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Employer liable for injuries sustained during free-time on work trip

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A pharmaceuticals manufacturer was held liable for injuries its worker (Ms Ng) sustained when paddle-boarding during an overseas work conference arranged by her employer.

Ms Ng was paddle-boarding during designated free time on the last day of the conference. The Court found that while she was not required nor directed to participate, she was encouraged to do so by her employer. It was largely a team-building conference and the itinerary document stated employees should during designated free time “ideally remain in groups” with suggested examples of recreational activities. The activity was organised via the employer’s WhatsApp group and Ms Ng’s direct supervisor (also the organiser of the conference) also urged her to participate multiple times.

See Ng v Pharmacor [2020] VMC 21

Lessons

  1. While it is always great to engage workers in team building activities out of working hours, employers need to be aware of the associated workers compensation liabilities in the event an employee is injured.
  2. To avoid workers compensation liability for injuries sustained during such events or activities, employers must not organise or contribute significant resources to the events or activities and must not apply any pressure on employees to attend or participate. It’s okay to forward details of an event or activities to all staff as an FYI, but anything beyond that (i.e. using terms such as “you should go”) may be deemed as encouraging or inducing their attendance, making the business liable. Best practice is to be clear when something is not a work activity.
  3. Employers should have stringent guidelines and procedures for work trips, to ensure any planned events or activities are appropriate, safe and in line with the relevant occupational health and safety legislation.

Written by Nes Demir

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