All businesses in NSW need to protect staff, workers, customers and visitors by providing a healthy and safe workplace. If your worker has been working from home or not working at all during the pandemic it will be essential to provide them with information and training on any changes to equipment, work practices and systems, especially related to any COVID-19 safety measures.
If your worker is working from home, they may not have access to the same type of office furniture and equipment they had in the office. Have them complete a SafeWork NSW working from home checklist and discuss their equipment needs.
If equipment is required, financial assistance may be available through SIRA’s equipment and workplace modifications program.
Encourage your worker to maintain their normal activities of daily living or start a home-based exercise program, within physical distancing restrictions and in consultation with their treating medical and health practitioner(s).
If your business remains closed, your worker is working from home or currently has no capacity to work, keep in touch with them regularly via phone, video conferencing and online messaging platforms. If they are working remotely, consider routinely checking in and scheduling activities such as sharing a virtual lunch or team activities like mindfulness sessions.
Be positive, accepting, and encouraging. Take the time to listen and ask what would help them feel more supported.
Recognise behaviour changes or signs as your worker may be feeling overwhelmed, isolated, scared, confused or angry.
Know your limitations and when to seek outside support. If your worker needs professional support, encourage them to talk to their treating doctor or insurer about what services may be available to them.
Know your worker’s current capacity for work
If your worker has not been working or working from home performing ‘lighter’ tasks than usual their capacity may have changed. It is important to review the workers capacity as stated on the certificate of capacity / certificate of fitness and have a discussion with your worker about what if any accommodations they may need in the workplace. Focusing on what they can do rather than what they can’t do will assist with the identification of suitable work and the development of a recovery at work plan.
If you need further advice to understand your worker’s capacity contact their doctor or treating health professional(s). Early contact with the doctor demonstrates your commitment to your worker’s recovery and gives you an opportunity to discuss your worker’s normal duties and the availability of other duties. Consider the availability of telehealth as an option for having a safe and inclusive discussion with the doctor and your worker.
Match your worker’s current capacity to the job demands
The impact on a worker’s recovery of having an extended period off work or performing sedentary work from home needs to be considered when planning for their return to your business. Worker’s may need to progressively increase their work demands and modify some activities and postures for a while to account for any reduced activity that resulted from their absence from the workplace. Discuss with your worker whether reduced work hours or alternate days, different tasks or jobs, and/or equipment or workplace modifications would help them to safely return to the workplace. Document any decisions in a recover at work plan and discuss with your worker who in the workplace will need this information.
Determine the need for a workplace assessment
Because every injury, recovery and workplace is different, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution for what tasks will be suitable for your worker. As you plan for your worker to return to the workplace and contribute to the re-opening or upscaling of your business, you and your worker have difficulty identifying suitable work that is within their capacity, then a workplace assessment may help. Conducted by an approved workplace rehabilitation provider a workplace assessment will assess your worker performing duties and tasks to determine those they can perform safely within their current capacity and identify tasks that can be utilised overtime as their capacity improves. Results from the assessment can be discussed with your worker and their doctor and used to develop a recover at work plan. So that your business needs are met and you’re able to accommodate the proposed plan, it’s important that there’s someone from your business on site to be part of the assessment.
Speak to your insurer if a workplace assessment would be of assistance.
Make modifications to your workplace
Making simple changes and modifications to your workplace might mean your worker can return to the workplace sooner. Equipment may help to remove the manual aspects of a task such as lifting, bending or twisting or may modify a task so as it fits the workers current work capacity.
If equipment or workplace modifications are required, financial assistance may be available through SIRA’s equipment and workplace modifications program.
Understand fears and concerns
Resuming work is important to both physical and mental recovery however a worker may be fearful of aggravating their injury or depending on the nature of your business concerned about the risk of contracting COVD-19.
Returning to or resuming more work, may initially result in slight changes to pain and discomfort levels due to the increase in physical activity, but will still result in a faster recovery from symptoms, less chronic disability and less time off work. Identifying suitable work and developing a recover at work plan in consultation with your worker will provide reassurance and foster a positive approach to the recovery process.
If your worker has capacity to work and despite your reassurances and support is reluctant to return to work, contact your insurer to discuss options. Your insurer may suggest the assistance of a workplace rehabilitation provider who can facilitate the recovery at work process or to use the Connect2work program to offer an opportunity for the worker to improve their capacity at an alternative workplace.
COVID-19 related psychological injuries
The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented situation for many employers, including the introduction and increase in a range of psychosocial hazards in the workplace. Psychosocial hazards arising from COVID-19 include, but are not limited to, the concern about exposure to COVID-19 at work, changed workplace arrangements, increased work-related violence or aggression from patients, customers or members of the public, increased workloads, and isolation from co-workers. Workers may have a physical, mental and/or emotional reaction to these hazards and where this is prolonged or severe lead to a psychological injury. As the employer if you are notified of a psychological injury, you must notify your insurer within 48 hours. Notifications can be written (including by email) or verbal (including by phone). For the workers compensation claim to be compensable, work must be proven to be the main contributing factor to the worker sustaining the psychological injury. The insurer will assess each claim on its individual merits and will respond to you and your worker within 7 days.
For information on how to manage mental health and address COVID-19 related psychosocial hazards and risks visit www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/covid-19-information-workplaces.
Evidence shows a worker’s recovery is better when they can recover at work. An unnecessary delay in returning to work is often associated with delayed recovery, the longer a worker is away from work, the less chance they have of ever returning. It’s important for you to take action early if you are unable to offer suitable work or continue to support your worker’s recovery at work plan.
Speak to your worker and insurer about alternatives, such as engaging an approved workplace rehabilitation provider.
SIRA has a range of programs that injured people can access to continue suitable work. Speak with your insurer or contact us.
- Training program to develop new skills and qualifications
- Work trial program for voluntary short-term work arrangement
- SIRA funded programs
More information on supporting your workers recovery at work can be found in the When a worker is injured: A workers compensation guide for employers.
If your worker can't return to work
It can be unclear with long-term injuries when your worker will be able to return to their pre-injury job. If medical information suggests your worker will never be able to return to their usual role, and you can't offer them a permanent alternative job, contact your insurer to discuss next steps.
In some cases, your worker maybe able to access a funded training program to assist with developing new skills or qualifications to assist with gaining new employment. SIRA also offer financial incentives for new employers to employ workers who cannot return to work with their pre-injury employer.
Terminating an injured worker in a COVID-19 environment
Employers may need to stand down or end their worker’s employment during the COVID-19 pandemic for a number of different reasons, including the business has closed, there is insufficient work available or the employer has qualified for JobKeeper. In these circumstances employers should familiarise themselves with the information available at www.coronavirus.fairwork.gov.au and seek appropriate advice where required.
In NSW there are legislated protections in place for workers against dismissal because of a work-related injury or illness within six months (or the length of any accident pay in the worker’s award or agreement) after the worker first became unfit for employment. If an employer dismisses a worker because of a work-related injury at any stage during the workers compensation claim, the worker may apply to the employer to be reinstated. The Industrial Relations Commission may also order reinstatement. If the employer replaces the worker within two years of dismissing them, the employer must inform the replacement worker that the dismissed worker may be entitled to be reinstated to the role. Employers should contact their insurer and discuss their legislated obligations and any potential claim or injury management related implications prior to terminating the employment of an injured worker.
For more information
Visit the I’m an employer helping my worker recover page or contact our COVID-19 Recovery Advisory Service on 13 10 50.
Contact your insurer.