Return to Work Protocol

If an employee requires time off because of a psychological injury, an effective return to work protocol is important.

Return to work outcomes are improved when:

  • An employee perceives that their work is valued;
  • Management is committed to the return to work effort (such as finding suitable duties); and
  • There is peer support on return to the work group.

ComCare, in the guide Working Well: An Organisational Approach to Preventing Psychological Injury (PDF. 457KB), sets out a good practice approach, which contains the following elements:

  • Clear policy or guidelines on the organisational assistance available for employees exhibiting early warning signs of not coping at work. 
  • Line manager awareness of the early warning signs, including symptoms of distress and low morale, and how to respond appropriately (achieved through training, policy and guidance material);
  • Early contact with the employee to offer assistance. A supportive initial response can minimise the impact of a stress-related injury on the individual;
  • Early and expert assessment to identify employee needs. An approved rehabilitation provider or a medical expert can accurately assess underlying issues and identify the potential barriers to maintaining the employee at work, or to returning an absent employee to the workplace once they are medically able;
  • Involvement of the employee and supervisor to develop an agreed plan to enable the employee to remain at work or return to work. The plan should include strategies (such as mediation) to resolve workplace issues or any other identified issues that may otherwise prevent recovery;
  • Access to effective medical treatment and evidence-based therapeutic interventions if there is a psychological condition (for example, cognitive and other psychological therapies)
  • Flexible workplace solutions to support the individual at work. Work adjustments such as changes to tasks, the way the work is managed, or work scheduling can be a positive way of assisting an individual back to their former functional level and good psychological health.

 SafeWork NSW has a detailed guidance document on return-to-work programs called Guidelines for Workplace Return to Work Programs, which is available on its website.