In Brief: As we approach the festive season, workplaces around Queensland will be celebrating another year gone by. However, all too often, workplace injuries become a regular feature of office parties. So, when is an employer liable for workers' compensation and/or common law damages for injuries sustained at a Christmas party, and other social events? 


Each year, the festive season is a timely reminder of the potential liability risks organisations can face from injuries sustained at end of year celebrations. While these celebrations mark the highly anticipated end of the work year and provide staff the opportunity to unwind, indulge in a drink or two of their choice, and look forward to further celebrations with family and friends, complacency of employers and employees gives rise to risks of injury. 

In this article, we will answer key questions about how workers' compensation legislation applies to end-of-year functions, and discuss cases which demonstrate the potential consequences. 

Is an injury sustained at a work party covered by workers compensation insurance?

Pursuant to section 32(1) of the Workers' Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (Qld) (WCRA), an "injury" is a personal injury arising out of, or in the course of, employment if employment is a significant contributing factor to causing the injury. 

Whether an injury arose out of, or in the course of, employment will depend on the facts of the case. Recent cases considered by the Queensland courts provide some guidance. 

Psychiatric Injury 

The decision of Youngblutt v Workers' Compensation Regulator [2019] QIRC 100 considered whether an employee of the Queensland Police Service (QPS) suffered a psychiatric injury caused by inappropriate comments, touching, advances and gestures whilst at a Christmas party organised by the QPS social club. 

The injured worker was diagnosed with an acute work-related stress disorder. In determining whether the injury arose out of, or in the course of the injured worker's employment, the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) found the employer induced or encouraged the injured worker to attend the Christmas party as it sent multiple invitations to workers to attend the party, arranged for the workers' shifts to be covered to enable all members of the station to attend, all but one employee was a member of the social club, and there was a designated area at the venue for QPS employees (among other points). 

The QIRC held that the Christmas party was "incidental" to the injured workers' work and the injury she suffered as a result of her attendance at the Christmas party "arose out of or in the course of her employment". 


In Packer v Tall Ships Sailing Cruises Aust P/L & Anor [2014] QSC 212, the second defendant (employer) organised a Christmas party to take place on a day time cruise. As part of the cruise, the employer supplied a basic drinks package for four hours which did not include spirits. The cruise included individuals other than those participating in the Christmas party. 

The plaintiff, being an employee of the employer, asked a group of four to five people to be mindful of their language as they were swearing loudly and carrying on in a 'drunken' manner. The behaviour continued and later, the plaintiff again repeated his request for the group to "keep their language down". The plaintiff was then punched in the side of the face from behind. 

His Honour Jackson J held that the employer did not breach its duty of care to the plaintiff on the basis that it was unrealistic to predicate that the employer's duty of care to the plaintiff required it to audit conditions on the cruise. The plaintiff's claim was dismissed. 

This case highlights that an employer cannot be held liable for the actions of others who are not employees and act improperly at events organised by an employer. 

In the decision of Fraser Coast Free Range Pty Ltd and Q-Comp (WC/2008/94), the QIRC was required to consider whether a worker sustained an injury within the meaning of section 32 of the WCRA. The employer held a Christmas function at a property which it owned. During the Christmas party, an employee was assaulted by another employee. The injured worker suffered a right collarbone and right eye injury. 

The QIRC accepted the injured worker's injuries were sustained in the course of their employment because all employees were encouraged to attend the Christmas party. The employer provided the venue as well as food and drink for the event, and the purpose of the Christmas party was to thank employees for their efforts throughout the year and for employees to maintain good relationships amongst each other. 


In Australian Leisure & Hospitality Group Pty Ltd v Simon Blackwood (Workers' Compensation Regulator) & Campbell [2014] QIRC 105, the QIRC was required to consider whether a deceased worker suffered an injury within the meaning of section 32 of the WCRA.

This claim was commenced by the husband of the deceased worker, who unfortunately died as a result of head and neck injuries sustained after diving into the Noosa River while attending a Christmas party organised by the social club of her employer. 

The QIRC considered that an employer's inducement or encouragement for an employee to be at a particular place does not provide the necessary connection to employment merely because an employee is injured. The QIRC further held that the deceased worker was "on a frolic of her own" and she was not induced or encouraged to dive into the river. 

The deceased's actions leading to her fatal injuries were therefore not sustained in the course of employment and her dependent husband could not seek compensation under the workers’ compensation legislation for her death. 

The application for compensation was denied on the basis that the deceased worker had not suffered injury within the meaning of section 32 of the WCRA.

Key Takeaways 

If an employer encourages or induces workers to attend a social event outside normal work hours, the workers' attendance at the event is considered to be an activity arising in the course of their employment. 

As such, a work Christmas party is an extension of the workplace. It is critical for employers to ensure there are adequate policies, procedures and risk assessments in place to manage foreseeable risks of injury during end of year festivities, and other social events. 

However, if a worker engages in an activity that is so far removed from the work social event which constitutes a "frolic" of their own, employers are unlikely to be found liable for either compensation or damages if the worker suffers injury as a result of engaging in the activity. 

This is commentary published by Colin Biggers & Paisley for general information purposes only. This should not be relied on as specific advice. You should seek your own legal and other advice for any question, or for any specific situation or proposal, before making any final decision. The content also is subject to change. A person listed may not be admitted as a lawyer in all States and Territories. © Colin Biggers & Paisley, Australia 2024.

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