The boundary between work life and private life is becoming less clear. In last month's Workplace View, we reported on a FIFO worker who successfully claimed workers' compensation for an injury he sustained while sleeping in employer-provided accommodation. This month, the Federal Court has upheld a workers' compensation claim by a Commonwealth worker whose 'private activities' with a 'male friend' in a motel room caused a glass light fitting above the bed to fall and strike her on the nose and mouth leaving her with physical and psychological injuries.
The Federal Court's decision turned on the meaning of 'private'. At first instance, Comcare and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal found that the act in question was a 'private activity' which interrupted the overall period or episode of work that would otherwise be compensable. The Federal Court disagreed and set aside the AAT decision, finding that the worker had been injured in the course of her employment.
Justice Nicholas said that many activities (such as showering) that an employee might be expected to engage in during a stay in a motel room are private and – provided there was no misconduct or an intentionally self-inflicted injury – what counted was whether there was a 'relevant connection or nexus' between the worker's injury and her employment.
In this case there was such a nexus – the motel room was one in which the employer had induced or encouraged the worker to stay. In that event, there was therefore no reason for the employer to distinguish between an injury sustained while engaging in sexual activity and one that was caused by, say, a game of cards played in the motel room.