- An employee on a business trip to Cambodia suffered a heart attack and died in his hotel room. His estate claimed compensation under the Work Injury Compensation Act but the claim was rejected by the Commissioner for Labour on the basis that his death did not occur in the course of employment.
- The High Court overturned the Commissioner’s decision and held that compensation was payable as the employee’s presence in Cambodia at the time of death was necessarily incidental to his employment notwithstanding that the employee may not have been working at the relevant time.
Section 3 of the Work Injury Compensation Act, (the Act) provides that "(i)f in any employment personal injury by accident arising out of and in the course of the employment is caused to an employee, his employer shall be liable to pay compensation in accordance with the provision of this Act".
In the case of Pang Chew Kin v Wartsila Singapore Pte Ltd  SGHC 194, an employee died from a heart attack in a Cambodian hotel room during a business trip. The Commissioner for Labour assessed that no compensation was payable because death was not caused by an accident arising out of or in the course of employment.
High Court decision
On appeal, Justice Tay Yong Kwang, considered the meaning of the words ‘accident’ and ‘in the course of the employment for the purposes of s.3 (1) of the Act. It was held that an ‘accident’ meant ‘an unfortunate incident that happened unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury.’ This could include something which happens as a result of a person’s ‘internal medical condition’.
The High Court also held that determining whether an injury was sustained in the ‘course of employment’ is a highly factual inquiry and not one which could be determined by a precise legal test. For example, a person who goes bungee jumping and suffers an injury whilst on a business trip could be said to have gone on a ‘frolic on his own’. However, if that person goes bungee jumping with a client for ‘relationship building’ purposes it could be argued that the injury suffered was in the course of employment.
In Wartsila, the Court held that that the employee’s death was caused by an accident during the course of employment and compensation was due. The trip was work-related and although the employee may not have been working when he died, the fact that he was in the hotel room at that time was necessarily incidental to his work.
Implications for employers
The High Court’s decision makes it clear that what occurs ‘in the course of employment’ can cover incidents outside of the actual workplace and/or normal business hours. Employers should check their employment policies, as well as insurance cover, to ensure that they have adequate protection against these liabilities which can occur outside of the workplace.
Joseph Liow, Director, Straits Law Practice LLP