5 Tips for Managing Ill or Injured Workers


Business woman shaking disabled or injured colleague’s hand who is in a wheelchair in the office.

Workers who are off work due to injury or illness need time and support. Organisations often don’t realise the importance of managing employees while they are off. They also don’t take into consideration the risks that this poses to the business. 

As an employee, it’s your responsibility to inform your manager of an illness or injury that will impact or make work difficult. Even if your injury or illness is non-work-related, it is highly recommended to let your manager know. If it is work-related, you will need to put the details in writing. And if you need to make a workers compensation claim and you’re struggling, ask your employer for help. 

#1 Know What’s Lawful

No organisation wants to run foul of the Australian workplace laws, but it can be a minefield to understand and meet legal obligations. On the other hand, employers should be familiar with Australian workers’ rights and the unfair dismissal laws, such as the fact that ill or injured employees can’t have their employment terminated while they’re off work.   

An organisation can breach workers’ compensation, health and safety laws and be accused of unlawfully terminating an injured worker or discrimination. 

If you don’t have an Injury Management Coordinator onboard or someone with the skills to fulfill the role, commission an expert outside the organisation. Expecting a manager or supervisor to manage an absent worker when they have no experience can end badly. The organisation can find itself in trouble and the manager may reach high stress levels, particularly if they already have a full workload.  

#2 Provide Support for the Worker

An injured or ill worker may be experiencing a range of emotions and offering them assistance early-on and regularly, may be paramount for a positive outcome. One might need help completing their worker’s compensation claim, but it is important to check if there is anything else needed. If appropriate, ask for their doctor’s details so the organisation can help when the employee returns to work.

Keep in Contact With the Absent Employee

Small actions with big intentions make a difference. Pick up the phone and chat to your worker as soon as possible considering their injury. Early intervention helps with a quick and safe recovery.

Keeping the communication lines open means workers feel valued and appreciated. Being ill or injured at home can be a lonely time for many and often results in low mood or depression. And you may be the only person they speak to that day. 

Keep colleagues informed of an ill or injured worker's progress. Let them know when their colleague is returning to work and ask everyone to make them feel welcome. It’s normal for some workers to resent a colleague who has been away for an extended time, as their colleague may have had to pick up some of the absent employee’s responsibilities. Make sure you recognise and appreciate their efforts to reduce the animosity.   

What to Talk About

When reaching out to an ill or injured employee at home, keep them updated on what is happening at work. Tell them about their colleagues' projects, changes in working teams, and exciting events coming up. When a worker knows what has been happening at work, they may feel less intimidated about returning.  

#3 Be Flexible With the Hours 

Returning to work after a few weeks of annual or long service leave can be daunting for some. Imagine how hard it can be for an employee who has been away for longer due to illness or an injury. Ensure the returning worker is comfortable with going back to full-time hours, or the corresponding time schedule, but also consider flexibility within these. 

Part-Time Hours is Better Than No Hours

A full week of eight hours a day can be very tiring when you haven’t done it for a long time. A shorter week and/or shorter days can help someone ease back into work. If they’re able to work from home, allow them to do part of the week from home and the rest in the office. Encouraging a worker to come back part-time if needed might be highly beneficial and better than not getting them back for another few weeks because full-time is too much.  

#4 Provide Assistance to Return to Work

Managers or supervisors may lack the knowledge, skills, or resources to help a sick or injured worker return to work. Professional services can help fill the gap. Injured workers may need modifications to their work station or other assistance to ensure they don’t reinjure themselves and continue on their recovery path.

Workplace Injury Management

An occupational therapist can assess the work environment and their role, and make recommendations if modifications are required. The changes can prevent a recurring or new injury, and make returning to work a little easier.  

A return to work plan is a customised written document including details on how the individual will get back to work effectively and without any further injury. The document often includes return to work goals, personal details of the worker and support person, start and end date of suitable duties, any medical treatment required, stages of returning to work, the worker’s physical and psychological capacity to perform tasks, tasks that should be avoided, and other changes in the workplace. 

#5 Redeployment to Another Role

Some injured workers can’t return to their previous role. Doing the same tasks could cause a repeat injury. Deploying a person within or outside their current organisation can be difficult. Often people don’t know what roles are vacant and what transferable skills they can use elsewhere. An expert in the field can help with uncovering their interests, skills and experience, and match them to a completely different role.       

In cases where ill or injured employees are unable to return to their pre-injury or illness role/duties, redeployment services are a great option. Employees may also require psychological services during this time, which can be offered through an employee assistance program

For more information or to discuss your options further, contact us online or call 1800 258 487.

Category: Physical Health, EAP