In the recent case of Pratt v Return to Work SA, the South Australian Employment Tribunal had to determine whether injuries sustained by a casual farm labourer were compensable.
Mr Pratt had been socialising with his supervisor at the employer’s farmhouse after a shift – enjoying a meal, playing pool and drinking a number of alcoholic beverages. Tragically, Mr Pratt suffered a severe brain injury after he pierced his eye and brain when he accidentally head-butted a pool cue.
The circumstances were unique. As Mr Hansen ‘broke’ to start another game, the white ball became airborne and flew off the table, careering towards a window. Mr Pratt instinctively reached out to grab the flying ball and somehow forcibly head-butted his own perpendicular cue.
At the hearing, Mr Pratt argued he ‘couldn’t say no’ to his employer’s invitation. However, the Tribunal found there was no evidence of any direction or requirement to attend and rejected Mr Pratt’s argument that he was ‘required to socialise’.
More importantly, the Tribunal also found the activity was not part of Mr Pratt’s employment because it was purely social, there was no plan to discuss work issues and there were no ‘work elements’ in the invitation. The Tribunal warned that finding otherwise would ‘set the bar of what is part of an individual’s employment so unreasonably low that most after work socialising with a superior would be captured’.
Interestingly, the Tribunal rejected the employer’s argument that Mr Pratt’s injury was caused by wilful misconduct by virtue of his intoxication. It held that the employer’s policy prohibited working under the influence of drugs or alcohol but permitted responsible drinking at social functions. It also held there was insufficient evidence to find Mr Pratt’s injuries were ‘wholly or predominantly attributable’ to his intoxication.
On the whole, an incredibly unfortunate event, but an unsurprising decision which follows established law.
For anyone wanting to read the decision, it can be found here.