Returning to Work from Injury
March 13, 2015

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Returning to Work from Injury: Your Health First

An unexpected injury or illness can cause a significant blow to your life and your family’s livelihood, particularly if you’re forced to be out of work for a long time. While your recovery is your first priority (even if you have the right protection in place) returning to work should also be a high priority, for your own well-being as well as your family’s.

Benefits of returning to work

Being away from work for a long time can cause more issues than the injury or illness itself. It’s been known to lower self-esteem and increase depression, and hardship on your family.

On the other hand there are several benefits for returning to work early from a prolonged illness or injury. The greater your motivation to return to work the greater you work to recover. That’s not to mention you’ll maintain your job skills, employment security, and financial wellbeing.

Planning your return

While it may not be top of your mind, the sooner you start thinking about returning to work the sooner it will actually happen. While you’re away it’s important to keep in regular contact with your employer and colleagues. This has a dual benefit of keeping you in touch with your workplace and also helping everyone involved plan your return.

Your doctor is your best resource for planning your return to work, so talk to them about your progress, learn your limitations, and share them with your employer. It also helps if you allow your employer and doctor to liaise directly.

It’s important you stay positive and motivated. Regardless of your injury or illness, you may face setbacks and things may not happen as smoothly as you like. It’s important to place trust in your healthcare providers and to accept when they say you’re not ready. Follow their instructions and do what you can to stay active.

Disclosing your disability to your employer

If you obtain a long-term or permanent disability while you’re ill or injured, you have no legal responsibility to tell your employer unless it may affect your performance at work or jeopardise the safety and well-being of other staff members.

We recommend telling your employer of your disability on your return to work if you feel comfortable doing so. This fosters trust and understanding between you and your employer and means they may better accommodate you in the future if your disability worsened or began to affect your performance. They may also be more lenient towards extended or added break times and leave for appointments or treatments if you’re honest.

Modifying your roles and responsibilities

When you begin planning your return to work you may need to talk to your employer about temporarily modifying your role and responsibilities. Again, listen to and follow your doctor’s recommendations.

To return you to work faster, talk to your employer about reducing hours or having more frequent break times. If you have a desk job, it’s important to go for a short walk every hour or so to help you keep your concentration and ensure you’re active throughout the day, even if you only walk to the kitchen for a glass of water or do a quick lap around the office.

If you have a labouring job, talk to your employer about easing back into work with administration or less physically-intensive roles until you’re able to perform fully and safely again.

Review your workload and tasks regularly with your employer and doctor. Only begin to increase your workload if your doctor says it is okay to do so. Don’t get ahead of yourself, even if you feel you can do it. Pushing your limitations too far can slow down your recovery or even make your condition worse.

Can I be terminated while ill?

If you weren’t ill or injured through a work event, your rights and protections are lower since you can’t claim Work Cover benefits. But for your employer to lawfully terminate you, you need to be away from work for at least three months of a year. And they have to prove you won’t be able to return to your pre-injury or illness duties. They must also try to re-shape your role or modify your job requirements to help you return to work.

To assist with this it’s your responsibility to provide the details of a medical assessment of your abilities to your employer. If no agreement on a reasonable reassignment can be reached the employer has grounds for dismissal. Ultimately, your employer can’t dismiss you due to an extended period of leave if you’re unwell; they can only dismiss you if you’re unable to perform the main duties of your employment.

The Fair Work Act 2009 is important reading if you’re concerned about your employer’s treatment of you throughout your absence. You may want to consult the Fair Work Ombudsman if you think you’re being treated unfairly.

Further reading

Transitioning to Working Life after a Long Absence – MyFuture.edu.au

Dismissing Employees absent due to Personal Illness – WorkPlaceInfo.com.au

Returning to Work – JobAccess.gov.au

An Income Protection policy is the ultimate protection for you and your family if you find yourself away from work due to injury or illness. Check out these 6 reasons why you should invest in an Income Protection policy or chat to a Wealth Smart advisertoday!

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