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When an employee has been away from work due to injury or illness, it's time to initiate your Return to Work Policy. Don't have one? Don't worry, we've got you covered.
A positive return to work experience is multifaceted and can involve a range of stakeholders working together to support the employee through both their recovery period and their return to work. Find out what you need to include in your own policy, how to write one and where to find Return to Work Policy examples.
What is a Return to Work Policy?
No one likes to see a valued member of staff experience an illness or get injured on the job. It can put a dent in employee morale, impact productivity and decrease financial security.
The aim of a Return to Work Policy is to provide a procedure to allow an employer to bring employees back to work who have been absent due to personal, sick or worker's compensation leave. The policy is all about helping an employee facing such challenges get back to work quickly.
An employer may require accommodations to support the staff member's recovery and a Return to Work Policy helps establish protocols and guidelines for working in a temporary, limited or light duty capacity until they're able to resume normal activities.
Download this template at Lawpath
When should I use a Return to Work Policy?
No matter the size of your organisation, chances are you're eventually going to have to work through the logistics of an employee going on short or long term leave. You should have a Return to Work Policy in place and easily available for staff to review.
Managers should be educated on the policy and training can be built into the onboarding process for new starters so employees are made aware from day one. It can be read in conjunction with your organisation's Work Health and Safety policies.
Return to Work Policy vs Suitable Duties Plan
If an employee's injury or illness prevents them from returning to their job but they have some capacity to return to work, their doctor may advise that they can return to work and undertake suitable alternative duties.
Suitable duties, also known as light duties or modified duties, will usually fall under a Return to Work Policy. The plan is a document that clearly sets out the tasks to be performed as part of the employee's job while they get better. It also states how long the employee will do these tasks for and whether this will change as their work fitness improves.
What does a Return to Work Policy include?
A Return to Work Policy should detail the process an employee can expect to follow as they return to work. In general, a policy includes:
- Employer responsibilities
- Employee responsibilities
- What is expected from the treating medical practitioner
- A clear process for employee's return to work
- What support is available
- Dispute prevention and resolution channels
- Insurance obligations
How effective is a Return to Work Policy?
A well-thought-out Return to Work Policy can be effective in helping an injured or disabled staff member maintain productivity while recuperating. Benefits include protecting your staff's earning power, boosting your company's output and increasing staff morale.
A return to work process and diligent documentation can also be effective at identifying certain trends in the absence patterns of your business. Once you've identified any trends, you can create an action plan to address them, which may result in fewer unplanned absences.
Do I need a lawyer for a Return to Work Policy?
Each state has its own guidelines for workplace return to work policies and the amount of consultation involved also depends on how many employees you have. You don't necessarily need a lawyer but make sure you fulfil your obligations based on your location. More information can be found at the Safe Work Australia website. If you would like to engage a lawyer for reviewing your policy, compare the online services below.
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How do I write a Return to Work Policy?
The return to work of a worker can involve multiple parties. The employer and worker, of course, but also workplace rehabilitation providers and coordinators, medical and other health professionals and the insurer may be involved. Consultation with all these parties and, where applicable, unions, is the key to writing a successful Return to Work Policy.
The successful return to work of your staff usually involves four factors:
- Early and positive contact from the employee's supervisor
- An effective workplace rehabilitation program
- Supportive claims management practices
- Stakeholder consultation and coordination
Make sure to consider all these aspects in your Return to Work Policy. Case studies from similar employers and samples of other policies can also help.
Where to get free legal documents and templates like a Return to Work Policy
Return to Work policies can be tricky to navigate depending on how big your organisation is, how many stakeholders need to be considered and the distinct needs of your workers, which is why using a legal template can be extremely helpful. It'll make sure that any necessary legal codes and obligations are adhered to and important workplace health and safety factors are included.
Here is a selection of websites that allow you to view or download a Return to Work Policy example or template for free.
- Safe Work Australia. Safe Work Australia's repository of Return to Work-related downloads is all about improving return to work outcomes for workers with a work-related injury or illness.
- CCIQ. CCIQ is an association for employers across every industry in QLD. It provides free Return to Work Policy examples for you to adapt to your own business.
- WorkCover WA. WorkCover WA provides a Return to Work template and a full Return to Work employer guide to help you write your own policy.
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