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“Night Out” on a Work Trip: Court finds Employment Nexus Broken
The Federal Court of Australia rejected an employee’s compensation claim made after she hurt her hip when she slipped on wet tiles after a night of non work-related socialising during a work trip. The case is one of the latest to examine what is appropriate out of hours conduct in which an employee can engage.
The Appellant, Ms Dring, was staying at the Novotel Hotel in Melbourne for the purposes of attending a series of IT workshops conducted by the Respondent, Telstra. After the workshops, Ms Dring met with a colleague for dinner and drinks. Upon her return to the Novotel at around 2:30am, Ms Dring was in urgent need of a bathroom and visited the public restrooms located in the main foyer area of the Novotel. Ms Dring while making use of those facilities, allegedly slipped on the wet tiles hurting herself.
Ms Dring made an application under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (Cth) for compensation in respect of her injury. As she sustained her injury at the hotel at which she was staying for the purposes of work-related travel, she contended that it arose out of, or in the course of, her employment. Telstra rejected the application. Ms Dring applied to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, which confirmed that the injury did not arise out of, or in connection to her employment with Telstra.
“Arising out of, or in the course of, employment”
Ms Dring submitted that her injury arose because of a hazard that was present at the Novotel Hotel. Because that hotel was a place at which Telstra had encouraged or induced her to be for the purposes of accommodation whilst in Melbourne, she claimed that the injury arose out of, or in the course of, her employment.
Referring to the Full Court’s finding in Westrupp v Bis Industries Limited  FCAFC 173, the Judge said that, usually, an injury sustained because of a hazard at a place where a worker was encouraged to be is taken to be connected to the employee’s employment. However, it might be considered not to have happened in the course of employment if “… the employee’s own conduct might indicate a lack of connection with employment”.
The Judge continued, “the employee’s interaction with that hazard arose because of the time at which it materialised and the time at which she happened upon it; that is to say, at approximately 2:30 in the morning, after some eight-and-a-half hours of weeknight socialising”.
Therefore, it was held that by reason of the employee’s conduct, the circumstances within which she sustained her injury lacked a connection with her employment sufficient to constitute that injury as one that arose out of, or in the course of, her employment.
There have been numerous cases in employment law looking at out of hours conduct. This case provides a clear direction on what will be considered by the courts when deciding whether an injury is connected to an employee’s employment, or whether the employee’s social activities can break the employment nexus.