Let’s just say your employer has asked you to work from home during the COVID pandemic. You decide to take a break and go for a walk- after all, one of the few reasons we are still allowed to leave our home is for the purpose of exercise. While you are out, you trip and hurt yourself. Can you get workers’ compensation?
The starting point is that is you suffer any injury at work, you are entitled to compensation.
During this time of crisis, for many people, their home has become their workplace. It would be nice if everyone had a dedicated workspace inside their home, which is enclosed, which is inaccessible to children (and sound proof), with a coffee machine and fine assortment of biscuits, but the reality for most people is that the laptop is on the kitchen table, maybe with an extra monitor (if you were lucky enough to still pick one up before they ran out), and cords running everywhere. Your employer might have asked you to tick a box on a piece of paper whereby you state that your new workspace is safe (a document which almost certainly has no effect) , but we all know that our homes were not designed to serve as safe workspaces.
I think it is inevitable that as people spend more time working from home, there will be compensation claims coming through. Some of these will be fairly straight forward. Examples include tripping on a cord, developing back pain because you chair is not ergonomic and so on.
But what if you get injured while you exercise throughout the day?
Workers compensation legislation states that you are also covered when you are temporarily absent from the place of employment during ordinary recess.
Your place of employment is now your home. Can we say that when you go for a walk, its just an ordinary recess?
Well the answer is: it depends…
In 2016, there was a case involving an ABC journalist (Ms Demasi) who was working from home and she decided to go for a run. She tripped on an uneven surface and landed awkwardly, fracturing her hip. She claimed compensation from Comcare. The claim was denied, and the matter was heard by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
The Tribunal held that Ms Demasi’s home was her place of work. But the tribunal also decided that taking a break for the specific purpose of going for a run, at a random time of the day, is not an ordinary recess. On the basis, the claim was denied by the Tribunal also. However, the outcome would have been different if Ms Demasi had gone for a run during her normal lunch break hours. That situation would have been covered.
What does this all mean?
The way I see it, the outcome depends on the individual circumstances of the case. For example, I don’t believe that only lunchtime exercise would be considered “ordinary recess”. What about people who usually go out for a coffee mid-morning? If you try to keep your routine and go out around the same time for a quick walk with the coffee you made at home (or pick up coffee if your local coffeeshop is still open), I suspect it could be strongly argued that this is “ordinary recess” and you would be covered if you trip over on your walk.