Return to work programs

This page explains employer workers compensation return to work obligations, as well as the tools and programs available to help employers support their worker’s return to/recovery at work.

A return to work (RTW) program is the formal policy that outlines general procedures for handling work related injury or illness. It represents an employer's commitment to the health, safety and recovery of workers following an incident. All employers in NSW are required by law to have one.

Your obligations

All employers in NSW must have a RTW program within 12 months of starting a business.

Your RTW program must:

  • be developed in consultation with your workers and any industrial union representing them
  • be consistent with your insurer's injury management plan
  • comply with our Guidelines for workplace return to work programs
  • be accessible and communicated to the workforce.

In the NSW workers compensation system, there are two categories of employers – Category 1 and Category 2. Each category has different obligations under the law. These are outlined below:

Category 1 employers

A category 1 employer is an employer:

  • with a basic tariff premium over $50,000 a year, or
  • who is self-insured, or
  • insured by a specialised insurer and has over 20 employees.

For you, creating a RTW program involves four main activities:

  1. Appoint a return to work coordinator
  2. Develop a return to work program
  3. Consult workers and unions
  4. Implement the return to work program

This return to work program checklist will help you develop, implement and review your RTW program.

Category 2 employers

A category 2 employer is any employer who is not a category 1 employer as described above.

For you, creating a RTW program involves three main activities:

  1. Appoint a person responsible for recovery at work
  2. Develop a return to work program
  3. Implement the return to work program

You can adopt or customise this standard RTW program template for Category 2 employers.

Guidelines for workplace return to work programs

SIRA developed the Guidelines for workplace return to work programs (guidelines) in line with legislation to support, inform and guide employers, workers and other stakeholders in developing a RTW program.

The guidelines were updated in May 2017. Employers should update their RTW program to ensure it complies with the latest version at their next scheduled review.

All RTW programs must comply with the 2017 guidelines within two years from the date of effect of the guidelines (31 May 2017). In the meantime, your RTW program must continue to comply with the September 2010 version of the guidelines.

Support available

SIRA has a range of tools and programs to help you meet your workers compensation obligations and assist your workers to recover at work:

  • Recover at work planning tool can help you and your worker plan their recovery
  • Return to Work Assist provides micro employers (with five or equivalent full time workers) with funding to make alternative work arrangements while their worker participates in a graded recovery at work plan.
  • Equipment and workplace modification funding is available to help a worker recover at work.
  • Work trial program places the worker with another employer for short periods when the pre-injury employer is unable to provide suitable work.
  • Training can help workers develop new skills and qualifications to keep their job or get a new one.