AAT decision confirms work from home injury liability

In a recent decision, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) awarded compensation to an employee who sustained an injury caused by their employment while working from home.

This decision places emphasis on the seriousness of following health and safety guidelines given to employees when working from home, and the importance of maintaining the physical health of all employees.

Background

In this case, the worker – who failed to complete his employer’s remote-work checklist – began experiencing pain in his right shoulder after beginning to work from home during the pandemic, which increasingly worsened over a period of several weeks.

He was eventually referred for orthopaedic review and was diagnosed with a “SLAP labral tear of the superior labrum extending to the anteroinferior quadrant with mild synovitis in the axillary recess”.

His working conditions during this period involved using his kitchen table as a desk, which was higher than the desk used in his office. His right arm was therefore “considerably higher” than usual when using the mouse.

Despite submitting a workers’ compensation claim, Comcare denied liability to pay compensation.

The decision

The Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 provides that Comcare is liable to pay compensation to injured employees if the injury results in “death, incapacity for work, or impairment”, where ‘impairment’ refers to the loss of use or malfunction of any part of the body.

In this case, Comcare denied liability on the basis that the cause of the worker’s injury was more likely to be from other activities, such as exercise, as opposed to his employment; it was argued that the worker’s posture at his home setup would not have placed stress on his shoulders – the worker engaged frequently in exercise, and SLAP tears are typically caused by repetitive motions.

However, the AAT rejected this argument. Instead, medical evidence was accepted which predominantly found a direct causal link between the worker’s injury and his employment and as a result compensation should be awarded.

This decision further highlights the importance of completing remote-work checklists. As working from home becomes more relevant, it is increasingly important to follow health and safety guidelines and ensure that physical health is not hindered by employment.

Source: Clifford Gouldson Lawyers

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