Was party at employer's premises a work function?

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Was party at employer's premises a work function?

The NSW Court of Appeal has confirmed that a party at an employer’s premises where a worker was injured did not become a work function simply because the worker believed it was. As it was a private party, the worker was not entitled to workers compensation.

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The NSW Court of Appeal has confirmed that a party at an employer’s premises where a worker was injured did not become a work function simply because the worker believed it was. As it was a private party, the worker was not entitled to workers compensation.

[Full text of this case: Pioneer Studios Pty Ltd v H [2015] NSWCA 222 (4 August 2015)]

Encouraged to attend


The director of a company which hired out photographic equipment gave permission for a former employee to hold a party at the company’s studios in March 2004. It was to be a farewell party because he was leaving, and was also a birthday party for him and two of his friends.

According to the director, the company had no involvement in the organisation of the party. However, the director asked a recently employed photographer if she was going to attend. The photographer’s supervisor said it would be a nice idea for her to go to meet the other employees and some of the clients who hired their equipment. The photographer understood these suggestions to be requests that she attend because the party was a work function, so she did.

On the night of the party, the photographer sustained significant injuries to her head and shoulder when she fell over a balustrade in the stairwell of the studio onto the landing below. After lengthy treatment and rehabilitation, she lodged a claim for workers compensation according to the Workplace Compensation Act 1987 (NSW) and in August 2010 filed an application to resolve a dispute in the Workers Compensation Commission of NSW.

Workers Compensation Commission twice supported claim


The photographer’s claim was rejected by a senior arbitrator in January 2011. An appeal to the Workers Compensation Commission was initially successful, but the decision was set aside by the Court of Appeal in September 2012.

The appellate court explained there had been no finding the injury had arisen in the course of employment. The assumption that this had been so had been based on the photographer’s understanding she had been expected to attend the party for work reasons, although the facts indicated that had not been the case. This reliance on the subjective belief of the photographer was the reason the court rejected the appeal.

It said: “The fact that the [photographer] was encouraged, or even induced, to attend the party was not sufficient to render it part of her employment”.

Orders were made by the Court of Appeal remitting the matter to the Workers Compensation Commission and in July 2014, a deputy president upheld the photographer’s appeal from the senior arbitrator’s decision in 2011, despite the initial ruling of the court of Appeal..

Employer’s appeal upheld in Court of Appeal


The employer, in turn, then appealed against the 2014 decision on a point of law. In the NSW Court of Appeal, Basten JA explained that whether an injury has occurred in the course of employment “depends on an objective characterisation of the employer’s requirements and expectations… It is not sufficient that this particular employee held a particular view which, on the evidence, was not shared either by the director of the company, by her immediate supervisor, nor by the only other employee who provided a statement. The contrary view adopted by the deputy president revealed an incorrect approach to the legal standard or criterion to be applied”.

The majority view of the Court of Appeal at the 2015 hearing was that the decision to allow the photographer to recover compensation could not stand. Basten JA concluded that “applying the correct standard or criterion, properly understood, it was not reasonably open to the deputy president, on the evidence available to him, to uphold the appeal … the decision reached by the senior arbitrator (who heard the oral evidence) should have been upheld”.

The court allowed the employer’s appeal and set aside the orders made by the deputy president on 10 July 2014. In their place, it dismissed the appeal from the decision of the senior arbitrator of 13 January 2011.

The bottom line: For a workers compensation claim to succeed, the injury must be work-related. Sometimes the line is difficult to draw and litigation can ensue.

Pioneer Studios Pty Ltd v H [2015] NSWCA 222 (4 August 2015) 

See also: Xmas parties — some of the thornier issues 

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