I can only chuckle at the WorkSafe ads. You know, the one with the overly happy injured employee and the supportive GP that encourages a return to work; the willing employer and the celebration and welcome that occurs upon their successful return to work.
Does this really happen? Really?
I’m all for all parties cooperating to achieve a common goal but this promotion of return to work is far from what really occurs. Do I really need to be telling you this?
Employers, more often than not, are faced with a frustrating and unsupported return to work process involving employees with one or more of the following: –
- No interest in returning to anything other than their normal role;
- Ignorance towards the return to work process and their obligations under WorkCover;
- Poor attitude – external or internal factors contributing to the process;
- Uncooperative or constantly changing treating doctor;
- No change in capacity regardless of the position being offered or the effort to obtain agreement;
- Failed attempts to return to work resulting in time lost and a disrupted program.
When this occurs do employers get the support they should from their WorkCover Agent?
Does anyone actually care?
Creating a dispute around return to work is mostly a fruitless exercise but it is sometimes a necessity. An employee who is not cooperating or meeting their requirements should not, in my view, simply continue to be entitled to benefits. The entire scheme is based around return to work yet, when it comes to enforcing a workers obligations, the scheme is letting employers down.
The Compliance Process
The first step in the process is to issue a warning for non-compliance; some Agents insist on providing a verbal warning before the written warning – the idea being that the employee is provided with the opportunity to comply without any ramifications.
So, the initial failure to comply with a return to work program has already been let slide. This sends the wrong message as to what the workers obligations are.
Keep in mind the ‘warning’ doesn’t do anything other than allow the second part of the process to be considered; the ‘suspension’. This can occur, at a minimum, after a further two weeks following the warning being issued.
This involves the suspension of weekly benefits with the worker being provided another 28 days to comply with the return to work before the third part of the process, the termination, is considered.
This process is exhausting and there is actually more to it that I have outlined here.
Whilst I do not support simply denying a worker their entitlements on a whim, the scheme is not providing any support at all. Even when a decision around compliance is made, the inevitable outcome is not favourable.
What can you do?
This exhaustive process as it stands can result in employers getting frustrated and can put the entire return to work process in jeopardy.
I say this with an understanding of the cost involved in managing a return to work – on top of any premium impact the claim may have already had.
- Keep the return to work program up to date and current
- Continue to communicate with the worker and their GP – even if no-one is listening
- Be flexible and try to accommodate any changes to the program – initially…
- Provide updates to other staff where required – let them know what is happening.
- Challenge the approach your WorkCover Agent is taking
- Document everything and be realistic about the outcome.
There are no winners in a dispute about return to work…
If you are not getting the support you need or require advice regarding a complex or difficult return to work please give us a call. An independent opinion can be an invaluable tool and may provide you with a solution to move a program forward.