All employers have a legal duty to ensure the health and safety of their employees, and this includes providing a safe and supportive environment for any injured worker looking to return to work. Aside from the legal obligation, a safe and supportive transition back to work leads to increased morale and strengthened working relationships – which are all great for business!
It’s important to remember though that an injured worker is not just someone with physical injuries. Any employee who has had to take time off for mental health issues or mental well-being needs to feel supported in their return to work.
So what are some of the things that you can do as an employer to support an injured employee to return to work?
Do not push their return to work
Often employees feel that they may be letting you down by taking time off. However, if an employee feels rushed to recover and return to work it can actually hinder their full recovery in the long-term, often leading to them needing to take additional time off down the track. The cost of a hasty return to work may end up outweighing the benefit of having the employee return.
Try to convey to your employees that their recovery is the most important matter and that they should not feel pressured to return to work.
Ensure good communication at all times
The best way that you can support an injured employee returning to work is to ensure effective communication between you and them at all times.
Communication prior to returning to work is important. If your worker suffers from a physical disability or impairment, communicate with your employee on any measures he or she may require to ensure you provide a safe working environment. An employee who trusts that they are working in a safe work environment is usually an employee who feels supported.
If your employee has a rehabilitation therapist, ask them if it would help if you contacted that therapist to find out what you can do to put in place the appropriate practices and protocols to ensure a safe transition back to work. By making necessary adjustments in the workplace that enable your injured employee to perform their duties more effectively, you have taken a significant step toward discharging your health and safety duties as an employer.
Responding to the particular needs of a worker could include providing flexible work arrangements (particularly for an employee who suffers from mental health issues). It may include changing a responsibility or duty within the role, or it may mean providing assistance to the injured employer with regards to managing equipment.
Whatever support is required, having a strong line of communication between yourself and your employee and any doctor or rehabilitative therapist can be a very strong indicator of a supportive and safe transition to work.
Recognise if a worker is feeling unsupported
Early warning signs that an injured employee may not be feeling supported at work can include: poor work performance; unplanned absences; moody, irrational or erratic behaviour; or isolation from other staff. Recognising early warning signs and communicating your concerns – privately – with that employee can encourage a supportive and safe work environment.
Ultimately, supporting an injured worker’s return to work is not just about discharging your health and safety obligations, but about creating a positive work morale in your business. If you adopt some of these suggested measures not only are you meeting your legal obligations, you are working towards maintaining a more productive long-term relationship with that employee.