Injured while working from home: Who pays?
There’s no denying that workplace flexibility is on the rise, with almost half of Australia’s workforce using the internet to work from home or outside the office.
Many businesses are embracing this workforce flexibility on the heels of corporate giants like Google but what happens when an employee working outside the office is injured?
The recent New South Wales Administrative Appeals Tribunal decision in Demasi and Comcare (Compensation)  AATA 644 has shed some interesting light on the issue.
Demasi and Comcare
Demasi was a producer and presenter for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)’s show Catalyst, who worked from both the ABC office, set locations and from her home.
One day, while working from home, Demasi decided to take a break and go for a run. During the run she fell and broke her hip. She argued that her injury was sustained “out of or in the course of her employment” with the ABC and that she was entitled to compensation.
Her claim was denied in the first instance and this decision was later appealed to the New South Wales Administrative Appeals Tribunal for review.
What were the key issues?
This case centered around the application of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (Cth) which provides for compensation to be accessed in circumstances where an injury arises out of or in the course of an employee’s employment, so long as the injury occurs while the employee:
- was at the employee's place of work for the purposes of that employment; or
- was temporarily absent from that place during an ordinary recess in that employment.
Demasi argued that her place of employment on the day of her injury was her home and her injury was sustained while she was temporarily absent from that place of work during an ordinary recess in her employment.
The Tribunal agreed that Demasi’s home was indeed her “place of work” on the day of the injury on the grounds that:
- Demasi was allowed to work from home and her manager knew she was working from home that day;
- the main ABC office was not her only place of work; and
- on the day of the injury, Demasi was carrying out work duties at her home before going on her run.
The Tribunal didn’t, however, agree that going for a run at a random time of day (around 9:30 am to be precise) constituted being absent during an "ordinary recess" in her employment.
The Tribunal suggested that, had the run taken place during a regular lunch break, maybe a different outcome would have arisen as a lunch break is more in line with the general understanding of what an “ordinary recess” during employment is.
The appeal was subsequently rejected.
So what now?
The decision is important as it clarifies that, while an employee's home may be deemed to be their "place of work", they will not necessarily be entitled to compensation for injuries arising from private activities they engage in while working flexibly from home.
It is an interesting start to what we anticipate will be an area of law that will see much development during this evolution into the digital, flexible and remote workplace model.
If you would like to know more about this topic, please do not hesitate to get in touch with our Workplace team.