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September 2020

Injuries sustained at home can occur in the course of employment

Injuries sustained at home can occur in the course of employment

Case

Workers Compensation Nominal Insurer v Hill (2020)

Ms Carroll and her de facto partner, Mr Hill, were employed as financial advisers for a family owned company. They performed those services from their home in NSW. Mr Hill suffered from paranoid delusions that Ms Carroll was conspiring with authorities to take Mr Hill’s clients and destroy his career. Mr Hill acted on his delusions, killing Ms Carroll.

Mr Hill was found not guilty of Ms Carroll’s murder on the grounds of mental illness. Ms Carroll’s dependent children lodged a claim for death benefits against the Workers Compensation Nominal Insurer (Insurer) under the Workers Compensation Act 1987.

The children’s lawyers argued that Ms Carroll’s death arose from the result of injuries suffered in the course of her employment. The Insurer denied liability.

Verdict

The Workers Compensation Commission found in favour of Ms Carroll’s children. The Insurer appealed the decision to the NSW Court of Appeal. The Insurer claimed there was no causal link between the employment and Ms Carroll’s injuries. However, the NSW Court of Appeal held there was a clear connection between Mr Hill’s delusions, Ms Carroll’s employment and her injuries, given that:

  • Ms Carroll was killed between 8am and 10am, during normal working hours;
  • Mr Hill’s delusions were related to Ms Carroll performing her work duties, with him believing she would take his clients and destroy his career; and
  • while Ms Carroll’s work environment was normally peaceful, it was not on that day.

Lessons

Given more and more employees are working from home due to the current COVID-19 pandemic and for other reasons, employers should ensure employees are given the ability and opportunity to disclose whether they can work from home safely. This is not only to reduce the risk of workers’ compensation claims, but also other legal risks.

Employers have an absolute duty under work health and safety legislation to ensure the health and safety of employees while at work. Where employees perform work from home, the employee’s home is also part of the employer’s place of work. As such, employers need to be proactive to ensure such work can be undertaken at home safely.

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