An employee who was seriously injured during an altercation at a work Christmas celebration who attempted to sue his employer for breaching its duty of care has lost his case.
The Christmas party was held on board a cruise boat with families of employees also present. The cruise boat was shared with another party of employees from a different company and when some of the people in this other party became rowdy the employee confronted them, asking them to tone down their behaviour. After a second confrontation, the man was hit from behind by a member of the other party and sustained serious injuries as a result.
Justice David Jackson acknowledged the employer’s duty of care and that this included a requirement to take reasonable steps to ensure employees’ safety during the function.
However Justice Jackson said that the company had not breached this duty of care and rejected the employee’s assertion that the company’s director should have foreseen the risk and intervened prior to the situation escalating into physical assault.
A key comment from the judge in this case which employers should take heed of is that, when considering the behaviour of the other party in the lead up to the incident, there was not “an inkling that the situation was either likely to or might produce violence.”
This comment shows how important it is for those in positions of responsibility on such occasions to remain aware of potential hazards. In situations such as this, the environment is not static and unforeseen risks may easily develop.
This same principle of continued vigilance and evasive action may be applied in various work situations, particularly in the area of workplace bullying. Workplace investigations conducted by iHR Australia often uncover behaviour which is inappropriate but does not constitute bullying at the time of the investigation. However, if left unaddressed, this behaviour could continue and escalate into repeated unreasonable behaviour which creates a risk to health and safety and is therefore considered workplace bullying. With this in mind, it is important that workplace investigations are conducted in a thorough manner and result in recommendations on how to prevent poor behaviour in future.