Working at home – Are you covered by Workers' Compensation Benefits?

28-06-2021    |    Resource

Working from home is very topical these days as a lot of us are being forced to do exactly that.

As we have found out Working from home does create of a lot of issues including the question about whether we are covered for Workers Compensation benefits whilst working at home.

Obviously, some people have worked from home for a long time and not just recently as a result of the self-isolation imposed upon us by the Government.  Some people have been hurt whilst working from home and the question about entitlement to benefits under the NSW Workers Compensation scheme has been considered on many occasions by the Workers Compensation Commission.

The Court of Appeal, on 31 March 2020, delivered an important decision in a matter called Workers’ Compensation Nominal Insurer v. Hill [2020] NSW CA54 that specifically dealt benefits being paid as a result of something that happened to a person whilst working from home The circumstances surrounding the case are distressing.  However, it was extremely important for the family as the benefits available to it under the Workers Compensation scheme were considerable. 

The case, unfortunately, involved the death of Ms Michel Carroll who died at home from injuries inflicted by her de facto husband on 16 June 2010.

Ms Carroll was employed by the family company and undertook work for it from home, which she occupied with her two sons.  She had a teenage son and a baby who was 6 weeks old.

The attack by her de facto husband was inspired by his paranoid delusions. He was charged with Ms Carroll's murder and was found not guilty on the grounds of his mental illness.

Ms Carroll’s children claimed lump sum compensation benefits, pursuant to S.25 Workers’ Compensation Act 1987.  The insurer disputed the claim on the basis that her death did not arise out of or in the course of her employment, but did not dispute the dependency of the children.

On 19 December 2018, an Arbitrator in the Workers’ Compensation Commission determined that Ms Carroll died as a result of injury arising out of, and in the course of her employment, and ordered payments in favour of the children.  The Insurer lodged an Appeal.

On 22 July 2019 Deputy President Wood, in the Workers’ Compensation Commission, dismissed the Insurer’s Appeal.  The main focus of the Insurer’s Appeal was that Ms Carroll was not in the course of her employment when she was attacked by her de facto husband, and her children were therefore not entitled to benefits under the scheme.

The Insurer appealed to the Court of Appeal which is the highest Court in New South Wales.  The insurer again argued before that Court that Ms Carroll was not in the course of her employment, and that the attack on her by her de facto husband, which was inspired by his mental health issues, was not causally connected to Ms Carroll’s employment.

On 31 March 2020 His Honour Justice Basten, in the Court of Appeal, delivered the leading Judgment.

In his Judgment Justice Basten stated that Senior Counsel for the Insurer submitted that many people working from home will no longer be in the course of their employment.  Senior Counsel for the Insurer invited the Court to address the alleged important changes to the operation of the Workers’ Compensation Act 1987 in the context of work being undertaken wholly, or partly, at home or remotely while on call.

Justice Basten was not keen to accept this interpretation.  Justice Basten held that the issue of “course of employment” is quintessentially factual, not legal.  The issue depends on the particular circumstances of the worker and the requirements of the worker’s employer.

In this case Justice Basten agreed with the Decision of Deputy President Wood in the Workers’ Compensation Commission that at the time that she was attacked, Ms Carroll was in the course of her employment.  Justice Basten found that the Arbitrator in the Workers’ Compensation Commission and Deputy President Wood had been satisfied that “the fact of her employment …. was a predominant and potent cause of the injury to Ms Carroll.”  That finding was based on the fact that her de facto husband, held paranoid beliefs relating to the way Ms Carroll performed her work duties, which drove him to assault and kill Ms Carroll.  Importantly, Justice Basten agreed that there was the necessary causal connection between her employment, and the injuries that she sustained at home that lead to her death.

Justice Basten dismissed the Insurer’s Appeal and ordered the Insurer to pay the children of Ms Carroll the substantial benefits provided to them by the NSW Workers Compensation Scheme.

The two other Judges in the Court of Appeal who heard the case agreed with Mr Justice Basten

Many workers are now working from home.  If they suffer injury in the course of that employment, they are potentially entitled to significant benefits payable by their employer and/or its Workers’ Compensation Insurer.  For workers “on call” this cover could include injuries occurring at any time when they are on call.

At Lamrocks we have solicitors who are Accredited Specialists in Personal Injury Law and who can provide advice regarding Workers’ Compensation claims.

For any workers injured in New South Wales, who have entitlements under the Workers’ Compensation Act 1987, we can obtain a Grant of Legal Aid from the Workers’ Compensation Independent Review Office (WIRO) which covers all legal costs and related disbursements.  Accordingly, there is no cost to injured workers in New South Wales if they wish to obtain advice about their entitlement to benefits or if they wish to dispute any decision by an Insurer to decline liability for a claim, or reduce benefits.

Contact one of our Accredited Specialists for advice and assistance.

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