Stricter return to work provisions in NSW are giving injured employees greater financial assistance to get back on the job.
One of the most important objectives of any workers compensation system is to ensure that injured employees are returned to suitable jobs as quickly as possible, so they can earn an income, employers are not left with workforce gaps, and the government and insurers are able to minimise outgoing payments and get injured parties off the books.
But despite these objectives, many NSW workers have not been assisted by their employers through the facilitation of a return to work program.
Cue changes to legislation
An independent review of workers compensation legislation in 2014 found there was a lack of support to deal with barriers to returning to work, such as training and location.
The review, carried out by the Centre for International Economics, reveals that injured workers have been left without any employment, or have been funnelled into industries in which they are not trained or do not wish to work.
In order to address these issues, further reforms to the NSW Workers Compensation Scheme were announced in August last year, with the changes introduced in the Workers Compensation Amendment Act 2015.
The most recent tranche of changes came into force in April.
The key changes and what they mean for injured workers
The most important changes to return to work rights are:
New employment assistance
The majority of injured workers will soon be able to claim new employment assistance. This is intended to help locate work with a new employer, and includes assistance with transportation, childcare, education and training, equipment, clothing and similar services up to the value of $1,000. To be eligible for the employment assistance, workers must demonstrate that they cannot return to their former employer due to their injury, and must show that an offer of employment from a new employer.
Additional vocational assistance training
Workers who have either exhausted their new employment assistance or are not eligible to receive it may also participate in vocational assistance programs provided by the new State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA), which was created in late 2015.
Additional education and training to facilitate a return to work
Injured workers may be entitled to up to $8,000 for education and training expenses if they have been assessed with a permanent impairment of 20% or more and have been receiving or will receive weekly payments for more than 78 weeks. The training must also be intended to facilitate a return to work, and be provided by an organisation with appropriate credentials.
What about employers?
From an employer’s perspective, the changes introduced under the Workers Compensation Amendment Act 2015 and the State Insurance and Care Governance Act 2015 mean that organisations with good return to work statistics (including short timeframes) will be rewarded with premium reductions of between 5 and 20%.
Where do vocational and functional assessments come in?
Insurers are entitled to make an assessment of whether an injured worker is capable of a return to work, whether in their former employment or at all. If it is determined that the worker has capacity for some kind of work, it is the employer’s responsibility (as far as reasonably possible) to locate suitable work.
In order to make a determination for fitness, vocational and functional assessments can help to establish:
- The capacity of the injured worker to return to their former role.
- What additional rehabilitation is required (if any) to assist the worker in returning to their former employment.
- If the injured worker cannot return to their former employment, in what circumstances they might be able to return to work.
- The worker’s interests and their aptitude for particular roles.
- What additional training/education/study may be required before the worker can be redeployed in a new job.
- What the limits of the injured worker’s capacity are likely to be.
Vocational assessments also include an assessment of the labour market and the viability of a particular occupation.
Contact us to find out how our vocational and functional assessments can assist in the determination of suitable roles, and an injured employee’s fitness for work.