Returning to work

One of the objects of the Return to Work Act 1986 is to provide for the prompt and effective management of workplace injuries in a manner that promotes and assists the return to work of injured workers as soon as practicable.

Most people injured at work return to work within a few days but those with more serious injuries may need help through rehabilitation.


The return to work process is different for everyone, whether it’s on reduced hours in their regular job or on modified or alternative duties. Getting an injured worker back to work is an important part of their rehabilitation while they are recovering.

There are many simple and cost effective ways a successful stay at or return to work can be achieved. Focus on what they can do, not what they can't.

When medical professionals, rehabilitation providers, insurers, unions, employers and the injured worker all work together, a more positive outcome is likely to be achieved.

NT WorkSafe supports the position statement, Realising the Health Benefits of Work, introduced by the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (AFOEM). The paper highlights the longer someone is off work the less likely they are to return. Providing suitable duties will help the injured worker recover at work while reducing disruption to their personal and work life, and disruption to business.

Maintaining open, honest and regular communication between everyone involved is crucial to make the return to work safe, quick and successful. Ensuring injured workers are kept up to date, communicated with regularly and supported can prevent them from feeling isolated from their workplace and team.

If a worker is unable to return to their normal duties, a vocational rehabilitation provider may develop a suitable return to work plan to help them stay at, or return to work quickly. A suitable return to work plan takes into account the worker's current work capacity, medical advice and individual situation.

Suitable duties can be tasks different to the injured worker's usual duties, but will allow them to remain in the workplace during their recovery.

To assist in improving return to work outcomes, an employer must not dismiss a worker for a period of six months following the date of a workplace injury, unless during that time, the worker ceases to be totally or partially incapacitated because of the injury. However this will not apply if the employer proves the worker was dismissed on the grounds of serious and wilful misconduct.


Getting back to work is an important step in recovering from a work-related injury and means a worker can return to a normal life, often reducing the financial and emotional impact on them and their family.

The earlier you start planning to return to work, the better your chances of getting back sooner. You may not have to wait until you are 100 per cent recovered to return to work. It’s important to try to keep positive and motivated - focus on what you can do, rather than what you can’t.

Whether it’s on reduced hours in your regular job or on modified or alternative duties, getting back to work is part of your rehabilitation. Talk to your treating health practitioner about the type of work and activities that will best help your recovery.

Return to work is a team effort and communication between everyone involved in your return to work is essential. By working together, solutions can be found.

The support provided to an injured person may include a graduated return to work, workplace based rehabilitation or retraining for a different job.

Rehabilitation works best where:

  • employers actively participate - research shows that keeping in touch with the workplace assists people to recover faster, and
  • doctors, rehabilitation providers, insurers, unions, employers and the injured person all work together.

Video Resources

The below videos have been developed to provide helpful information about returning to work:

Related Forms and Resources

Alternative employer incentive scheme (AEIS)
Rehabilitation – Information for employers
Return to work plans (RTWP)
Return to work proposal