Supporting the recovery-at-work and return-to-work of a worker

Building awareness, understanding, behaviours and actions to support recovery-at-work and return-to-work


People experiencing injury, whether physical or psychological, often benefit from staying connected with work and their colleagues during times of recovery; this is called recover-at-work. In some circumstances, it is appropriate for a worker to step away from work for a period of time, and be supported during that time, before returning to work; this is called return-to-work. For further information about returning to work, see WorkSafe Victoria.

Illustration of inside office workplace with glass office, whiteboards and potted plants

This guide has been developed for organisations supporting workers recovering-at or returning-to-work and maintaining health at work after experiencing a psychological illness or injury. This guide is relevant for organisations whether the worker was injured in the workplace or not.

The guide is designed to:

  • Build awareness and understanding about recovery-at-work and return-to-work after psychological illness or injury and what this means for different types of workers and organisations.
  • Outline the behaviours and actions organisations and people can take to ensure a supportive workplace for recovery-at-work / return-to-work.

How to use this guide

What is recovery-at-work and why is it important?

When a worker who has experienced or is currently experiencing an illness or injury chooses to remain at work during their recovery. This is often a personal preference (under guidance from their GP or medical practitioner) and with the support of the organisation.

Usually, when the workplace supports recovery at work for a worker, the workplace offers modified duties, tasks and roles to accommodate and cater for the needs of the worker during their recovery (e.g. reduced hours, task modification).

It may be helpful to offer the ‘recovery at work’ option to the ill or injured worker, who may not be aware that this as an option, during times of illness or injury.

What is return-to-work and why is it important?

An individual worker returning to work after having a period away from work due to illness or injury.

The worker may not need to be 100 per cent well to return to work. Obtaining guidance from their treating health practitioner can be helpful in determining the ideal time for a worker to return to work.

How to support someone to recover-at or return-to-work

As an employer or supervisor, you play a valuable role in supporting someone’s recovery from psychological injury or illness. There are several easy steps that any organisation can take to ensure that you are supporting a worker’s recovery-at- or return-to-work.

This can look different for everyone and there is no one-size-fits all approach. Consider gender or other attributes such as being a young individual, migrant individual, person with disability, an individual identifying as LGBTIQ+ or an individual from a culturally and linguistically diverse background.

As such, it is important to consider the potential gender and/or intersectional impacts, and barriers these individuals may face to recovery-at or return-to-work. It is also important to recognise, understand and respect peoples lived / living experiences and not to pass judgement, or apply your own experience or bias on how a worker approaches or handles their injury, illness, and recovery. Respecting a person's privacy is essential.

The needs of your workers may also change depending on the length of time that they have been away from work. You should support your workers in a way that is tailored to their individual circumstances.

Confidentiality is an essential element that you need to consider. It is best agreed between the person experiencing the illness or injury and the person who is managing their recovery-at or return-to-work. It requires clarity on what is shared (or not), with whom and under what circumstances. It is helpful to review and update the confidentiality agreement from time to time.

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