What happens when employees have too much fun at a Work Christmas Party?
Recently a friend told me a story and to be frank, I was shocked when I first heard it. She had explained to me that she was at Friday night work drinks and things had gotten out of hand. One of her co-workers had been severely injured. I will spare you the details, but my legal brain went into overdrive and all I could really think of the end of year work christmas party and the following question:
Is her boss liable for her co-worker’s injury, even though it wasn’t during work hours?
Let me set out a scenario for you. You are at a work Christmas Party. You are so excited that it is the end of the year, and your employer and co-workers are keen to let off some steam. After all, you’ve earned it, right? The Christmas Party is held at the local Tavern. You all have a meal together and your employer even allows alcoholic drinks to be served consisting of beer, wines and spirits.
It reaches 12:30am and the staff at the Tavern are advising you and your co-workers that they are closing. However, you don’t necessarily want the party to stop so your boss offers everyone to come back to his house. Luckily, his house is big enough to host all his employees and even backs onto a golf course.
It reaches 3:00am and one of your co-workers said they had never seen a kangaroo. You think, you live in Australia, how is that possible. Your employer’s wife (who is also probably thinking the same thing) was part of this conversation. Someone suggested that they should hop on a golf cart owned by your boss to see if they can find some kangaroos. You know that the golf cart can really only hold two people, however, it’s late and you really don’t care at this point, three of your other co-workers jump on including your boss.
A few minutes later you fall off the golf cart. You feel a tremendous amount of pain in your head and think this can’t be good. You find out later that you have sustained a “traumatic brain injury”. What do you do now? Are you able to sue your employer for injuries sustained after the work christmas party?
Hattenfels v Richards Panel Pty Ltd
The Court had to consider whether the injury, which occured at a christmas party, arose in the course of employment pursuant to s 4 of the Workers Compensation Act 1987?
The Judge held that the injury sustained by the employee was a workplace injury. In reaching this conclusion the Judge held at paragraph :
I accept that the continuation of the social activities at the respondents (employers) premises was seamless. To my mind there appears to be no interruption or deviation from the intended beneficial purpose to the employer of allowing a Christmas celebration to facilitate a harmonious working group.
In making this conclusion, the Judge considered the following factors:
- The social event was exclusively held for his employees;
- After the events at the Tavern had finished, the Employer organised a Taxi from the Tavern to their premises;
- After all the employees arrived at the employer’s residence, further drinks were provided to the employees and music was played (encouraging them to be there); and
- No one was asked to leave the premises.
There can be a lot of lessons learned in this case. Your obligations as an employer will continue even outside of work hours. If it can be established that there is a sufficient nexus between the social event and the employment, your liability as an employer towards the health and safety of your employees will continue and you may be liable for any personal injury sustained by your employee.
It is important to establish a staff code of conduct and have clear guidelines between social events and work. These factors will assist in mitigating an employer’s liability towards an employees injury outside of work hours.
Injured in a work related activity?
If you are an employer who finds themselves in this situation, do not hesitate to contact our personal injury team on 07 3252 0011. Furthermore, if you need advice on managing workplace risks and liabilities, we are able to assist.
This article was written by Francisca Mayer.