There Are No Light Duties, You Will Have To Sign Me Off

Dr David Colvin workers compensation

08/10/2018 Dr. David Colvin, trained in orthopaedic surgery in Perth. David's specialty is knee and shoulder surgery and sports injuries.

One area of conflict in the workers’ compensation scheme is the return to work process. During the time you are being treated for your work injury, you will be issued with progress medical certificates. These certificates will indicate whether you are totally unfit for work, fit to return to work with modified duties, or fully fit to return to your pre-injury occupation. It is important that you have a valid certificate to cover the entire period of time you are on workers’ compensation for your salary payments to be made. If you are partially fit to undertake alternative duties (such as desk duties), your doctor is legally obliged to indicate this on the certificate.

The certificate goes to your employer and if your employer has suitable duties, then you are obliged to attend work and undertake those duties. The employer or insurer may engage a workplace rehabilitation provider to assist in designing a return to work program. They will ensure that the duties that you are asked to do are appropriate and in line with the restrictions on the certificate.
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If the employer does not have light duties, then in some cases the rehabilitation provider may arrange a placement at an alternative employer that does have suitable duties. 

It is fair to say that these certificates do cause a reasonable amount of anxiety and confusion.  Firstly, just to clarify what I have said above, the doctor is obliged to indicate that you are fit for alternative duties regardless of whether the employer has alternative duties available.  Once the certificate is completed, it is then up to the employer to decided whether they wish for you to come to work and undertake alternative duties or not.  The employer can decide there are no alternative duties, but that is the employers decision and not the doctors decision.

Progress medical certificate

The workers’ compensation scheme places a heavy emphasis on returning people back to the workplace as quickly as possible, even in a restricted capacity.  There are several reasons for this.  Firstly, it is well recognized that the longer someone is entirely out of work, the greater the likelihood that they will never return to meaningful employment.  Secondly, long periods off work (often referred to as “lost injury days”) can impact upon the cost of the workers’ compensation insurance premium for the employer.

The workers’ compensation scheme operates on mutual obligations.  The employer and the insurer have obligations to pay you a salary and cover the cost of your treatment.  In return for accepting the salary, you must attend work and undertake duties that are medically appropriate as indicated on your certificates.  You must also be compliant with your treatment and attend appointments as arranged. 

The return to work process can seem quite onerous but remember, you are not required to do anything that causes you pain or is beyond your current capacity.  We can put in place reduced hours and any number of restrictions on your duties as required.  If at any stage you feel you are being asked to do too much, you should come back and see me for an amended certificate to clarify your duties.  We cannot let the return to work program jeopardize your recovery.

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