worker is not fully recovered
  • issue a Final Certificate of Capacity when your worker is fully recovered.
Workplace rehabilitation providers
You may wish to engage a workplace rehabilitation provider to assist you and your injured worker with the return to work process.

Go to Workplace rehabilitation providers.

Discharging this obligation to your insurer
The legislation provides you may ask your insurer to establish and implement the Return to Work Program.

If an insurer establishes and implements the Return to Work Program on your behalf, they must comply with the Workers’ Compensation Code of Practice (Injury Management) 2005 (the Code) where you would be obliged to do so, and the program is still owned and adopted by you.

The insurer should involve you in decisions even when undertaking obligations on your behalf.

Extra resources
The WorkCover WA video Return to work: employer guide outlines how an employer can assist and support their injured worker back to work.

The publication, Injury Management: A Guide for Employers, provides information to assist employers to understand their legal return to work obligations and contains a three step approach to effective injury management.

A PDF copy is available from the Employer publications page or hard copies can be ordered from Advice and Assistance on 1300 794 744.

To make your workplace mentally healthy, WorkCover WA encourages employers to take the first step by creating a customised Mental Health Action Plan for your business utilising beyondblue’s Heads Up resources available from www.headsup.org.au.

For support with depression and anxiety phone beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or visit www.beyondblue.org.au.