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Rehabilitation and return to work

For: Claimants Advocates Information seekers

If you are unable to work as a result of your work-related injury or illness, your employer must assist you to safely return to work as soon as practicable.

Steps for rehabilitation and return to work

1. Undertake an assessment

Injury or illness lasting more than 28 days

If your work-related injury or illness lasts, or is expected to last, 28 days or more, your employer must arrange for an assessment of your capacity to undergo a rehabilitation program.

This step must be done within 28 days after your employer receives notice of your injury or illness.

Your employer is responsible for paying the cost of the assessment and will reimburse you for reasonable travel expenses as set out in the Seafarers Act.

The assessment must be made by a:

  • legally qualified medical practitioner
  • suitably qualified person, other than a medical practitioner
  • panel comprising legally qualified medical practitioners or other suitably qualified people, or both.

The employer nominates the person or panel to undertake the assessment.

After conducting the assessment, your employer must be provided with a written report that specifies, where appropriate:

  • the kind of program that you are capable of undertaking
  • any information your employer may require or benefit from regarding a program for you.

You are required to attend the examination of your capacity to undergo rehabilitation. If you do not, without a reasonable reason, your right to workers’ compensation may be suspended.

Injury or illness lasting less than 28 days

If a work-related injury or illness is not expected to last 28 days or more and you consider that rehabilitation services may help in your recovery or return to work and normal duties, you can ask your employer to assist. However, the Seafarers Act does not guarantee such assistance.

2. Develop a rehabilitation program

Depending on the nature of your injury or illness and the length of time required for recovery, it may be appropriate that you, your employer and a rehabilitation provider develop an agreed program.

If you are assessed as capable of undertaking a rehabilitation program, your employer must carry out a few actions.

Speak with you about selecting a provider

Any rehabilitation program conducted under the Seafarers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1992 (Seafarers Act) must be provided through an approved rehabilitation provider.

An approved rehabilitation provider is a person or organisation approved by Comcare, and recognised by the Seacare Authority, who provides rehabilitation programs to injured employees. This accreditation ensures the provider’s service is of an acceptable standard and complies with accepted practices within the profession.

Rehabilitation providers may have employees or use consultants, who must have appropriate qualifications, experience and expertise.

Your employer must speak with you about the selection of an approved provider. For a list of approved rehabilitation providers in your state refer to the Comcare directory of approved workplace rehabilitation providers.

Consult with you on a rehabilitation program

Your employer will arrange with the approved rehabilitation provider to provide an appropriate program that is tailored to your needs and rehabilitation goals.

Your employer must consult with you on the development of this program.

The purpose of the program is to help you and your employer manage all aspects of your rehabilitation and to safely remain at work or transition back to work as soon as possible.

A program will cover matters such as medical and support services, goals for recovery, recovery or return to work time frames, and expected and planned outcomes and costs. If key parties agree, a return to work plan may be developed and implemented.

A rehabilitation program may include:

  • vocational assessment
  • guidance
  • training or retraining
  • counselling
  • placement assistance
  • medical, dental, psychiatric and hospital services (whether on an in-patient or out-patient basis)
  • physical training and exercise
  • physiotherapy
  • occupational therapy
  • vocational training.

As the employee, you must be provided with a copy of the proposed program for comment before it is finalised.

It is important that all parties effectively communicate in relation to the rehabilitation program so everyone clearly understands what is agreed.

Teleconferencing or face-to-face meetings may be appropriate depending on the circumstances.

3. Undertake the program

After your program has been developed, you will start your rehabilitation in accordance with the program.

Your employer must:

  • arrange for you to undertake the program through an approved rehabilitation provider
  • pay for the cost of the rehabilitation program and reasonable travel expenses
  • pay reasonable costs for alterations to your residence or place of work, modifications to your vehicle or any article used by you, or any aids or appliances, including repairs, which are reasonably required. The nature of your injury or illness and your rehabilitation program are taken into consideration.

You are required to attend rehabilitation program sessions. If you do not, without a reasonable excuse, your right to compensation may be suspended.

If you refuse to participate, your rights to compensation, or to start or continue proceedings under the Seafarers Act in relation to compensation, are suspended. These rights will be suspended until you begin the rehabilitation program.

Workers’ compensation payments will generally continue while you undergo rehabilitation. This can be influenced by the nature of your rehabilitation program and other factors such as undertaking suitable alternative employment or accepting a superannuation payment.

4. Returning to work

You can return to work once you are assessed as fit for work by your treating medical practitioner and an Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) medical inspector.

Develop a return to work plan

Return to work is one aspect of the rehabilitation process. It is about getting you back to work, preferably to the same job you were undertaking before your injury or illness.

If suitable for you, a return to work plan will be developed as part of the rehabilitation program. This is a documented plan that will match your capabilities and limitations to assist you to return to work. It is developed with input from your approved rehabilitation provider in consultation with you and your medical practitioner.

It is important to ensure that you, your provider and employer all agree on a suitable process for your return to work. The plan should be approved by your treating medical practitioner.

Your return to work should be undertaken in a managed way that does not expose you to further risk of injury or harm. If, however, your injury or illness is aggravated by your return to work, you should notify your employer or ship’s master as soon as you notice any sign of discomfort or aggravation.

If your return to work is unsuccessful because you have aggravated your condition or been further injured, you may need to stop work and return to workers’ compensation until you are determined fit for work.

Offer of suitable employment

If you are undertaking or have completed a rehabilitation program, your employer must take all reasonable steps to provide you with suitable employment or to help you find suitable employment.

Suitable employment is any employment, including self-employment, for which an employee is suitable considering:

  • their age, experience, training, language, other skills
  • suitability for rehabilitation or vocational retraining
  • the likelihood that employment would reasonably require the employee to change their place of residence.

In some cases, it will not be appropriate or possible for you to return to the same job. Where this happens, your employer will need to consider how they can help you to return to work in alternative ways.

Suitable employment can include a graduated return to work. This is work performed for a temporary period to prepare an employee for a return to pre-injury employment. An example is employment as a supernumerary on board a ship or part-time work on shore

5. Completing a program

If your injury or illness is fully recovered, as assessed by a legally qualified medical practitioner nominated by your employer, you are no longer entitled to workers’ compensation and must return to work. In these circumstances, if you fail to return to work, you will not be paid.

Sometimes it is difficult to return to work after injury, especially after a long period away. If you are nearing recovery and feel anxious about the prospect of returning to work, you should raise your concerns with your rehabilitation provider. They should be able to help you to overcome or address these concerns.

Handling of a rehabilitation program

It is the role of your rehabilitation provider to encourage you to raise any issues about the way your rehabilitation is being conducted.

When you raise a concern, your provider will listen to your concern and try to address it wherever possible. This can include speaking with your employer, people at your workplace, or medical providers.

If your employer makes a decision in relation to your rehabilitation and return to work, you may ask your employer in writing to reconsider that decision.

Page last reviewed: 26 April 2022
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Date printed 17 Jun 2024