When should I return to work after an accident at work?

Man on sofa thinking about going back to workReturning to work after any accident can be challenging, but coming back to work after an injury that occurred on the job can be especially difficult.

When preparing to return, there are steps that both you and your employer can take to make your transition easier, and to ensure you have support needed to manage your recovery. This will enable you to return to work in the best possible circumstances.

This article addresses the key questions surrounding an employee’s return to work after an accident, and considers the help and support available to injured workers.

Why do I need to “minimise my losses”?

Anyone who has been injured or been made ill due to the negligence of another party has a duty to ‘minimise their losses’.

The best example of this principle is that you should seek medical care as soon as possible, and then follow recommended treatment.

If your injuries worsen because you did not seek prompt medical care, or you failed to follow the correct rehabilitation, you usually cannot claim more compensation. Your work accident compensation will be calculated based on the level of injury you would have experienced if you had sought out treatment faster.

You also have a duty to minimise your losses by returning to work when you are able to, even if on reduced hours or in a different role. You can claim compensation for lost earnings as part of your claim, but your lost wages will be calculated up to the point you could have returned to work.

You cannot claim for more lost earnings simply because you took more time off work than was medically necessary.

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How do I 'mitigate and minimise losses' in an injury claim?

Is my employer required to pay sick pay?

If you have done any work at all for your current employer, you are very likely to be entitled to sick pay.

How much pay you should receive will depend on your employment contract. At a minimum, Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is £109.40 per week at time of writing. SSP is paid for up to 28 weeks.

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Will I still get full pay if I am injured at work?

Can my employer force me to return to work?

In general, no. Your employer cannot force you to return to work if you are not well enough, physically or mentally, to return. They also cannot require an unreasonable level of proof that you are unable to return, either. A note from a GP or specialist should be sufficient.

Forcing a worker to return before they have recovered could also breach workplace safety laws, including the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. You may need to speak to your employer if you wish to return before your fit note confirms you are ready.

Good communication with your employer is key to avoiding a confrontation. Although you are not legally required to do so, it may be useful to keep your employer aware of your expected recovery time, and update them if this changes. This will give your employer the opportunity to better plan around your absence, and for your return.

If you feel pressure to return to work, or your employer is threatening to fire you if you don’t return, you should seek advice from a service like Citizens Advice, or from a solicitor. If you are a member of a union or trade association, they may also be able to offer help.

What should my employer do before I return?

Your employer should work with you to identify aspects of your job where you might struggle, or which could impact your recovery. Under the Equality Act 2010, employers owe a duty to injured workers to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate their return to work.

Make reasonable adjustments

What is considered reasonable will depend on the nature of your job; it may be feasible for the business to change your job or offer you a different position, but it may not, particularly if you perform a specialist task or work for a smaller company.

Carry out a safety review

Your employer should have carried out a safety review after your accident, and updated safety measures, policies and procedures as appropriate. Your return to work may also prompt a safety review. If, for example, you have mobility issues, the emergency evacuation plan may need changing.

Communicate with staff

Before you return, you should discuss with your manager or HR how your return should be communicated to other staff. Employers should take steps to ensure the privacy and dignity of an injured worker, while preparing colleagues for necessary changes.

Provide training

Depending on any adjustments that are made, you and other staff may need additional training. You may need to use new equipment or software as part of your new job, or you may need to train staff to perform aspects of your role that you are no longer able to easily do.

Support before and after returning to work

Employers must assess a range of issues when helping a member of staff return to work, and should continue to support and assess an injured worker after their return.

Knowing you have been injured, your employer is also under an obligation to protect you from these injuries worsening. Reasonable measures could involve more frequent health checks, job adjustments, or simply additional PPE or ergonomic furniture.

If you have suffered PTSD or other psychological trauma as well as physical injury, your employer may need to take additional steps to manage the risk of further psychological harm. You may not wish to discuss your mental health with your employer, but any such discussions should be confidential, and your employer will be unable to take steps to protect you from further harm if they are unaware of your vulnerability.

If you are unable or reluctant to return to work full-time, another option is a phased return. A phased return involves a gradual return to work, and could mean:

  • Reduced hours
  • Shorter or fewer shifts
  • Fewer days a week
  • Working from home (for some or all days)

Depending on the nature of your work, a phased return might also involve a lighter workload, or performing different tasks at work.

If you believe your employer is not taking the appropriate steps to support your return to work, you should raise this with your manager or HR representative. You can also contact ACAS or Citizens Advice for more information.

Does it matter whether my accident happened at work?

Under the Equality Act, your employer owes you the same duty to make reasonable adjustments regardless of whether you were injured on the job, on the road, at home, or anywhere else.

Where the context of your accident could matter, however, may be circumstances like PTSD. Your employer should take reasonable steps to protect you from PTSD triggers associated with your accident. If, for example, you were injured on a night shift, or when using a specific piece of machinery, your employer could take steps to ensure you are not placed in the same circumstances as those of your accident, until you are ready.

A range of support options is available for workers struggling with PTSD. You should speak to your GP or health provider for more detailed information regarding the options available in your area.

So, how do I know when I am ready to return?

There is no simple formula for deciding when to come back to work after an injury or illness. The decision will rest on many factors, from the severity of your injuries and progress of your recovery, to the nature of your work and flexibility of your employer.

You should trust your own instincts, and respect the views of the medical professionals supporting your recovery. Keeping your employer in the loop will also give them the chance to make adjustments to your role, so you can return as soon as you are able to, without compromising your recovery.

Chris Salmon, Director

Chris Salmon, Director