Back in 2016, we saw some heated public opinion around journey claims, following the unsuccessful claim of an ABC Presenter who, while working from home, went for a run on her break and fell and broke her hip.
This story posed some interesting questions around journey claims in general and what they mean for both workers and employers — questions that are still relevant today.
What is a Journey Claim?
If you sustain an injury while travelling between your home and place of employment, you are generally entitled to make a Journey Claim under the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act (“The Act”).
You may also be entitled to make a Journey Claim if you sustain an injury when:
- You are travelling to your trade, technical or other training school;
- You are travelling to a place that your employer expects you to go to/be at;
- You are travelling from one place of employment to your second place of employment;
- You already have an accepted Workers’ Compensation claim, you are travelling to your medical or treatment provider and you sustain a further injury.
Who can make a Journey Claim?
In order to make an application for a Journey Claim, you must be a ‘worker’. This is defined under the Act as a person who:
- Works under a contract;
- Is an employee for tax purposes; and
- Is an individual.
What are the benefits of bringing a Journey Claim?
If you have sustained an injury and you are able to make a Journey Claim, this can be very beneficial for you, helping to ease the financial burdens associated with your injuries. During a Journey Claim, the Workers’ Compensation insurer may:
- Provide you with weekly compensation for lost wages;
- Cover medical, surgical, hospital and medication expenses;
- Cover rehabilitation treatment expenses;
- Cover travelling expenses to your appointments.
When will a Journey Claim not be accepted?
A Journey Claim will usually not be accepted if:
- You broke the law while you were in control of the vehicle, and this was a significant contributor to the accident;
- There was a significant delay before you started the journey; or
- You made a substantial interruption or deviation from your usual journey.
It should also be noted that a worker who has recently resigned from their role will not automatically be excluded from applying for a Journey Claim.
An interesting case emerged earlier this year, where a decision was upheld in New South Wales regarding a worker who was injured in a car accident immediately after submitting a resignation letter.
Ultimately it was found that the worker was still employed, as contractually she had to give two weeks’ notice of her resignation and the accident was considered to still be work related.
What counts as a significant or substantial deviation, delay or interruption?
Unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer surrounding what a ‘significant’ or ‘substantial’ deviation, delay or interruption is and this must be considered on a case by case basis. However, some factors which are taken into consideration when determining whether there was a deviation, delay or interruption to the journey include:
- What the reason for the delay was;
- The time that the journey should take in relation to the time for the delay, deviation or interruption; and
- The distance travelled for the deviation in consideration with the usual distance travelled on that journey.
For example, in the Australian Capital Territory, the Court found that a worker who was injured on her way home from work and had made several deviations, was still entitled to a workers’ compensation claim.
This worker had recently made plans to move houses and had travelled to the property, where her husband was preparing for the move, to pick up her young child. She then went to the shops to buy groceries and then back to her home.
The Court ultimately concluded that despite the two deviations and interruptions to the journey, this did not increase the risk of injury and the Court deemed that the journey was still work related.
How this affects Workplaces and Employers
As previously mentioned, a worker will be eligible to make a Journey Claim through the workers’ compensation insurer where they have sustained an injury travelling to or from work. However, if this injury was sustained as a result of their employer’s negligence, a worker may also be entitled to bring a common law claim for further compensation.
In Queensland, Employers owe a high duty of care to ensure their workers’ safety, which also extends to outside the workplace. This is of particular importance for workplaces which rely heavily on shift work or longer than usual shifts – for example, many healthcare workers regularly operate on 12 hour shifts.
While these may be the standard shift for a workplace, the management of these shifts and their impact on workers would be critically assessed in the event of an accident to or from work. Especially instances of understaffing or poor procedure and/or management resulting in these shift times being longer than usual, breaks being missed or too many consecutive shifts occurring.
Workplaces where fatigue is a genuine, ongoing concern for workers should regularly be critically assessing their procedures to ensure worker safety all the way home.
For example, in 2013, a New South Wales woman was involved in a fatal accident on her way home from work. Her employer was ultimately found to be liable for her death, as it was attributed to fatigue from the woman working 60 hours over 5 consecutive night shifts.
This case highlights the high duty of care that employers owe to their employees, even outside of the workplace and particularly in their travels to and from the workplace
In these instances, employees are entitled to access benefits through a journey claim, and where an employer is negligent the employee – or in the case of a fatal accident , their dependants – may also take action through a common law claim.