A recent decision by the Full Federal Court upheld a FIFO worker’s workers’ compensation claim, finding that a pub brawl outside the local tavern occurred in the “course of his employment”.

Mr Westrupp worked a 2 week on/2 week off roster for BIS Industries Ltd (BIS) in Leinster, a remote mining town in Western Australia.  Leinster is purpose-built for the mining industry and consequently only workers employed in the industry live there.  During his ‘on swing’, Westrupp lived in BIS accommodation and was subject to BIS village rules.  250 metres from his accommodation was the Leinster tavern.

While socialising at the tavern in between shifts, Westrupp was assaulted by another BIS employee. The assault injured his right shoulder and caused him to be incapacitated for a period of time.  Westrupp made a workers’ compensation claim, which the regulator denied on the basis that he had not sustained the injury during the course of his employment. The decision was upheld by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal only to be overturned soon after by the Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia.

Much to the delight of Westrupp (and the alarm of FIFO employers across the country), the court rejected BIS’s argument that, given the injury had occurred between two different shifts, it wasn’t work-related. The court emphasised that ‘regard must always be had to the general nature, terms and circumstances of the employment and not merely to the circumstances of the particular incident out of which the injury arose’.

In considering the ‘general nature, terms and circumstances of the employment’, the court took the following factors into account:

  • for the duration of his two weeks swing, Westrupp was subject to the BIS codes of behavior;
  • BIS advertised the tavern and other facilities on its website, with a view to making working conditions more attractive; and
  • BIS employees were encouraged to remain in the purpose-built town for the duration of their swing.

Therefore, even while Westrupp was “off duty”, the Federal Court found that he was still participating in an overall period of work. The incident was consequently deemed to have occurred “at work”, entitling the injured employee to workers’ compensation.