In an amusing workers’ compensation case profiled on Bloomberg.com, employers in Australia should now breathe a little easier about the possibility of being held liable for the personal hi-jinks of employees. The ruling from the High Court of Australia overturned a federal appeals court decision that said a government employee was entitled to financial compensation after suffering a sex-related injury on a work-related trip. Obviously, engaging in sexual activity was not part of the woman’s job description nor was it part of her official itinerary. Instead, reports reveal that the woman was on a work-related trip to a small town in New South Wales where she was supposed to meet local staff and conduct a budget review. After a hard day’s work, the woman contacted a male friend who lived in town and decided to meet up for dinner.
The workers’ compensation claim says that dinner turned into drinks and drinks turned into a trip to the woman’s hotel where the duo decided to engage in some consensual adult activities. During their escapades, the woman reported being hit in the head by a light fixture that had come loose from the wall nearest the hotel bed. The blow to the head was serious enough to necessitate a trip to the hospital. The woman says that the light hit her hard enough in the face to cause nose, mouth and even psychological damage.
After receiving treatment, the woman had to take time off work to fully recuperate and chose to file suit asking for compensation for her lost wages and medical expenses. As hard as it might be to believe, a lower court actually ruled in her favor, ordering Comcare, the Australian workers’ safety agency, to pay up. Specifically, the court decided that because the injury occurred at the woman’s hotel where she was staying for work purposes and because the funny business took place during a “work interlude,” she was entitled to financial compensation for her injuries.
The Australian High Court would hear none of it, however, and overturned the woman’s award. The Court held that the case amounts to an instance where an injured employee is trying to abuse the already generous Australian workers’ compensation system. The Court’s majority decided that the circumstances in which the woman was injured were not connected to any encouragement by the employer and thus the matter ought not qualify as a workers’ comp matter. Though many have expressed their opinion about the case, perhaps Australia’s Minister for Employment said it best when describing the ruling as a major “victory for common sense.”