A McDonald’s worker who broke her leg during a pre-shift smoke break has won her appeal in a Queensland court and will receive worker’s compensation. The case is expected to have far reaching consequences for employers who ask their staff to arrive for work before their official clock-in time.
Mandep Sarkaria was smoking on the roof of the Richlands McDonalds 10 minutes before her shift, when she fell from a ladder on her way down, breaking her right leg. Ms Sarkaria also bypassed a sign on the ladder that warned her not to proceed.
The restaurant’s policy required staff to arrive 10 minutes before the start of their shift.
Ms Sarkaria’s application for workers compensation was rejected by WorkCover Queensland in 2017, but this decision has now been overturned by the Industrial Court of Queensland.
WorkCover claimed that because Ms Sarkaria had not started her shift, the injury occurred on an “ordinary recess” during which she subjected herself to an abnormal risk.
However, Justice Glenn Martin disagreed with WorkCover’s assessment, and said he believed that Ms Sarkaria was on an enforced work break.
“Although none of the employees at the restaurant would serve a customer, or cook food, or lift a mop from the time they arrived until their shift commenced they had, in my view, commenced work.”
“Their presence at the place of employment at a fixed time before their shift commenced meant that the people they were replacing could leave in a timely way at the end of their shift and there would be no disruption to the efficient conduct of the enterprise.”
Australian law states that for an injury or illness to be covered under workers compensation legislation, it must arise out of, or in the course of, employment.
The ruling is a stark reminder to employers that, in general, if you require a worker to be on site before or after their shift, you are likely to be liable for workers compensation during that period, as it is likely to be deemed ‘within the course’ of their employment.