Court overturns decision which left employer liable for injury sustained at party

The New South Wales Court of Appeal has overturned a decision by the Workers Compensation Commission which found photography studio Pioneer Studios liable for an injury an employee sustained at a party at its premises.

Kathryn Hills received a serious head and brain injury when she fell over a balustrade while attending a party at Pioneer’s studio in the early hours of the morning.

The party was hosted by an employee of Pioneer and two of his flatmates to celebrate the employee leaving and the three flatmates’ birthdays

Hills claimed her injury arose out of her employment with Pioneer because the party was a work function which she attended because she thought it was important for her to meet clients, make a good impression and join in with the team.

However, Pioneer said the party was a farewell function that it played no part in organising.

While the Workers Compensation Commission initially found in Hills’ favour and characterised the party as “a work function”, the New South Wales Court of Appeal overturned the decision on appeal and found the party was not part of Hills’ employment and so she was disentitled from receiving statutory compensation.

Mary Karekos, partner at Turks Law, told SmartCompany the case made it plain that an injury will only be a compensable workplace injury where a person is injured outside of working hours when the event was sanctioned or condoned by the business, the employees enjoyed an expectation that they should attend and the event bore the hallmarks of a work-related function.

“It’s a good decision for employers because it narrows the scope of liability considerably,” Karekos says.

“But employers should be aware that there are still circumstances when a worker attending a social function will be found to be in the course of employment depending on the degree of control and sponsorship the employer has over an event.”

 

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