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Social functions


The following questions and  answers provide general advice on workers’ compensation coverage and an  employer’s duty of care and health and safety obligations at employer-endorsed  social functions under the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (SRC Act) and the Work Health and Safety  Act 2011 (WHS Act).

If an employee is injured at  such an event, or when travelling between their workplace, the event and their  residence, they are entitled to lodge a claim for workers’ compensation.

Each claim will be determined  on its merits taking into account individual circumstances. The employer will  have the opportunity to make a statement on each claim and to affirm or assert  factual information about the event and the circumstances of the employee’s  injury.

What are the duties and  responsibilities of employers in relation to official parties and employer  sanctioned events?

As detailed in section 19 of  the WHS Act, employers should always assess the hazards and risks of any  proposed function or event. The likelihood and consequence of an accident or  injury occurring should be considered, as well as what control measures need to  be put in place to eliminate or reduce the risk. Risk control measures should  be consistent with a reasonably practicable approach and the planning for any  function or event should be documented where possible. Employers should  consider:

  • the location  of the function—is it in a workplace under the employer’s control?
  • if the  location of the function or event is at an external location other than a  workplace under the control of the employer—has the location been assessed for  any hazards such as the capacity of the location and associated issues such as  access and egress?
  • whether  employees should be provided with travel to and from the function or event
  • whether  clear guidance or policy has been developed and communicated to employees—does  it address responsible drinking, anti-social behaviour and other possible code  of conduct issues?

What duty of care obligations  do employers and employees have in relation to alcohol consumption at an event  or function that is endorsed and/or arranged by the employer?

Alcohol use is a potential  risk factor relating to both safety and health. Depending on the circumstances,  it could potentially be involved in alleged breaches of Sections 19 (employer’s  duty of care) and 28 (employee’s duty of care) of the WHS Act.
Section 19 of the WHS Act requires  employers to 'take all reasonably practicable steps to protect the health and  safety at work of the employer's employees'. This includes undertaking risk  assessments and putting suitable risk controls in place to reduce or eliminate  any risk associated with the function or event. It would be good practice for  the employer to develop an internal policy addressing the responsible  consumption of alcohol on work premises, during work time and also for employer  functions outside of the workplace.  Employers should also:

  • set clear  boundaries for employee’s behaviour at work related functions
  • set clear  start and finish times for functions
  • for  functions held at the workplace, ensure that employees vacate the premises at  the end of the function
  • where  possible, limit excessive alcohol consumption
  • take steps  to address workplace attitudes that condone excessive drinking
  • ensure that  all employees are fully aware of the repercussions of drinking in excess of the  legal driving limits
  • ensure that  appropriate and adequate care is given to any employee who is affected by  alcohol during a work-related event or function

Employers should also ensure  that alcohol is not made available from the function area past the end time as  stipulated for the function or event.

Finally, it  is the employee’s responsibility to consume alcohol legally and responsibly, to  conduct themselves in line with the APS Code of Conduct and to comply with  their employer’s behaviour and conduct policies.

Are employees covered for  staff parties that are held on-site or off-site, whether during the working day  or after hours?

Attendance at any social  function or event held at the employee’s place of work, including during an  ordinary recess or after hours would probably attract workers’ compensation  coverage under the SRC Act. These events would normally be considered ‘for the  purposes of employment’.

Under this provision, workers’  compensation coverage would  not extend from  the on-site venue to a venue outside of the place of work if a group of  employees decided to continue on. Cover for an injury would not exist if the  employee was socialising in an area that the employer does not control, such as  outside the front of the work premises.

If the social function or event  was held at the employees’ usual place of work, travel between the employee’s  residence and the event would not be covered.

Attendance at a social  function or event held outside of the employee’s place of work may attract  workers’ compensation coverage under the SRC Act, provided the employee was  temporarily absent from their place of work undertaking an activity associated  with their employment, or at the direction or request of the Commonwealth.

A social function or event would  be considered ’associated with employment’ if it is endorsed as such by an  employer. For example, if an employer arranges an event, specifies the venue  and time and encourages employees to attend, then an employee will likely be  covered whilst at that venue during the specified times. Coverage is likely to  exist for events arranged in this manner, whether during work time or after  hours.

When determining workers’  compensation coverage for an event where the employer has not endorsed it as  ‘associated with employment’, Comcare will consider such factors as:

  • whether  senior officer(s) were in attendance at the social function or event
  • if not in  attendance, did the senior staff support the event by making arrangements to  allow it to proceed?
  • whether the  social function or event was organised during work time, using work materials  such as printed tickets or email invitations
  • whether the  employer arranged or funded transport to and from the social function or event
  • whether  employees were considered to be on duty for the duration of the social function  or event or were granted special leave in order to attend the social function  or event

Are there any kinds of injury  which might not be covered at a work related event?

Coverage would be provided for  injuries sustained at a work-related event subject to section 14(3) of the SRC  Act. However, this excludes payment of compensation for injuries caused by ‘the  serious and wilful misconduct of the employee but is not intentionally  self-inflicted, unless the injury results in death, or serious and permanent  impairment’.

Employees under the influence  of alcohol or non-prescription drugs would not be covered as they are taken to  be guilty of serious and wilful misconduct. This may also apply to employees who  breach the APS Code of Conduct or any other relevant guidelines.

Are employees covered for  travel to and from a staff party that is held off-site?

If the offsite  activities are employer sanctioned it is likely that travel between the  workplace and an offsite venue/location would be considered ‘in the course of ‘employment’. Coverage is likely to exist if:

  • the travel takes place during work hours, including  an ordinary recess
  • the travel is undertaken with the knowledge and  consent of the employer
  • the employee is considered to be on duty while  travelling
  • the travel is unavoidable, the function is sanctioned  by the employer and the employee has no right of attendance other than as an  employee

As the employee is not at their usual place  of work, it is possible that coverage may also exist for those that travel more  or less directly to home from  the function. ‘Directly’ means no attendance at ‘after event parties’ or other  social activities on the way home. The usual exclusionary provisions such as  intoxication would apply.

Am I covered if I party on  afterwards?

Coverage for injury would  probably not exist if an employee chooses to ‘party on’ after an employer  sanctioned event. Employers should make it clear that social functions or  events away from work are only endorsed for a specific duration. Coverage will  probably not exist after that time because the employee will no longer be  undertaking an activity that is ‘associated with their employment’

Where can I find further information about attending work functions?

Page last updated: 17 Feb 2020