Workers’ compensation is a compulsory statutory form of insurance for all employers in every state and territory. Across Australia, there are various legislative frameworks and workers’ compensation schemes at the federal and state levels that govern the return-to-work process.

Like most work health and safety legislation, workers compensation requirements are similar but there are clear differences and complexities across the states when it comes to elements such as notification times, payments, the names of forms etc.

“Return to work” refers to the process of an employee resuming work after a period of absence or after being injured as a result of work. It involves the process of coordination between the employee, employer, and healthcare professionals to facilitate a smooth transition back to the workplace while ensuring the employee’s health and safety. The certificate of capacity which the nominated treating doctor provides will inform all parties of the diagnosis, physical and psychological capacity, hours of work, and any medical treatment/medications required.


What is a Return to Work Plan?

Each state and territory may call this document something slightly different, however for the purpose of this blog, we will refer to it as a Return to Work (RTW) Plan.

A RTW Plan is a document developed by the employer, in consultation with the injured worker and their nominated treating doctor that outlines how the worker will return to work and recover from the injury/illness while they are on reduced hours, and or modified/reduced duties. It must include certain elements such as start and review date (this coincides with the dates on the certificate of capacity), what restrictions are in place, what duties the worker will do and what hours/roster they will have. The RTW Plan is required to be signed by the worker, employer and all other relevant parties, and reviewed and updated when the certificate of capacity is due to be renewed.

Other relevant parties that may be required to be consulted on the RTW Plan include:

– Any other relevant specialists (e.g. physiotherapist or psychologist)
– A Rehabilitation Provider (if appointed)
– The worker’s immediate manager/supervisor
– Any relevant employee representative/union

RTW Plans play a crucial role in supporting injured workers’ recovery and their successful reintegration into the workforce. However, occasionally, employers may encounter situations where workers fail to adhere to their return-to-work program, and visa versa – employers may also not follow the RTW Plan as described.

From the very start, employers should communicate clearly, set clear expectations and discuss the importance of the RTW Plan and the worker’s role in their own recovery. Employers should ensure that the worker understands the Plan’s objectives, requirements, and consequences for non-compliance. Relevant managers should also be given this information and the expectations on them, including what potential consequences could occur if they are not following the require procedure.

Problems and Solutions

We have compiled a list of potential issues that could arise in this process, firstly those that stem from the injured worker, and secondly, those concerned with the employer. Included with this is guidance around the requirements on both parties and how to potentially resolve the situation in a mutually beneficial way.

A disclaimer is that every situation in relation to a workers compensation claim is very different, and a one-size-fits-all answer is not possible, therefore in every circumstance, the employer must speak with their insurance claims manager/scheme agent and their insurance broker (if applicable) to receive tailored advice relevant to that specific claim.


Challenges with the Injured Worker

Challenges with the Employer


Workers’ compensation claims and return to work can be very complicated, challenging and affect people emotionally. There are clear guidelines in each state around what needs to be done, and the insurer should be lent on to give direction when the employer is unsure of any situation relating to the claim.

The insurer or their agent may recommend that a Rehabilitation Provider or similar is appointed to support all parties in a better return to work outcome.

Where there are well-being concerns, the employer can support the employee by reminding them of their EAP service (if they have it available) or encouraging the worker to speak with their doctor about their mental health. It is equally as important for an injured worker to maintain good mental health as it is to recover physically. The two are nearly always interlinked.

Employment Innovations Safety Partners can assist employers understand their return-to-work obligations and help businesses navigate their way through this complex process.


About Employment Innovations

Employment Innovations is one of Australia’s leading providers of employment services designed to increase productivity and ensure compliance. Its services and solutions include all the tools that every Australian small to medium sized employer needs – including workplace advice, workplace safety, legal services, payroll solutions, migration, human resource management and HR software.



The information provided in these blog articles is general in nature and is not intended to substitute for professional advice. If you are unsure about how this information applies to your specific situation we recommend you contact Employment Innovations for advice.