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Managing ill and injured workers

When a worker is ill or injured, an array of different areas of law governs the employer's duties and responsibilities.

Unfortunately, an employer will often find it difficult to reconcile these areas, which are confusing and tend to be in conflict.

For example:

  • Workplace health and safety legislation would require an employee to take practical steps to prevent an employee's injury or illness either being aggravated through work, or exposing others in the workplace to a safety risk.
  • Workers' compensation legislation encourages employers to get injured workers back to work as soon as possible.
  • Anti-discrimination legislation requires employers to justify changes to working arrangements where these seek to address an employee's impairment.
  • Privacy laws restrict the employer's capacity to ascertain information about an employee's impairment or injury.

This means there is no one method for managing ill or injured workers. The approach to each injury must be developed on the basis of its particular circumstances, including:

  • whether the injury is work-related
  • whether there are reasonable measures that you could implement to enable the employee to resume pre-injury duties.

There is a way through this maze if some basic principles are recognised.

  • Always seek and act upon the best available, most up to date medical information about an employee's capacity for work now and in the future.
  • Assume a claim of incapacity is genuine unless you have clear evidence that it is not.
  • Don't let return to work issues be dictated by third parties such as workers' compensation insurers or their agents.
  • You can expect and demand employee cooperation with return to work.
  • No law requires you to offer an incapacitated employee a different job than their pre-injury job on an ongoing basis.
  • Be patient and considered.¬† With every decision you take, be prepared to justify it on relevant available facts.

Remember, injury can change a person's personality and make communication difficult. There are often complex emotions to manage.

For more information on managing ill and injured employees, please see our:

Frequently asked questions

Managing ill and injured employees


Information sheets


Policies and Procedures 

Other useful materials