Return to work programs play a crucial role in helping injured workers return to work safely and sustainably. And while employers are primarily responsible for these programs, as a GP you have a vital role to play in ensuring your patient’s program is right for them and their recovery. Here’s what you need to know about return to work programs.

Are return to work programs a legal requirement?

Yes, they are. By law, employers must develop a return to work program as soon as possible once you, as the treating medical practitioner, have:

  • indicated, in writing, the need for a return to work program
  • issued a certificate of capacity stating that the worker has some (or partial) work capacity, or has full capacity for work, but is unable to return to their pre-injury position.
What are the employer's legal obligations?

When establishing a return to work program, employers must:

  • give your patient an opportunity to participate in the development of the program
  • describe the program in writing
  • give copies of the program to you and your patient
  • provide any changes to the program in writing to you and your patient.
What are the basic requirements for a return to work program?

As a bare minimum, a return to work program must include:

  • the name and contact details of your patient and their employer
  • the return-to-work goal for the program
  • actions each injury management party (i.e. your patient, employer and injury management coordinator) will undertake
  • a statement confirming your patient agrees with the program.
What should a return to work program also include?

In addition to the basic requirements outlined above, a best-practice return to work program should also state:

  • your patient’s capacity for work (i.e. what they can do, any limits or restrictions that apply)
  • work duties that you, as a GP, have identified as suitable, given your patient’s capacity
  • the hours and days your patient will return to work
  • the workplace or location where the return to work program will take place
  • your name and contact details (as the injured worker’s GP), along with the names and contact details of the insurer, your patient’s line manager and a contact person that your patient can speak to if they have concerns about their program (e.g. the injury management coordinator).

Find out more about the return-to-work planning and management process. Read about the importance of early intervention and case conferences, or learn how to refer your patient to a workplace rehabilitation provider.