Skip to content

How to Implement a Return to Work Plan

A plan can make all the difference between an employee successfully returning to work in a timely manner and much longer off work, or even a set-back in their recovery.

Employees that have been off work sick or injured for a long time often go back under a return to work plan once they are ready to do so. The plan is designed to help them make a timely transition from home to the workplace without suffering any major setbacks in their recovery.

What is a Return to Work Plan?

A return to work plan is a document that outlines how an injured or ill employee can stay at work or return to work efficiently and safely. The plan outlines strategies that will assist the employee in getting back to work for either the same employer or a different employer. Return to work plans help to assist employees with their mental and physical health, as long as they are fit for work. The plan should include details of the employee’s current symptoms, work skills, capabilities, tasks, duties and any mental health concerns.

What to Consider When Preparing a Return to Work Plan

A return to work plan should be prepared by a qualified rehabilitation provider/return to work (RTW) coordinator, often in conjunction with the treating medical practitioners.

Modified or Reduced Duties

Some injured or ill employees can only return to work if their duties are modified. A physically demanding role may no longer be suitable, particularly for an injured employee. A person who is returning to work after suffering depression or anxiety may not be able to return to their old job completing duties they found to be stressful.

Some employees may come back to a completely different role in a new area of the organisation while others may do the old role with one or more small changes. Other workers may not need any changes made to their duties. It all depends on the employee and the injury or illness they suffered. Everyone is different, so what may have worked for one employee on their return to work may not be suitable for the next.

Timing of the Plan

It’s important to start preparing the plan as soon as an estimated return to work date is known. The plan can help identify if any new equipment is required, whether any additional training needs to be completed and who will support the employee’s return to work.

The plan may uncover the need for an assessment of the workplace and workstation. Some time may be needed to make alterations or to purchase/order equipment so it doesn’t hold up the employee’s return to work.

Getting an employee back to work as soon as possible is not only beneficial for the employer, but also the employee. The longer a person stays off work, the harder it is for them to return as they may lose confidence and worry that they have forgotten how to do part of their job.

Additionally, sick or injured workers are more likely to suffer from depression the longer they stay home. An injury or chronic illness can also have detrimental effects on mental health, which has the potential to negatively affect recovery rates. This makes it even more important for employees to get back to socialising with colleagues, as this can assist their mental health, which often has a positive impact on their physical recovery too.

Contacting the Employee

The plan may outline who in the organisation will keep in contact with the employee in the lead-up to their return. A person returning to work after a long break may have questions or need to complete online training before they can return. Keeping in regular contact with at least one person from the office can help an employee feel valued and reassured that they have an ally.

Third Party Return to Work Experts

Not many organisations are large enough to warrant having a full-time RTW coordinator. Some organisations might include RTW as part of a HR professional’s job description but many organisations prefer to outsource the task to someone who has a background in injury rehabilitation.

Altius provides return to work services and employee assistance programs for organisations in a range of industries. An occupational rehabilitation provider helps the employee by assisting in conversations with the employer, documentation and discussions with treating doctors, if required.

If you would like more information about Altius’ outsourced return to work service, call us on 1800 258 487 or contact us online.

Let's overcome your health challenges