Friday, 23 September 2016

Just Desserts: Is an injury sustained by an employee at a networking function a work-related injury?

Employers have an overarching duty to ensure their workers’ safety. It is often overlooked that even when an employee is away from the workplace, they may still be acting in the course of their employment – this includes, but is not limited to, social and sporting events hosted either by the employer or clients. If an employee suffers an injury during a networking event it may attract liability for workers’ compensation.

Moretta v Return to Work SA (Bendigo & Adelaide Bank Limited) [2016] SAET 53

On 25 April 2015, an asset manager at Bendigo & Adelaide Bank, Mr Moretta, attended a networking social event at the invitation of their client, insolvency firm Clifton Hill. Mr Moretta slipped while walking away from the dessert table and sustained injuries to his knee, groin and back. He claimed that because networking was part of his job description, attending the event was in the course of employment. His employer denied liability and stated that there were no instructions or expectations for Mr Moretta to attend the event.

Ultimately, Mr Moretta’s claim for workers’ compensation was denied by the South Australian Employment Tribunal. While it was accepted that the manager’s attendance at a networking event would usually have been in the course of his employment, the Deputy President stated that given the “longstanding and effective relationship” between the two companies, further networking was unnecessary and, as such, Mr Moretta was unable to claim that he was there on business, as there was nothing further to be accomplished.

This case highlights how fine the line can be between an injury sustained during a worker’s personal time and a workplace injury that attracts workers’ compensation liability. Despite attending the event with his wife, entirely of his own volition, without his employer’s instruction and immediately prior to watching a football game, the deciding factor was the constructive effectiveness of Mr Moretta’s attendance.

Lessons for Employers

The extent of an employer’s obligations and liability with respect to workplace injury is not clear cut and can be far-reaching. While in this case the injuries were not work-related and therefore non-compensable, the Tribunal Deputy President considered that social and sporting events could form part of a worker’s employment if they were work-related or attended at the direction of an employer.

Importantly, employers have an obligation to provide a safe work environment for employees which can include locations other than the employees’ primary place of work. Employers should be aware that employees can be injured during activities that fall outside of their explicit contractual obligations that still attract entitlement to compensate.

HR Legal works with employers in managing the legal risks involved in work related and non-work related injury claims and workplace health and safety. Please contact us if you require assistance.


This article was produced by HR Legal. It is intended to provide general information only in summary format on legal issues. It does not constitute legal advice, and should not be relied on as such.

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