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Workplace injuries - Can you be liable for post-work activities?

Work-related injuries can be sustained not only while an employee is in the physical workplace. Employers may also find themselves liable for injuries incurred by their employees when they are travelling for work purposes, are on a rostered break or when they are undertaking or participating in activities as a direct result of performing their role, including social functions.

For an injury to be compensable under an Australian Workers Compensation scheme, it needs to have arisen out of, or in the course of, their employment. However, determining the extent to which an injury will be deemed to have arisen in the course of employment can be a challenge, particularly in situations where the injury in incurred away from the employee’s usual workplace.

The commonly accepted position taken by the Courts is that for an injury or illness to be considered work related and to be compensable, it needs to have been sustained:

  • during the course of the individual’s employment, and  
  • the circumstances in which the injury occurs must have a connection with the encouragement or inducement of the employer. 

The full Federal Court has recently upheld a finding that a female employee who, while away from home due to work-related activities, slipped and fell on wet tiles at her employer-arranged hotel did not have a compensable hip injury. Due to the injury having been sustained after the worker had returned to her hotel in the early hours of the morning following a night out socialising, it was determined that both the nature and the duration of the worker's personal activity broke the required connection with her employment.

The worker in question was attending an interstate multi-day workshop that had been organised by her employer in mid-2016. Given the interstate location of the workshop, the employer had booked the employee into a Melbourne based hotel for the duration of the trip. Following the completion of the workshop activities, the worker chose to go out to dinner with a colleague. The worker subsequently attended a cocktail bar before returning to her hotel at approximately 2:30am. Upon returning to her accommodation venue, the woman slipped on wet tiles in the hotel’s foyer which resulted in her falling and sustaining an injury to her hip.

After lodging an unsuccessful workers compensation claim, the worker appealed the decision in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The Tribunal upheld the rejection on the basis that although the injury had occurred in a place where her employer had encouraged her to be, the injury itself resulted from an activity she had personally elected to engage in and that her activities following the workshop were undertaken without her employer’s encouragement. The Tribunal further reinforced that in order for the injury to be deemed to have arisen out of, or in the course of her employment, there would need to have been a connection between her work and the activity engaged in at the time of the injury was incurred.  The worker again appealed the decision which was upheld by the Federal Court.

In appealing the decision, the worker contending that the Administrative Appeals Tribunal had made an error by placing too much emphasis on the requirement to demonstrate that injuries arose from activities induced by the employer. The full Federal Court carefully considered the facts of the case, including the fact that the injury had been incurred after the worker had spent approximately eight hours socialising post work-related activities. It was held that the worker’s argument that she only needed to prove her injury occurred at a place her employer required her to be, was not supported and that there did need to be a connection between both the course of her employment and what she was doing when she was injured. While it was noted by one of the judges hearing the matter that the facts and circumstances of this particular case were borderline, the Full Court found that the tribunal had not made any error in arriving at the conclusion it did, and that the correct statutory tests had been applied. The appeal was dismissed, and the worker was ordered to pay her employer’s costs.

While the claim for injury was unsuccessful in this instance, this case does highlight the need for employers to understand that an injury may be deemed to arise out of employment if it can be shown that there is a causal relationship between the injury and employment. For example, an injury may be held to have been incurred in the course of employment if it was sustained while the employee was engaged in an activity that was encouraged by their employer or had a direct connection to their employment. The injury needs to have occurred while the employee was undertaking work-related activities or activities incidental to their work. This coverage extends to include something the employee is reasonably required or expected to do in order to carry out their duties.

If you have any questions regarding workplace injuries, or if you require assistance or advice on any safety matter, please contact the team at Safety Advice Online at [email protected] or on 1300 720 004.

Information in HR Advice Online guides and blog posts is meant purely for educational discussion of human resources issues. It contains only general information about human resources matters and due to factors, such as government legislation changes, may not be up-to-date at the time of reading. It is not legal advice and should not be treated as such.

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