Could injuring myself while fornicating on a business trip mean I get workers’ comp benefits?

Successfully proving that an injury during an after-hours tryst on a business trip arose out of and in the course of your employment (provided your vocation is one that is legal) is unlikely under Georgia workers’ compensation law.  But Australia is quite different in this regard.  And because I want my readers to be sophisticated in their understanding of other cultures and international law, let’s look at how this scenario played out in the Australian courts recently.

In November 2007, a Commonwealth human relations worker was on a job-related trip to New South Wales with another employee. They were lodged in motel rooms booked by their employer. Over the course of the trip, the employee who ended up filing a compensation claim met up with a guy whose acquaintance she’d made a few weeks earlier. They had dinner and then later went back to her motel room to make a mess of the covers and any sanctified relationships they had “back home.”

While in flagrante delicto, a glass light fixture on the wall above the bed was pulled from its rightful place and landed on the woman. It caused injuries to her nose and mouth, and she needed to go to a local hospital for treatment.

The woman filed a claim for Australia’s version of workers’ compensation. ComCare, the workplace safety governing body in Australia, initially rejected the worker’s claim.  When she took it to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal –the next rung in the Australian workers’ comp ladder– the Tribunal upheld the original denial of compensation handed down by ComCare. They stated that for compensation to be payable, a behavior must have been required or encouraged by the employer; it was their esteemed opinion that motel sex didn’t qualify as activity in the due course of her employment.

Sex falls under the scope of a person’s ‘normal activities’, according to Melbourne legal expert Harold Luntz, who is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Melbourne. “It seems to me to be perfectly natural….if the employers are sending people away to work outside their home base they will engage in all sorts of normal activities.” Luntz likened the case to one where a plaintiff had slipped in the shower while on an employer-mandated trip and was then compensated for injuries sustained: “It doesn’t seem to me to make any difference whether it was a slip in the shower or a sexual activity,”  he noted.

And, according to last week’s outcome, Federal Court Judge John Nicholas sees it just that way. He heard the woman’s appeal and overturned the Administrative Appeals Tribunal’s decision, finding that the fact that she was in a motel room paid for by her employer was enough of a connection to her work to warrant a payable claim. He further said that the initial decision was wrong in finding it was necessary for the employee to show that she’d been involved in an injury-causing activity “which was expressly or impliedly induced or encouraged by her employer. If the applicant had been injured while playing a game of cards in her motel room she would have been entitled to compensation,” even if her employer hadn’t expressly directed or encouraged that activity (and if he had, of course, we’d have other lawsuits to analyze here).

“In the absence of any misconduct or an intentionally self-inflicted injury, the fact that the applicant was engaged in sexual activity rather than some other lawful recreation activity does not lead to any different result.”

So, dear blog readers from Georgia who travel to Australia on business: conduct yourself accordingly.

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