During the COVID -19 pandemic people are spending a lot more time at home and unfortunately there has been a significant increase in the reports of domestic violence.
While employers are not usually liable for workers who are exposed to domestic violence, in a recent case before the New South Wales Supreme Court of Appeal, the Court found that a worker murdered by her de facto partner in a family business was killed in the course her employment.
On 16 June 2010 Ms Michel Carroll was killed by her de facto partner Steven Hill at home. The Court determined that Ms Carroll’s death occurred in the course of her employment, arose out of her employment and that her employment was a substantial contributing factor to her death. Both Ms Carrol and her partner were employed by a family company which carried on its business of providing financial advice from home. When Ms Carroll was killed, she was either performing her work tasks or was on call in the course of her employment. The attack by Mr Hill was inspired by paranoid delusions. Mr Hill’s paranoid beliefs related to the way Ms Carroll performed her work duties. There was clear evidence of a causal link between Mr Hill’s subjective motivation and their employment.
Section 9A of the Workers Compensation Act provides that no compensation is payable unless the employment is a substantial contributing factor to the employee’s injury. It is determined on a case by case basis and the factors taken into account include but not limited to the followings:
- the time and place of the injury,
- the nature of the work performed and the particular tasks of that work,
- the duration of the employment,
- the probability that the injury or a similar injury would have happened anyway, at about the same time or at the same stage of the worker’s life, if he or she had not been at work or had not worked in that employment,
- the worker’s state of health before the injury and the existence of any hereditary risks,
- the worker’s lifestyle and his or her activities outside the workplace.
Factors such as attendance at a workplace or carrying out work functions, during usual business hours are considered as the core of a worker’s course of employment however the nature of the core will vary depending on the nature of the work. Events such as office Christmas party and recreational activities can form part of the course of employment. However the further from the core one moves, the closer the scrutiny of the circumstances involved (Pioneer Studios Pty Ltd v Hills).