Return to Work After an Injury On Your Terms

Published by Marshall & Gibson Lawyers on the 22 October 2014

For anyone that has ever been injured and had to take a significant period off work to recover, there comes a time when you have to decide a date for returning to work. There will inevitably be a determination from your treating general practitioner (GP) that you are fit enough to return to work – although you may have limitations as to what you can physically do. But even if you have been signed off by your GP as medically capable, the decision to head back to work is by no means an easy one.

If your injury was sustained as a result of a workplace accident, there can be associated emotional issues to work through in addition to any physical limitations. Even if the injury did not arise at the workplace, you may be suffering associated anxieties with the thought of having to return to work.

The benefits of returning to work

However, returning to work can assist in a faster recovery and has three tremendous benefits.

Financial

Earning your own money allows you to maintain a lifestyle you once had, and does wonders for self-confidence. It alleviates the stress associated with money troubles, and even if you have been receiving compensation during your time off work it is more rewarding to earn the money that you receive.

Physical

Returning to work is great for you physically. There have been many studies done to research whether or not physical activity can directly have a positive impact on a person’s mental health, and evidence suggests that this does work.

Of course, it is important to be aware of your limitations. If you work within your own comfort zones, physical activity can have incredible benefits for your recovery time. But if you overdo it, you could be setting your recovery time back by weeks or even months. It is recommended that you have a professional trainer or exercise physiologist do at least your first activity session with you following an injury, as they can advise you on the best exercises and what techniques to use.

Emotional

The final benefit is an emotional one. Everyone carries a sense of self worth. Your job may define an aspect of you are: whether as a professional, as a hard working parent, or as a committed employee. By returning to work you can reclaim this identity, as it often gets lost when you are suffering from a physical injury and unable to do your job. This can energise the soul which benefits you emotionally.

Have a plan

Once you have determined to return to work, it is important to ensure there is a plan in place for that transition. The plan should involve a team approach, and the crucial members of that team are you, your employer, and your treatment provider.

It is important to contact your employer to advise them that you feel ready to return to work. They may have a return to work policy that can be implemented, and you should discuss this policy prior to your return. Ensure your employer understands the nature and extent of your injury or injuries, and any associated physical limitations. Encourage your employer to contact you treatment provider (or vice versa).

With open communication about timeframes, expectations and limitations, your employer can reasonably accommodate your transition to work. If your employer is not receptive or accommodating, if there is no identified plan of support, then you can contact your union representative or a legal representative to discuss. Legally your employer has an obligation to ensure your health and safety at work, which includes acknowledging your physical limitations and accommodating them appropriately by adjusting your responsibilities in your employment.

Also before you return to work you should speak with your treatment provider to discuss any concerns about your injuries. Your treatment provider can give you alternatives to how you may perform a physical task, or may outline your physical limitations so that you don’t push yourself. This way you can be confident of a transition that encourages rather than threatens recovery.

Whatever the plan to be implemented for your return to work, one matter cannot be over-emphasised – you, personally, should get involved in the development of that plan. Your voice and your concerns ought to be heard and addressed; after all, it is your injury. Do not feel that if you speak up you may jeopardise your employment. If you have concerns about this, it is recommended to speak with a lawyer who specialises in personal injury law, employment law or worker’s compensation. Having a clear idea of your rights can give you the confidence to speak up and assert your rights.

Ultimately, returning to work should be something to look forward to. It’s financial, physical and emotional benefits  will improve your outlook on life and sense of self-worth. The decision is stressful, but having an open discussion with your employer and treatment provider about a plan to assist your transition may alleviate that stress. And hopefully this will give you the confidence to return to work, safely, and happily.