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Monkey business part of doing business?

Australian woman’s successful claim after being hurt while having sex on business trip blurs lines of work and pleasure for travelling employees

By Jeffrey R. Smith

Last year, in a discussion about workers’ compensation, I mentioned a case in Australia where a woman filed a claim for an injury she suffered while having sex in a company-supplied motel room while on a business trip.

A final decision in the case has come down, and it warrants revisiting the issue.

To refresh some of the details, the woman was on the road visiting another office of the employer and spent the night in a motel that was selected and paid for by the employer. She met up with a friend and, while they were having sex in the motel room’s bed, a light came loose and fell on her, injuring her face and head. She filed a claim for compensation for physical and psychiatric injuries.

The claim was rejected by Australia’s workplace safety organization and its appeals tribunal. However, the woman appealed the decision to a federal court, which recently overturned the rejection. The court found it wasn’t necessary for the woman to prove her activity at the time she suffered the injuries was condoned by the employer, as long as there was no blatant misconduct. The fact she was in the motel room because of work duties was enough to entitle her to compensation.

So, basically, the injuries the woman suffered were considered to be work-related because they happened in the motel room. She was in the motel room for work-related reasons, so the injuries were considered work-related. The court noted that, if she had been doing anything else such as playing cards or watching television, when she was hurt, it wouldn’t change her entitlement to workers’ compensation.

Would such a claim get a similar result in Canada?

One can’t say for sure without such a case actually being heard. But it’s a possibility, and something employers who have travelling employees should be aware about. When an employer has a function, such as a holiday party in an outside location, that location is generally considered part of the workplace.

The same could apply to a motel room an employee is required to stay in for work-related reasons. When an employee is on a business trip, how much of the trip should be considered an extension of the workplace for the purposes of safety and workers’ compensation? Should an employer place specific restrictions on employee activities while on a business trip, whether during working hours or not, to reduce liability?

Jeffrey R. Smith is the editor of Canadian Employment Law Today, a publication that looks at workplace law from a business perspective. He can be reached at jeffrey.r.smith@thomsonreuters.com. For more information, visit www.employmentlawtoday.com.

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Jeffrey R. Smith

Jeffrey R. Smith is the editor of Canadian Employment Law Today, a publication that looks at workplace law from a business perspective.
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2 Comments
  • Monkey business part of doing business?
    Wednesday, May 2, 2012 1:59:00 PM by Jeffrey R. Smith
    Not necessarily. Someone who is in their home office is not specifically there at the employer's instruction and, with perhaps a few exceptions in the work area itself, the employer is not responsible for the overall safety of the employee's home. A faulty light fixture in the employee's home would be outside the employer's responsibility.

    The Australian judge mentioned in his reasons that the woman was entitled to compensation as long as she wasn't hurt while doing "blatant misconduct." Sexual activity in a motel room isn't beyond the realm of possibility and the judge didn't see it as misconduct harmful to the employer. Without a specific prohibition by the employer, it wasn't an unreasonable activity. However, a reasonable person could assume that stealing a computer at work could be considered blatant misconduct.