Employers warned about liability risks after Queensland McDonald’s worker wins compo case


A McDonald's Big Mac. Source: AAP/Richard B Levine.

A recent workers compensation case in Queensland could have far-reaching consequences for employers in the sunshine state. 

Last week the Industrial Court of Queensland ruled in favour of a McDonald’s worker who broke her leg falling down a ladder 10 minutes before her shift began, overturning an earlier WorkCover decision that she was ineligible for compensation because the injury did not arise during employment.

The judge ruled that because McDonald’s required the worker to attend 10 minutes before her official shift commenced, the time in which she broke her leg is considered an “ordinary recess”, entitling her to compensation.

“Although none of the employees at the restaurant would serve a customer, or cook food, or lift a mop from the time they arrived until their shift commenced they had, in my view, commenced work,” Justice Glenn Martin said.

“Their presence at the place of employment at a fixed time before their shift commenced meant that the people they were replacing could leave in a timely way at the end of their shift and there would be no disruption to the efficient conduct of the enterprise.

In this case, the definition of “ordinary recess” was important because it established the basis for the judge’s finding that the injury occurred during their employment at McDonald’s.

The McDonald’s worker, who was smoking on the roof of the restaurant before falling down the ladder on the way back, was deemed to have met the requirements for a recess.

Bruce Simmonds, litigation director with Parker Simmonds Solicitors & Lawyers, says the decision could create a precedent which would leave other employers liable for injuries before or after official shifts start if workers are required to be in the workplace.

“Ban smoking altogether in the workplace and make space available somewhere for employers to wait prior to the start of their shift,” Simmonds tells SmartCompany.

Simmonds says an employer that asks a worker to show up five minutes after their shift or stay five minutes afterwards could still be liable in a compensation claim in the event of an injury.

Shane Koelmeyer, managing director at Workplace Law, says because workers compensation legislation is different for each state, the decision will primarily affect businesses with employees in Queensland.

However, businesses with employees in multiple states should keep in mind that what constitutes a fair-compensation claim in one part of the country may not in another and vice versa.

“You might have a product manager in NSW, Queensland and WA, all three of them do the same job, but all three will have different workers compensation,” Koelmeyer tells SmartCompany.

Similar cases have come before the courts in other states though, Koelmeyer explains.

In one NSW case last year, a skydiving instructor was compensated after injuring himself working on his day off, despite his employer not requiring him to be at work.

Koelmeyer says that, in general, if an employer requires a worker to show up before their shift starts, they are likely to be liable for workers compensation.

“If you required them to be at a certain place at a certain time, chances are you will be liable,” he says.

“Employers need to be very clear to staff when it’s work and when it’s not work.”

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