By Clare McIlwraith
Imagine your employer sends you to a conference interstate. Your travel, expenses and accommodation are all organised and paid for. Your 9-to-5 days and dinners are occupied with conference events. But what of all the other time you have on your hands? It is the stuff of folklore and Hollywood movies (like the 2011 movie Cedar Rapids) that those other times are filled with adventure. But for Australian employees there now exists a limit on what can be done out of the office that will be protected under workplace insurance schemes.
In October 2013 the High Court, by a 4:2 majority, allowed an appeal by the federal government’s workplace insurer, Comcare, denying the Commonwealth government employee respondent, known by the identifier ‘PVYW’, workers’ compensation under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (Cth) (SR&C Act).
PVYW had been sent to visit a regional office, and was required to stay overnight at a motel booked by the employer. While staying overnight at the motel, PVYW was struck in the face by a glass light fitting on the bed when it was pulled off the wall of the motel during sexual intercourse with a local acquaintance. Following the incident, PVYW claimed compensation for physical and subsequent psychological injuries under the SR&C Act.
The majority of the court held that the injury suffered by PVYW was not suffered ‘in the course of’ employment. This was because it was not caused through an activity encouraged or induced by the employer or was not considered ‘referable’ to a hotel stay. This last conclusion is perhaps surprising given the mythology of work trips and sex in hotel stays or because as Counsel for PVYW noted that sex is a universal incident of human life ( HCATrans 169).
Although the SR&C Act only applies to Commonwealth government employees the decision will be relevant to all employees subject to workers compensation schemes because each scheme limits insurance recovery in similar (though in some cases more restrictive) ways (see  HCATrans 114). Continue reading