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Is an employer liable for an employee injury at after-work drinks?

Does the employer have liability for injury or accident?
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Is an employer liable for an employee injury at after-work drinks?

Is an employer liable for an employee injury at after-work drinks?

7 May 2021

Often an official work function finishes and employees continue on with the night with or without management. In that scenario, does the employer have liability for injury or accident if this occurs after the official function has ended?

This will depend on whether it could be argued if there is an employment link between the after-function drinks and any potential injury to employees.

If the employee can show a causal connection between work and the injury, they may be eligible for worker’s compensation. In these circumstances, compensation entitlement may be decided on whether the actions of the employer prior to the event were sufficient enough to meet their duty of care requirements.

The detailed facts would need to be considered and the attachment of liability would vary with the particular facts. For example, if the employer failed to act when the risk was perceived, there may be a reason to argue that the employer is liable.

It is recommended employers have a drug and alcohol and code of conduct policies in place that make the company’s expectations clear on intoxication and safe behaviour.

Case examples

In this recent case of Dring v Telstra Corporation Ltd [2021] FCAFC 50 (9 April 2021), a woman who was away from home due to work-related activities slipped and fell on wet tiles at her hotel, injuring her hip. The injury was found not to be compensable because it occurred after a night out socialising. The full Federal Court upheld this finding, because the extent and the duration of the worker's personal activity broke the connection with her employment.

In another case of White v Institution of Surveyors Australia Incorporated [2004] ACTSC 61 (21 July 2004), an employee who decided to go to another venue with friends after attending a company-organised dinner failed in her attempt to win workers compensation for an injury suffered at the other venue. The ACT Supreme Court acknowledged that the work dinner was an extension of work and if the accident had occurred there the employee would have been entitled to workers compensation.

However, the worker had declined a lift home from the CEO and chose to continue to another venue for drinks. This decision broke the continuity with work and so the injury was not work-related. The worker’s second argument was that her injury was caused while travelling home from work. This was also rejected.

To be compensable, an injury needs to be connected not only with the place where the injury happened but also with the activity a worker was engaged in when the injury occurred.

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