When

Cases

When "home" is a place of work

An injured worker will be able to make a workers compensation claim under Australian Capital Territory legislation after a court ruled that her Canberra home was her place of work.

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An injured worker will be able to make a workers compensation claim under Australian Capital Territory legislation after a court ruled that her Canberra home was her place of work. 

Facts and background


Sharon Leanne King was employed by the Heat Group as a merchandiser. She was employed, initially as a casual and later full time, to visit various well-known brand-name stores and set up merchandise stands and promotional paraphernalia. Stores were located across the Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales. 

Detailed instructions were sent to Ms King at home where she also stored so much of the employer’s material that it overflowed from her home office and also had to be stored in her external shed, her sun room and in a storage area under her house. The company refused to hire warehouse space as there was no budget.

Ms King was issued detailed instructions by phone, email and in print by her manager before, during and after the normal working day whether or not she was at home. She travelled for work every four to six weeks using her own car and received an allowance from the company to do so. 

She unfortunately experienced pain and swelling in her right hand and wrist; in early 2016 she was diagnosed with tenosynovitis and ganglion cysts. 

The law


Australian Capital Territory workers who are injured, suffer disease or otherwise become incapacitated owing to their employment can be entitled to compensation under the Workers Compensation Act 1951 (ACT)

But compensation is only payable if the employment is connected to the ACT (s36(B))

There are up to three questions to work out whether an employment is connected with the ACT. In this particular case the important question was: where was the worker usually based for the purposes of employment? 

Section 36B(7) gives several factors that may help determine a worker’s place of work. These include where the worker is expected to work from; where he or she reports to or is issued instructions from; where the worker collects material from; and which place is stated to be the place of employment in the worker’s contract. 

In issue


Which jurisdiction was connected to Ms King’s employment and, more precisely, where was Ms King usually based for work? 

Arguments


The employer argued that the answer to the question of where a person is usually based envisages someone starting and finishing at a particular place and who has all the functions of their employment located in that place. The company added that even where an employee travels across state borders each day so that they do not work in one place, there is a clear location from which their work emanates. 

Considerations


Magistrate Theakston accepted, in part, the arguments of the employer about how to determine where an employee is usually based. The magistrate also carried out a balancing act between those factors that pointed to, or away from, Ms King’s home being the place of employment.

Factors in favour of concluding that Ms King’s home was her base of employment included it being the start and end of her working day; the employer regularly sent work instructions to her at that address; the company “consistently” transported work material to her at that address for the purposes of her employment; she stored work material at home with the knowledge of her employer (and she had asked for external storage space which the company refused); she collected the material from her home and transported it to the stores. She also carried out “employment activities” at home (namely receiving instructions, preparing material, making arrangements and sending reports). And, finally, she spent “the vast majority” of her working time in the ACT.

Magistrate Theakston put particular weight on the fact that Ms King received, stored and prepared employer-owned material at her own home and that she also carried out a range of employment related activities from home. 

Counterbalancing factors included not receiving directions from the employer personally at that locations; not reporting to her home for employment support activities e.g. HR issues; and that she spent a large amount of time working away from home. 

Having weighed up the counterbalancing factors, the magistrate concluded that her home was “more than a convenient place for her to carry out her duties… Ms King was based at her home for the purposes of her employment.”

Decision


The ACT was the territory of connection for Ms King for the purposes of the Workers Compensation Act 1951.

The bottom line: In the less-obvious cases, there is no one simple test to determine where a worker is usually based for the purposes of employment. A court will take into account a wide variety of factors in deciding where a person works for the purposes of workers compensation legislation. The more factors point toward a given place being a place of work then the more likely it is that place will be deemed to be the place of work. However, employers should note that some factors have greater weight than others. 

Read the judgment


King v the Heat Group

 
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