What happens if you can’t return to work after injury?

cant return to work after injury

If you are unable to return to work following an injury related to your employment, there’s two different scenarios that need to be considered.

1.  If you’re on WorkCover

2. If you’re not on WorkCover.

If you’re on WorkCover, you may be entitled to the following:

The insurer will pay you income replacement benefits.

That is, if your incapacity for work is due to the injury/condition relating to your employment – and for which you have an accepted claim.

You’re entitled to be paid at the rate of 95% of the average of your pre injury earnings for the first 13 weeks, and thereafter at 80% up until 130 weeks.

If you’re still not able to return to any work at this point (not just your old job, but ANY job), then you’re entitled to be paid income benefits after 130 weeks – into the future – at the rate of 80%.

You should be entitled to be covered for the cost of reasonable medical expenses.

This might be GP visits, medication, physio therapy treatment etc.

The WorkCover insurer may organise for you to be retrained to assist you to find alternative employment.

You’re may be able to pursue two lump sum claims under the WorkCover system.

In relation to the first, an impairment benefit claim, it doesn’t matter whether you’re working on not.

With the second claim, a common law claim for damages, the fact that you can’t return to work is highly relevant.

In order to succeed in this claim, you need to show that you have a serious injury.

The fact that you can’t return to work because of your injuries is relevant to this issue.

Also, one thing you may be able to be compensated for is economic loss.

That is, for the economic loss that you have suffered and will suffer – to retirement age – because of the injury and the fact that you can’t return to work.

This page explores the issue of economic loss in detail.

In relation to your employment, note:

If you can’t return to work, at some point your employer may seek to terminate your employment.

They have an obligation to offer you suitable duties for 52 weeks.

However, if after that point it becomes apparent that you’re not likely to be able to return to your pre injury role (and if this is supported by medical evidence) then they can terminate your employment.

You can read more about that here.

If you’re not on WorkCover, you have a few options open to you:

If can't return to work because of injury and you don't have WorkCover

  • Contact Centrelink and see if you are entitled to receive a benefit from them. You may be entitled to a disability pension or Newstart. Generally speaking, a disability pension is a greater amount, but you must satisfy certain criteria in order to be entitled to receive it.
  • You may be able to be entitled to income protection benefits through your superannuation. You can read more about income protection benefits here.
  • You may be entitled to a total and permanent disability payment (TPD) via your superannuation.


If you can’t return to work at all because of your injury, WorkCover can assist by paying you income replacement benefits and medical expenses.

In some instances, you can also be compensated for the financial loss that you will incur up until retirement age.

WorkCover may also offer you retraining to see if you can find a new job, and the employer may seek to terminate your employment after 52 weeks have passed.

If you do not have an accepted WorkCover claim, you still might be entitled to assistance.

You may be able to claim income protection or a TPD benefit via your superannuation, and you may be entitled to assistance from Centrelink.

Please keep in mind that the information contained on this page should not be considered legal advice and no content on this site should replace the need to obtain advice tailored to the specific facts of your case. The facts of a case can significantly alter the advice that can provided. This site only provides general advice. Read more here.

To contact Michael or Peter call 1800 746 442 or email [email protected].

Written by the Work Injury Site team