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Return to work process for employers

For: Employers and managers

The rehabilitation authority, who is usually the employer, is responsible for implementing a rehabilitation program for an employee with a work-related injury or illness.

There are eight steps in the return to work process.

Overview of the return to work process

This is an overview of the typical return to work process in the Comcare scheme.

Step 1 – Notification of an injury or illness

Once an employee has notified their supervisor that they have experienced an accident, injury or illness, you or your delegate should:

  • discuss immediate needs with the employee
  • take steps to prevent further injury or illness.

This step should be done whether the employee intends to make a worker’s compensation claim or not.

Step 2 – Appoint a rehabilitation case manager

As soon as you are aware that an employee is ill or injured, you should appoint a rehabilitation case manager within your organisation.

The rehabilitation case manager should contact the employee within 24 hours to discuss:

  • their injury
  • their return to work needs
  • any potential barriers.

Step 3 – Assess the need for rehabilitation

The rehabilitation case manager organises a rehabilitation assessment if they decide an assessment is required to help prepare the employee's return to work (rehabilitation) program.

They must also organise an assessment if the employee requests a rehabilitation assessment.

An assessment may not be required if:

  • the employee only has minor restrictions, or
  • their treating medical practitioner says they are fit to return to work.

In this case, the medical practitioner must provide clear medical guidance on the employee’s capacity for work.

Step 4 – Organise a rehabilitation assessment (if requested or required)

Organising a rehabilitation assessment

If the employee needs a rehabilitation assessment, or they have requested one, the rehabilitation case manager chooses an appropriate assessor.

A rehabilitation assessment can be performed by a:

The rehabilitation case manager provides the assessor with information about the employee’s circumstances. This may include:

  • medical reports
  • details of their pre-injury employment
  • a schedule of questions to be answered.

The assessment may include an interview or examination with the employee.

If the employee is asked to attend a rehabilitation assessment, they must do so, unless they have a reasonable excuse for failing or refusing to attend.

Outcome of a rehabilitation assessment

A rehabilitation assessment provides information about:

  • an employee’s injury
  • an employee’s fitness to remain at or return to work
  • recommendations to support a safe and early return to work.

Following the assessment, a report is usually provided to the rehabilitation case manager. The report details the employee’s capacity to participate in rehabilitation.

The rehabilitation case manager uses this report to structure a return to work (rehabilitation) program for the employee.

Step 5 – Arrange a rehabilitation program (if needed)

The rehabilitation case manager decides whether the employee needs a rehabilitation program to help them return to, or recover at, work.

A rehabilitation program is a structured series of activities and supports designed to:

  • maintain or return an employee to suitable employment, and/or
  • maintain or improve an employee’s daily living activities.

The rehabilitation program outlines the support and services an employee needs to return to work quickly and safely.

A rehabilitation program is usually coordinated by a rehabilitation case manager or a workplace rehabilitation provider.

Senior managers and middle managers must make sure suitable employment options are made available.

If you have engaged a workplace rehabilitation provider, they may consult with the employee, their medical practitioner and supervisor to develop a rehabilitation plan. This plan must be reviewed by your rehabilitation case manager. You can search our directory to find a Comcare-approved workplace rehabilitation provider.

Everyone should be given a copy of the plan and should clearly understand what is involved and what their roles and responsibilities are.

Step 6 – Monitor the rehabilitation program

Under the Guidelines for Rehabilitation Authorities Instrument 2019 (PDF, 247.1 KB) you must monitor the:

  • progress of your employee’s rehabilitation program
  • performance of a workplace rehabilitation provider (if one has been engaged).

This process is important to make sure a rehabilitation program:

  • is responsive to any barriers to return to work
  • matches the employee’s needs
  • is effective for the stage of recovery.

Monitoring of the program should provide you with information about:

  • attendance and task completion
  • progress against agreed milestones
  • medical or other problems
  • supervisor and colleague support
  • performance of the workplace rehabilitation provider against agreed activities
  • any other criteria in the rehabilitation program
  • any other relevant information.

When using a workplace rehabilitation provider, you must inform Comcare of any concerns regarding the service delivery of the workplace rehabilitation provider. You can email rehab.approval@comcare.gov.au or call us on 1300 366 979 to discuss concerns.

Step 7 – Provide suitable employment

Providing suitable employment is the responsibility of the rehabilitation authority, who is usually the employer.

There are many benefits of making suitable duties available. Suitable duties can significantly reduce:

  • the employee’s incapacity
  • duration of their illness or injury
  • associated cost of the claim.

Suitable duties meet an employee's capacities, skills and experience and consider any medical limitations.

See Providing suitable employment for ways to identify suitable duties for an employee. This can involve:

  • modifying duties
  • providing alternative duties
  • graduated return to work
  • internal placement
  • permanent redeployment
  • work trial.

See Work Trials: A guide for rehabilitation case managers (PDF, 156.0 KB) for step by step instructions on how to place an injured employee with a host employer for a work trial.

Step 8 – Close the rehabilitation program

The program is closed when:

  • the objectives of the rehabilitation program have been achieved, or
  • current rehabilitation goals are no longer achievable and a new rehabilitation program is needed.

Closing a rehabilitation program does not stop rehabilitation services being provided in the future if the employee’s circumstances change.

Courses on return to work for employers

We provide training through our learning management system called Comcare LMS.

To access our training, you first need to create an account in Comcare LMS (see the steps to create an account). Then, select the training course you are interested in and login with your email and password.

For more information about the courses we offer, see Training and learning.

Page last reviewed: 25 November 2020
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GPO Box 9905, Canberra, ACT 2601
1300 366 979 | www.comcare.gov.au

Date printed 18 Oct 2021