Returning to work is often a key step in recovering from a work-related injury, with research highlighting the link between returning to work and an injured individual's improved health and well-being. It is important, however, that any return to work plan is properly implemented and managed.
Your employer has certain obligations to help you return to work, including:
- providing you with suitable employment for the first 52 weeks of your accepted WorkCover claim
- considering reasonable workplace support, aids or modification to assist in your return to work
- providing you with clear, accurate and current details of your return to work arrangements
- consulting directly with you about your return to work, as well as consulting with your treating health practitioner. It is noteworthy that this does not give your employer or your return to work provider the right to attend medical appointments
- appointing a Return to Work Coordinator who has an appropriate level of seniority.
In addition, you have an obligation to make reasonable efforts to return to work and participate in reasonable return to work programs. However this obligation does not require you to return to work when you are medically unable to do so or when your doctors believe the proposed return to work plan is unreasonable. If you rush your return to work you may find your injury deteriorates, rather than improves.
This was the case in the recent decision of Walker v Newlands Northern Underground Pty Ltd  QSC 96.
Mr Walker was employed as an underground miner by Newlands Northern Underground. Whilst at work, Mr Walker suffered a deep cut to his right hand and received first aid. Mr Walker intended to attend his doctor the next day, but was told by his mine co-ordinator "not to worry about it" and just to "come in to work and they would give him suitable duties".
Mr Walker returned to work the next day and rather than being deployed with suitable duties, Mr Walker was sent back into the mine.
The wound dressing became covered in coal, oil and water whilst Mr Walker was in the mine, and subsequently his hand became infected and required surgery. After the surgery Mr Walker developed a pain condition and severe depression leaving him unable to return to any form of employment. He successfully sued his employer for damages.
Mr Walker's case serves as a reminder to not rush returning to work, and emphasises the importance of creating your return to work program in consultation your treating medical practitioners.
If you have suffered a workplace injury and wish to learn more about your rights and entitlements, please contact Redlich's Work Injury Lawyers on (03) 9321 9988 for a no-obligation conversation.