As we head into the festive season, it’s a time to celebrate the year that was with our colleagues at end-of-year parties – but it’s also important to ensure we do so safely.
The ‘silly season’ is not an excuse for workers or employers to disregard normal safe work practices or acceptable behaviour, including the responsible service of alcohol.
Here are some tips on celebrating safely and managing health and safety risks at work Christmas parties this festive season.
Can an injury at a work party be covered by WorkCover? It depends.
In recent years, several injuries, including deaths, have occurred at work-related Christmas parties in Queensland.
Whether an injury is considered work-related and may be eligible for workers’ compensation under Queensland law depends on the specific circumstances of each injury.
However, a key question in this context is whether or not the worker was encouraged or induced to attend a work function outside of work. Some recent cases shed light on this important question.
In 2008, the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission confirmed the acceptance of a claim from a worker who was injured at a Christmas party when she was assaulted by one of her employer’s guests.
The Christmas party was held on the employer’s property and the employer supplied alcohol. Attendance was not compulsory, but employees were encouraged to attend.
The evidence suggested the worker was intoxicated at the time of the assault, but it was noted that other employees and the employer were consuming alcohol, and the alcohol was supplied by the employer.
Consuming alcohol did not take the worker outside of the course of employment.
There was some dispute as to whether the worker intervened in a dispute amongst guests against the advice of her employer, leading to the assault, or whether she was attacked without provocation.
The Commissioner accepted the latter explanation. If the worker had involved herself in an argument against her employer’s wishes the result may have been different.
In 2019, the Industrial Relations Commission confirmed the acceptance of a claim from a worker for a psychological injury caused by sexual harassment from a colleague at the social club Christmas party in 2015.
This party was organised by the workplace social club and funded by party attendees. It was an agreed fact that the harassment occurred at the party. The Judge was satisfied based on the medical evidence that the worker suffered a psychological injury due to that event.
The question then was whether the worker had been encouraged or induced to attend the party. The Judge considered evidence on this point and concluded that, on the balance of probabilities, the worker had felt encouraged to attend as her supervisor expressed that it would boost morale.
The Judge also noted that the employer’s practice of arranging for rostered coverage by another branch for the night of the party to allow employees to attend, was another form of encouragement.
The injury was found to be in the course of employment.
This case involved the unfortunate death of a worker from injuries sustained when she dived into shallow water while attending a work Christmas party.
The manager of the relevant employer branch wanted to hold a party to boost morale. Evidence suggested the deceased worker felt it was her duty to attend work functions. The function was at a venue near the Noosa River.
The Judge highlighted that inducement or encouragement to be at a particular place does not provide the necessary connection to employment merely because an employee is injured while engaged in an activity at that place.
The Judge found on the evidence the deceased worker had not been encouraged or induced to dive into the river. The question was then whether the worker had engaged in what the Judge described as “a frolic of [her] own”. The application for compensation was denied.