Is a Cafe Scuffle “In the Course of Employment”?

The decision made by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) in Ralser and Comcare arose from an incident between two work colleagues who engaged in a disagreement while on a coffee break in a cafe near their workplace. During the disagreement, the Applicant flicked hot coffee in his co-worker’s face and, in response the co-worker punched the Applicant in the upper right arm. The Applicant’s claim for workers’ compensation under the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 in respect of injuries arising out of the incident was refused and the matter was reviewed by the AAT.Upon review, the AAT rejected the claim because the physical injuries did not occur in the course of the Applicant’s employment.The Applicant also claimed compensation for anxiety and depression caused by bullying and harassment suffered in the workplace, and the AAT held that the Applicant had suffered an injury for which the employer was liable. Employers need to be aware that legal risks in relation to bullying and workplace harassment may also arise when an employee has a ‘perception’ of that conduct occurring. Employers should ensure that complaints of bullying and workplace harassment are dealt with by investigating the complaints when they arise and by providing clear reasons to an employee as to investigation findings when they are made.

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