Navigating Return-to-Work Programs and Obligations under NSW workers compensation legislation

As workers' compensation legislation continues to evolve, the significance of compliant Return-to-Work (RTW) programs for both employers and employees has grown substantially. These programs play a pivotal role in facilitating a smooth transition for workers returning to their duties after experiencing a workplace injury.

This article provides a brief summary of the information provided on the State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA) website (opens a new window) in relation to the essential obligations for employers in New South Wales (NSW), with a focus on establishing a robust and legally compliant RTW program.

Obligations for NSW employers:

The legal obligations for employers in NSW in relation to RTW programs for their workplaces are outlined in the Workers Compensation Act 1987 (opens a new window) (NSW) (1987 Act), Workplace Injury Management and Workers Compensation Act 1998 (opens a new window) (NSW) (1998 Act) and Workers Compensation Regulation 2016 (opens a new window) (NSW) (the 2016 Regulation). The basic obligations are summarised below.

Employers in NSW must:

  • Have a current workers compensation insurance policy,

  • Display the ‘If you get injured at work’ poster (opens a new window),

  • Have a documented return to work program describing the steps you will take if a worker is injured,

  • Maintain a record of work-related injuries,

  • Notify your insurer of all workplace injuries within 48 hours,

  • Participate in the development of the workers injury management plan, written by your insurer, and comply with your obligations in the plan,

  • Provide suitable work (as far as reasonably practicable) when a worker is able to return to work, either on a full-time or part-time basis,

  • Provide suitable work that is (as far as reasonably practicable) the same as or equivalent to the work being performed at the time of the injury.

Furthermore, an employer must not dismiss a worker because of a work-related injury within six months from when the worker first became unfit as a result of the injury.

Category 1 and Category 2 Employers

Employers in NSW whose Average
Performance Premium (APP), as calculated by the formula Total Wages x Industry Classification, exceeds $50,000 (Category 1 employers), are required to establish a RTW program in alignment with the guidelines set by SIRA.

Employers falling within the category of those with an APP of $50,000 or less (Category 2 employers) have the option to either utilise the standard RTW program offered by SIRA (opens a new window) or develop their own program in accordance with SIRA guidelines (opens a new window).

What is a Return-to-Work Program?

A RTW Program is a summary of the system the employer will use to manage workers with work-related injuries or illnesses.

Key components of a RTW program include early intervention, consultation, rehabilitation, suitable duties, and ongoing communication between the worker, employee and relevant stakeholders.

RTW Program Obligations

For Category 1 employees, compliant RTW Program must cover the following areas:

  1. Leadership and commitment

  2. Workplace arrangements

  3. Rights and obligations

  4. After an incident

  5. Support for workers

  6. Recovery at work

  7. Dispute prevention and resolution

  8. Administration

Employers must ensure that their RTW program is prominently displayed or adequately notified within the workplace, as well as regularly reviewed every two years in consultation with the relevant parties, to ensure it is effective.

To ensure a RTW program is compliant, employers can refer to the Return-to-work program checklist for Category 1 employers (opens a new window) on the SIRA website.

The Lockton Workplace Risk team has supported numerous clients in implementing compliant RTW programs in NSW as well as across the other state and territory jurisdictions. If you require assistance in establishing a new RTW program or reviewing your current one, we are readily available to provide assistance.

Obligation to have a RTW Coordinator

Another key employer obligation in NSW is the requirement for Category 1 employers to appoint a RTW Coordinator as part of their RTW program obligations. The RTW Coordinator is responsible for overseeing the RTW process. The individual must possess the necessary training, skills, and experience to fulfill the role's functions.

More information about appointing a RTW Coordinator can also be found on the SIRA Website (opens a new window), or alternatively contact your Lockton specialist for assistance.

The Benefits of an Effective RTW Program

Implementing effective RTW programs is not only a legal obligation but also a strategic investment in the well-being of employees and the overall success of the organisation. By embracing best practices and overcoming common challenges, employers can create inclusive environments that support employees through their journey of returning to work after injury or illness.

Employer Obligations in Other States/Territories

While the fundamental principles of RTW programs are consistent across Australia, each state and territory has specific legislation and regulations. Employers should be aware of the obligations in the jurisdictions where they operate. For more information about requirements in other states or territories, employers can refer to the local workers' compensation regulator's website or contact a Lockton specialist.

How Lockton can help

The Lockton Workplace Risk team has extensive experience supporting clients to comply with their workers compensation obligations and implementing compliant RTW programs in NSW and across each workers compensation scheme.

Whether you need assistance establishing or reviewing a RTW program, or require a RTW Coordinator, Lockton's experienced workers' compensation specialists are available to help. If you require assistance, please get in touch.

The contents of this publication are provided for general information only. Lockton arranges the insurance and is not the insurer. While the content contributors have taken reasonable care in compiling the information presented, we do not warrant that the information is correct. It is not intended to be interpreted as advice on which you should rely and may not necessarily be suitable for you. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication.