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Clarity for employers on social work functions

ALH v Simon Blackwood (the Regulator) [2014] QIRC 105

Brisbane Deputy President O'Connor

13 June 2014

The recent decision from the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (the Commission) provides further clarity for employers in determining applications for compensation for injuries sustained at social work functions.

Background

The deceased died as a result of head and neck injuries sustained after diving into the Noosa River while attending a Christmas function organised by her work social club.

The deceased's husband applied for workers' compensation benefits as a dependent under the Workers' Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003.

The claim for compensation was initially rejected by the employer's self insurer.  That decision was subsequently overturned by the Regulator on review.

The employer appealed the Regulator's decision to the Commission on the basis the deceased's injury did not arise out of, or in the course of, her employment.

Liability

The Commission had to determine whether employment was a significant contributing factor to the worker's death.

This is one of the first decisions in Queensland to consider and apply the High Court's decision in Comcare v PVYW (injury while having sex in a motel room while away for work).

The Commission found that upon applying PVYW the relevant "activity" to be considered was diving into the Noosa River – not the Christmas function itself.

The Commission found that the employer did not "induce or encourage" the worker to dive into the river.

The Commission accepted the submission that it was the behaviour of the deceased worker that caused her death – not her employment. The Commission accepted the submission the deceased worker was on a "frolic of her own". The Commission used the words of the High Court in PVYW:

"...the employee makes a wholly private choice to engage in an activity which falls outside the ambit of the employer's requirement that the employee be away from the "usual" place of work. Such choices will carry their own benefits, risks and consequences which the employer is not required to be an insurer against."
Judgement

The decision of the self insurer was restored.