Forcing injured workers to return to work


The goal of workcover is to return injured workers as fast as possible to work , and then, if possible, return injured workers to their pre-injury health (yep, in that order).

The majority of injured workers undoubtedly want to return to work  as quick as possible, and make up the predominance of medical-only cases; that is: with minimal time off work.

The “reluctant” or “uncooperative” injured worker (often seen by others: case managers, employers, IMEs, rehabbers and appendages- as unmotivated or benefiting from secondary gain) is too often seen as someone who can be forced into returning to work, as was highlighted again in yesterday’s article “WorkCover SA deploys new SWAT teams“.

“Rapid response teams” or SWAT teams will be deployed to the injured worker’s workplace within 72 hours of notification of a claim. The SWAT teams will “start the conversation about resuming work” immediately (“the capture” and “the interrogation”). This is to ensure that any injured worker that should escape the heavily armed cordon is quickly re-captured“.

Indeed, injured workers are treated like criminals, fraudsters, benefit-suckers and system-milkers…guilty of the crime of having been injured at work (often by negligent employers)…until proven innocent…and still!

Forcing injured workers to return to work

However, this said “reluctant” or “uncooperative”/ “escaped” injured workers will not return to their job if:

  • they anticipate that the unspoken goal is to sack them – so common!
  • there is open animosity with co-workers and/or superiors (managers/boss)
  • their medication alters attention, concentration and coordination, increasing risk of injury to self or others
  • they have become de-conditioned and are not competent to fulfill job requirements, even though they are not technically disabled from doing so
  • they anticipate confrontation with, or from, a co-worker/manager/ employee involved in their injury (particularly in cases of bullying, harassment etc).
  • they are in settings where the physical risk factors that led to injury have not been addressed by the employer (and may already have experienced serious injury aggravation)
  • their limitations are not honored by the employer or are doubted by co-workers who resent the light duty offered the injured worker
  • they are placed in alternate settings/duties in which the injured worker is knowingly assigned menial, humiliating (or no productive) tasks resulting in boredom and resentment
  • their treating doctor(s) releases them to work on paper – under workcover’s pressure- but does not share this change in condition with the injured worker

Thus we see over and over again that the primary disincentives to work include:

  1. compromised health,
  2. unsafe conditions,
  3. suspicion,
  4. unresolved ill-will, and
  5. lack of meaningful work.
Until/unless these are resolved, actions that attempt to force the injured worker in an undesirable direction will simply engender distrust and decreased “compliance”. Helooo!


[Posted on behalf of workcovervictim]

Revised May 2014


2 Responses to “Forcing injured workers to return to work”

  1. It is strange how these articles seem to be echoing the progress of a friend of mine in her Workcover case. Having been through a mismanaged workers compensation case myself, I can say that the original intention of “Returning to Work” has been well and truely lost in favour of getting an injured employee back to work to reduce costs (for the insurer and employer).

    In my case with a large Commonwealth department, there were repeated attempts to force me to return to work. Threats to cut off my entitlements, threats to cancel a rightfully won promotion and a complete disregard for my health, safety in the workplace, or medical restrictions were the name of the game there. The only unusual thing about it was that this was all as a result of mismanagement on the part of my (now former) employer, not the insurer. For each threat that I would be forced to return to work against my will and against my doctor’s orders, I successfully countered (in writing) that I would not return to an unsafe workplace. I also became intimately familiar with the processes, policies and legislation (and I recommend you do this too if you haven’t already!) and on every action I became pedantic that it must comply with the rules. This meant that if something said “14 business days to respond” then I was entitled to all of those 14 business days and any decision made by my employer before that time was invalid. I also urge you to keep detailed records and to regularly request access to full copies of the files kept by your employer, insurer and Workcover. For my case, the files kept by my employer documented that they intended to try and force me to return to work in an unsafe workplace, against the orders of my doctors and specialists, despite an alternative being available simply because they felt like it.

    Long story short, I returned to work when I was ready to do so to a safe alternate workplace. I didn’t bow to threats and used my employer’s rules, policies and procedures to counter them whenever possible. I did however have my promotion wrongfully revoked and that became a separate matter under Human Rights/Anti-Discrimination.

    Don’t get me wrong, returning to work is a good thing. For me personally, it was an empowering process which helped me realise that the whole organisation and everyone in it wasn’t against me. It also helped me regain my self-worth and self esteem. However, this undue emphasis on returning an injured employee to work no matter their condition must change. There must be alternatives made available to employees who, for one reason or another cannot return to their original position and there must be more focus on ensuring an injured employee is ready, sufficiently healthy, supported and safe to return to work.

  2. Originally Workers Compensation was set up for the injured worker. The whole idea was to stop injured workers suing negligent bosses and gaining huge punitive damages. The compromise was a no fault system where the needs of the injured worker were supposed to be addressed. Over the years, thanks to economic rationalism, the whole intent of Workers Comp has been changed to place the fault of injury back onto the worker and because people have been seduced by the ‘blame the victim’ propaganda promoted by most media outlets and certain political parties, we now have this ludicrous situation. Injured workers are not alone in this either, asylum seekers, those on welfare, the sick (how many sick people do you know who wait in doctor’s surgeries because it is fun- see $6 co payment issue) and of course the disabled (which also includes most injured workers). Add to this the continual denigration of unions (the only collective voice workers have), the rise of money hungry medico legal doctors, the involvement of multinational insurance companies, the distorted aim of getting Workers Comp schemes back into the black by reducing benefits to injured workers and worst of all the timid treatment handed out to negligent employers (rarely are they ever fined) and what we have is a system designed for business with no accountability. Yes, I know I am being political, but this is what is happening. Unless people get angry with those directly to blame for all of this (forget attacking each other, those on welfare, those less fortunate) then it will only get worse. Already I am aware of several cases in NSW where injured workers recovering from surgery are being forced back to work too early and have become even sicker. Great article WCV, says it all