07 July 2020
In the recent decision of Dring v Telstra Corporation Limited  FCA 699 (Dring v Telstra), the Federal Court rejected a Telstra employee’s compensation claim for injuries sustained by slipping on wet tiles after a night out during a work trip.
The Court ruled that the fall did not occur “in the course of employment”, despite the fact that the employee slipped due to a hazard peculiar to the accommodation in which her employer had induced her to stay. This decision highlights that the Court will take into account all of the circumstances surrounding an injury, including the place where the injury occurred and the activity being undertaken.
At 2:30am on 14 April 2016, Ms Dring slipped and fell in the foyer bathroom of the Novotel on Collins Street, Melbourne, suffering a contusion to her left hip. Telstra had arranged for the Brisbane-based Project Manager to stay at the hotel and to attend several days of IT workshops. After a day of workshops, Ms Dring met with a colleague at the hotel where they enjoyed a bottle of champagne. They later dined at Lucy Liu sharing a bottle of wine, followed by drinks at a cocktail bar. Upon returning to the hotel lobby, Ms Dring found herself in urgent need of the bathroom, and on entering the amenities, she slipped on the recently mopped floor.
Snaden J found that the circumstances of her personal activities lacked a sufficient connection to her employment for Telstra to be liable for her injuries.
In reaching this decision, Snaden J considered whether over eight hours of socialising broke the connection between Ms Dring’s injury and her employment.
Citing Dixon J’s decision in Humphrey Earl Limited v Speechley (1951) 84 CLR 126, Snaden J confirmed that for an occurrence to be deemed “in the course of employment...it should be reasonably connected with the particular situation which the performance of [one’s] duty to [one’s] employment had created.”
In determining whether there was a sufficient connection, Snaden J considered the principle in Hatzimanolis v ANI Corp Ltd (1992) 173 CLR 473 where the majority of the High Court found there to be two steps to qualifying an injury as having arisen in the course of employment, but not whilst engaged in actual work:
Justice Snaden considered the majority’s reasoning and conclusion in Comcare v PVYW (2013) 250 CLR 246, noting that:
“…for an injury occurring in an interval in a period of work to be in the course of employment, the circumstance in which an employee is injured must be connected to the inducement or encouragement of the employer. An inducement or encouragement to be at a particular place does not provide the necessary connection to employment merely because an employee is injured whilst engaged in an activity at that place.”
On this basis, Snaden J considered the circumstances in which Ms Dring’s injury came about. His Honour found that the Court could not “ignore the proverbial elephant in the room” – namely that the injury occurred after 8.5 hours of weeknight socialising, prior to being required to attend work later that morning and at a time when her employer would have expected her to be securely in her hotel room, which had a serviceable bathroom which she could have used, placing her at no risk of falling on a recently cleaned floor.
The Court found that the Tribunal was correct in finding that Ms Dring’s injuries were a result of the activities in which she had been engaged, and that her injuries did not occur merely by reference to a place.
His Honour noted that “If Ms Dring had slipped over after returning to her hotel room at 10:30pm instead of 2:30am, for example, it might well be that a different outcome would have been warranted. Had she returned at 7:30am, the conclusion might have been clearer.”
Key lessons for both employers and employees
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