It’s that time of year – Christmas party season! And whilst workplace Christmas parties are a great opportunity to bond with colleagues and have some fun after working hard all year, what should you do in the (unlikely but possible) event that things go wrong?
First things first. Does an injury at a workplace Christmas party constitute a workplace injury? Generally, the answer is yes. The Workers Compensation Act defines an injury as a “personal injury arising out of or in the course of employment”. If your employer invited you, booked a venue, paid for your meals and entertainment, and/or generally induced or encouraged you to take time away from the office to attend the party, it would be highly likely you would meet this test.
To be paid compensation for a workplace injury at your Christmas party, you would also need to show, as per the Workers Compensation Act, that your employment “was a substantial contributing factor to the injury.” When determining whether the injury was a substantial contributing factor, various matters can be taken into account. For example, consider the time and place of the injury – if you sustain an injury at the Christmas party held at 5 pm in the office boardroom, it is more likely your employment will be considered a substantial contributing factor than if you sustain an injury at the Christmas party at a second venue at 1:00 am, long after the official Christmas party had ended. Also consider, if you trip and fall at a Christmas party, injuring your knee. Your employment may not be considered a substantial contributing factor to your injury if you had also injured your knee the day before at the gym.
It is important to note – workplace injuries can include more than just physical injuries, and bullying and harassment behaviours that cause psychological injuries are unfortunately common at workplace social events such as Christmas parties.
When considering the issue of workplace injuries at Christmas parties, it is always helpful to consider matters that the Personal Injury Commission has determined in the past.
In the 2014 decision of Collins v Signature Blend Pty Ltd, a worker was attending some post-Christmas party lunch celebrations at his own home, with a handful of other staff. He fell from a balcony 25 metres above the ground, sustaining significant injuries. However, the evidence revealed the worker was under the influence of alcohol and drugs, which amounted to gross misconduct. The Commission held that the worker’s injuries were not sustained in the course of his employment, as the post-Christmas party event took on the characteristics of a private party. It was also held the worker’s employment was not a substantial contributing factor to his injuries as he was not induced or encouraged to engage in the dangerous behaviour he participated in.
Conversely, in the 2018 decision of McCoy v State Super Financial Services Australia Limited, a worker sustained a severe injury to her right ankle when she tripped and fell on her way to attend a workplace Christmas party commencing at 6:00 pm. The specific circumstances of this case included that the worker was tired after a full day of work which ended at 5:00 pm and rushing to the Christmas party that her employer had advised all staff was to be regarded as a “work function”. In this case, the Commission found that the worker was entitled to compensation as she had sustained a journey injury whilst on her way from her abode (her hotel), to her employment (the Christmas party venue) and there was a “real and substantial connection” between her employment and her fall, given she was rushing to attend the Christmas party her employer had encouraged her to attend.
Have fun, but also take care during the Christmas party season. Workplace injuries can and do occur at Christmas parties, but depending on the circumstances, the Workers’ Compensation scheme can entitle you to compensation for those injuries. If the worst happens to you and you need some advice about whether you can make a claim, please call us at Bourke Legal.