A worker who injured herself when she went for a run whilst working from home has had her application for workers compensation dismissed, but only on the basis that the injury did not occur during an ‘ordinary recess’.

Background

In Demasi v Comcare (Compensation) [2016] AATA 644 (26 August 2016), the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) heard that the applicant took a break from her work at 9.45am (on a day when she was working from home) and went for a run.  She tripped on an uneven surface and landed awkwardly, breaking her right hip.  The applicant claimed compensation on the basis that the injury she suffered arose out of or in the course of her employment.  Comcare denied liability.

In the review application, the AAT heard that the applicant ‘often’ worked from home – estimated at approximately 30 per cent of her total work time.

On the day of the injury, the applicant began work at 7:30am and decided to take an early break in order to go for a run.  The injury occurred 30 minutes into the run.  There was evidence from the applicant’s manager that she was aware that the applicant would regularly run during her recess breaks.

The decision

In considering the relevant provisions of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (Cth) (SRC Act), the AAT had to determine whether:

  1. on the day of her injury, the applicant’s ‘place of work’ was her home; and
  2. while she was out running, was she ‘temporarily absent’ from that place of work ‘during an ordinary recess in [her] employment’?

In relation to the first issue, the AAT considered the definition of ‘place of work’ in section 4 of the SRC Act, noting that it had some indirect relevance because it clarified that an employee’s ‘place of work’ is not restricted to a fixed physical location where an employer carries on business in the traditional sense.  The AAT commented that “[m]any employees in the modern workforce do not carry out their duties in one single, fixed location’ and work from home arrangements are ‘the realities of the workforce in 21st century Australia“.

The AAT accepted that the applicant had an approved practice of working from home and that she had been carrying out work duties at her home before leaving to go for her run.  On that basis, the applicant’s home was her ‘place of work’ for the purposes of the SRC Act.

In relation to whether the applicant was injured ‘during an ordinary recess’, the AAT found that “going for a run during one’s lunch break is doing something ‘during an ordinary recess’ in one’s employment. But taking a break for the specific purpose of going for a run, at any random time of the day, is in a different category“.  The AAT found that going for her run at 9:30am was not ‘during an ordinary recess’.  Her workers compensation claim was dismissed accordingly.

Implications

Flexible work hours and work from arrangements are becoming increasingly common.  This decision reinforces that an employee’s workplace will generally include their home when working under an agreed work from home arrangement.

Although regard should be had to the applicable workers compensation legislation, the decision also demonstrates the potential breadth of activities that may give rise to a claim, given that the result would most likely have been different if the applicant had chosen to go for run at lunchtime.

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