Workers compensation is one of those central issues that necessarily impacts upon the thinking and planning of Australian employers. To use the old phrase – “accidents happen.” And indeed, it is this inevitability that leads to the simple, no-fault basis of most Australian statutory workers’ compensation schemes.
The injured volunteer
In unravelling the possibilities, it is necessary to examine the three interrelated issues of definitional challenges, the employer’s broader duty of care, and the complexity of state and federal differences in this arena.
Worker versus volunteer
Will this make them ‘workers’ for the purposes of workers compensation?
The answer will of course depend on a number of issues, beginning with the state or territory in which the injury occurs.
From there, the issue of payment and questions of control over the person’s actions will assist in establishing whether the person is – for the purposes of the law – either a worker or a volunteer.
If found to be workers for the purposes of the relevant workers compensation scheme, then the issue might well be cut-and-dried under existing legislation.
Volunteers and the employer’s duty of care
We know that employers understand the over-arching duty of care that attaches to all persons who set foot upon a work site – and the volunteer work force is no exception. The duty stems from the legal need for Australian business owners to ensure the health and safety of all persons who are present at premises or sites of the organisation. Naturally, this includes volunteers. Managing the risks associated with the duty of care owed to volunteers, staff and others at work is a crucial and ongoing exercise for employers. It is vital that organisations are clear on the coverage of their insurance for these differing groups of individuals.
State and federal differences
The liability of employers for injuries sustained by volunteers will be a complex question to answer. We often hear that organisations are deeply grateful for the valuable work of their volunteers, and are motivated to ensure their health and safety during their endeavours. Preparation is necessarily central to meeting our obligations in this complex field. Whatever the jurisdiction in which your volunteers are engaged, seek expert advice on the question of liability, should a volunteer injury occur at the work site.
Keeping up with process and procedural fairness in the workplace can be challenging. That’s why we have developed the Workplace Investigation Toolkit. Provide best practice principles and keep your business out of the Fair Work Commission. Get yours here today.