With the holiday season upon us, we take a look at some cases of festivities gone wrong, whether the injuries were sustained in the course of employment and what employers may like to think about when organising functions.

Activities and resultant injuries which are in the course of employment include:

  1. Stumbling off the edge of a portable dance floor at the employer’s Christmas party, held on the employer’s premises. It was held the average worker would consider attendance at the employer’s Christmas party to be “part of the job” and that there was an expectation the employees would attend.[1]
  2. An employee being assaulted by a guest of the employer at a Christmas party held at the employer’s property.[2]
  3. Playing touch football in an annual event attended by employees of different companies and different departments of the employer. The touch football game was held on a field sponsored by and named for the employer. [3]
  4. Participation by a Police Officer in the Police Games. The games enhanced the employer’s reputation as a responsible and caring employer and the employer encouraged participation, including adjusting the roster of the employee to ensure she could participate.[4]
  5. Injuries sustained by a nurse playing in a football match on hospital grounds, when the match was conducted to assist the well-being, care and treatment of patients who were encouraged to watch the match.
  6. Volunteering to assist with the preparation and conduct of a Christmas party at a nursing home for the residents and their families. The employee’s voluntary participation was authorised, expected and actively sought by the employer.[5]

Examples of activities and resultant injuries which are outside the course of employment are:

  1. Diving into shallow river waters whilst at the employer’s Christmas party. The employer was found not to have encouraged the employee to run and dive into the river.[6]
  2. Falling off a cruise vessel whilst on a harbour cruise organised by the employer’s social club. The cruise was organised by the social club and was not an employer ‘sponsored’ event (one which would be organised, coordinated, marketed and funded by the employer)[7]
  3. Falling on an escalator whilst shopping for cards for the social club whilst on a work break. The employee was found to be on a frolic of his own and had not been encouraged or induced by the employer to spend his break in a particular way. [8]

The question an employer needs to ask is whether, if an employee is injured, were they doing something that the employer encouraged or induced them to do.

Employers may want to consider:

  1. the risks associated with the planning and preparation for functions (including extra stress placed on already busy employees).
  2. limiting attendance at the function to guests who are obliged to follow the employer’s code of conduct.
  3. whether planned party games or physical activities could result in injury which could be attributed to the employer.
  4. undertaking risk assessments for functions where staff are attending virtually (by videolink) and:
  5. the employees are drinking alcohol at home where there is no responsible service of alcohol limitations,
  6. the employees are dancing or involved in party games where the ‘work(party)space’ has not been assessed for hazards.
  7. whether the online commentary should be moderated.
  8. ensuring food deliveries are made to employees attending virtually, just as an employer would ensure food is served with alcohol at an in-person function.
  9. confirming the address from where the employee is virtually attending and confirming and updating contact details for the employee’s emergency contacts.
  10. the activities of social clubs and how much influence and control the employer exercises over those activities.
  11. whether encouraging staff to participate in social activities (for example, office decorating) may result in injury through manual handling risks, trip hazards and the creation of other unsafe work environments.

Festive season activities should be fun for employers and employees alike. Some planning and risk assessment may also help make the aftermath of the season much more fun for everyone.

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If you need legal advice regarding your specific circumstances, regarding workplace injury law and employment law matters, please contact our Employment Lawyers on (07) 4637 6300.

[1] Wolmar v Travelodge Australia (1975) 26 FLR 249

[2] Fraser Coast Free Range Pty Ltd and Q-COMP (WC/2008/94)

[3] Van Haeften v Caltex Oil (Australia) Pty Ltd (1995) 12 NSWCCR 250

[4] Wyatt v NSW Police Department (1996( NWSCCR 429

[5] Shirley Joy Cooper and Q-COMP (C/2010/38)

[6] Campbell v Australian Leisure & Hospitality Group Pty Ltd & Anor [2015] ICQ 016

[7] Haider v JP Morgan Holdings v Aust Ltd Trading as JP Morgan operations Australia Ltd [2007] NSWCA 158

[8] Ronald Eagle v Simon Blackwood (Workers’ Compensation Regulator) [2014] QIRC 020