Managing return to work

Liaising with healthcare providers

When healthcare providers, employers and employees work together, successful return to work is more likely.

Good communication between all those involved helps keep return-to-work practices specific and focused on work function, workplace behaviour and return-to-work outcomes.

Without good communication, the healthcare provider may not have a good understanding of the workplace issues involved and the person coordinating return to work may not have a good understanding of the health issues.

With written consent from the employee, you should contact the employee’s healthcare provider. You can highlight any factors that might have a bearing on the employee’s return to work that may be relevant for the healthcare provider to know. In addition, the healthcare provider can clarify for you any advice they may have to assist in an employee’s return to work.

However, you should be aware that if the employee does not wish you to contact their healthcare provider that is their right.

If you are concerned that an employee is not yet ready to return to work, you should ask the employee to provide a report from a healthcare provider stating that they are ready to work.

Tips for contacting an employee’s healthcare provider

  • Approach healthcare providers with respect and with the intention to cooperate.
  • Ask open, rather than closed, questions, such as “I wonder if you can tell me about…” This can help you find out useful information that you might not think to ask about.
  • Where possible, try to keep communications simple and straightforward.
  • Don’t regard health professionals with suspicion or make assumptions about
  • whether an employee’s mental health problem or sickness absence is ‘genuine’.
  • Reduce the focus on blame, liability and pre-existing health problems.
  • Consider organising case conferences once a month, in person or on the phone to deal with any issues that arise.

In some cases, healthcare providers will be unable to give you information about a client or patient. However, you may still be able to give them information about the person. Keep the focus on the requirements of the job.

WorkSafe Victoria has produced a set of return-to-work tools for use when dealing with doctors and health practitioners. You may find it helpful to download these and adapt them to your needs.

For more information on finding a psychologist experienced in return-to-work issues in your area, see the Australian Psychological Society’s ‘Find a psychologist’ web page. The site allows you to search for practitioners who specialise in work-related issues

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"In so many cases, managers or colleagues, they might think that there's a problem but they avoid it, they don't ask early enough. So by the time they do have the conversation, it's really difficult - people are on the back foot and it can get hostile. Managers need to be more proactive and have these conversations earlier. You can keep it low key, just check in with the person, ask them if they are getting the support they need."
HR Manager
*not her real name
"If someone broke their arm we wouldn't be worrying about whether or not we were liable, we'd just send them to the doctor. It should be the same for mental health problems."
OHS Manager
* not his real name
"Some employers think that if they accept that there is a problem, then that means they are accepting liability. Sometimes that stops them helping get employees into treatment. Actually they would be better off getting the person into treatment early - that's likely to reduce the risk of a stress claim. I recommend that where they can, employers offer to pay for two sessions of treatment without considering issues of liability."
Occupational Physician
*not her real name