Returning to work after an injury can be a challenging experience. Often injured workers may suffer from physical limitations due to their sustained injuries, as well as mental barriers like anxiety, stress and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when faced with returning to the work environment.  

These challenges are exacerbated when the worker is unable to return to their pre-injury job. What will I do? Will I be fired? Are common questions and concerns wondered by injured workers. Although an uneasy and stressful predicament, the law in Queensland provides support and guidance to help injured workers and contractors to find suitable employment.  

Suitable Employment

The Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (the Act) defines suitable employment as employment that is reasonably suited to the injured worker’s capacity to work, taking into account the worker’s qualifications, skills, experience, and any physical or mental limitations. The employer has a duty to provide suitable employment to injured workers who are unable to return to their pre-injury jobs. 

Therefore, the employer of the injured worker has a statutory obligation to provide suitable employment in circumstances where, due to the injuries sustained, the worker is unable to return to their original role. 

This may involves a worker taking up new ‘lighter’ duties, which do not cause strain to their injury. If the employer is unable to provide such a role, then the injured worker can be assigned to another workplace to undertake a suitable duties program. 

Vocational assessment

A vocational assessment will be carried out to determine the worker’s ability to work in a new role. This may include testing, interview and observation, as well as review of medical certificates, assessments, and any other documents that may be relevant. 

Reasonable adjustments

Employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to the work environment or to the way work is done, in order to facilitate the return to work of injured workers. Reasonable adjustments could include changes to working hours, the provision of special equipment, or the assignment of a different role. 

Managing Pain

A common issue for injured workers attempting to return to the workplace is managing their pain symptoms related to their injury. While reasonable adjustments can be made by employers, workers often experienced increased discomfort, soreness and fatigue following an attempt to return to work.  

This can result in additional medical assistance being necessary to assist in managing pain symptoms, whether it be consultations with a GP or physiotherapy sessions. Medical assistance can be costly, and people are often unaware of how to maximise their entitlements through Workcover or the relevant insurer. Additionally, special damages can be sought as part of a common law claim to recuperate costs lost on medical expenses relating to the workplace injury.

Mitigating Loss

Should an injured worker elect to make a common law claim for damages, they have an obligation to take steps to mitigate their financial loss. Returning to work, even on suitable duties becomes a significant part of the claims process, as the injured worker demonstrates an effort to return to employment and therefore has taken steps to mitigate their loss. 

Right to Return to Work

 An injured worker has a right to return to work as soon as it is safe for them to do so, and the employer must not discriminate against them for having a workplace injury. If an employer fails to provide suitable employment, the injured worker can make a complaint to the workplace health and safety. Provided the injury took place within 12 months, the employer is not entitled to terminate an employer because of their injuries. 

Time Limitations

With workplace injuries, strict time limits apply as to when you can receive Workcover benefits, or make a common law claim for damages. Therefore, if you are currently on Workcover, or have recently been injured at work and would like to learn more about your rights and entitlements, contact Littles Lawyers for a free, no obligation consultation.  

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