Publish date: 09 November 2020
Paddleboard and sunset

International work conferences: the glorious concept where a company whisks away its workers to some tropical destination in the name of “professional development and bonding”.

You could be forgiven for thinking that if an employee is injured during “free-time” at an international work conference, there would be no entitlement to claim workers’ compensation benefits.

Yet, that is not entirely true – there are certain situations where a claim can get across the line.

Take, for example, the recent decision of Ng v. Pharmacor [2020] VMC 21. There, Ms Ng was employed by Pharmacor as a full-time regional sales manager in Victoria. Pharmacor held an annual work conference in Bali in 2019, and Ms Ng received an invitation (invitation might not be the most appropriate term – her attendance was compulsory).

The work conference was held over 4 days.

On the first day, guests arrived and attended a group dinner. On the second day, conference sessions were held. On the third day, a half-day sightseeing tour was arranged, and on the fourth and final day, guests were allowed free-time to do their own thing.

On the final day of the conference, Ms Ng went paddle boarding with 4 other Pharmacor employees, including her direct manager.

While paddle boarding, Ms Ng, unfortunately, became caught in a rip. She fell off her board and struck her head, causing her to lose consciousness momentarily.

Ms Ng initially applied for workers’ compensation benefits, but her claim was knocked back on the basis that her injury did not arise out of, or in the course of, her employment.

While this case involved Victorian legislation, the Queensland equivalent contains an analogous element. Ms Ng sought to have that rejection overturned.

In plain terms, the critical issue for determination was whether Ms Ng’s employer induced or encouraged her to go paddle boarding.

The Court confirmed Ms Ng’s claim was one for acceptance because her injury did, in fact, arise out of and in the course of her employment. In coming to this conclusion, the Court highlighted that:

  • Four days is a short period of time for an international conference;
  • Pharmacor expected that during the free time on day four, employees would engage in group activities;
  • The conference program was designed to strengthen relationships and team building;
  • Employees were encouraged to spend time together;
  • On the morning of day four, Ms Ng and her co-workers were together as a group having a massage and then proceed to another group activity, paddle boarding; and
  • Ms Ng’s direct manager had talked about going paddle boarding with several employees beforehand.

This case serves as a further example that work injuries are not tied to the usual place where work is performed.

If an injury is sustained as a result of some recreational activity during an interlude from work, the important consideration is whether the employer expressly or impliedly, through their conduct, encouraged or induced the injured worker to perform that activity.

Case summaries

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Hugh Powell
Hugh Powell
Senior Associate

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