Work injuries while not at work – conferences and seminars

The requirement to undertake a variety of professional development activities in order to remain eligible for teacher registration raises the question of what constitutes a “work” injury.

In September 2011, WorkCover rejected a claim from a teacher who suffered a broken arm when she fell while walking out of a conference.

The Department of Education and Training made a submission to WorkCover that the teacher should not receive compensation for her injuries because:

  • the injury happened on a weekend
  • it was after a conference that the school had not paid for or approved in advance.

WorkCover agreed with DET and rejected the claim.  In its reasons, WorkCover said: “It was not a mandatory requirement that you attend the conference as it occurred on a non-scheduled work day and was voluntary…Therefore this claim is not one for acceptance.”

The conference

The conference was an all-day, annual event organised by a professional association. The topics of the day revolved around specific subject areas and included topics linking curriculum and syllabus with practice.  It was a conference exclusively targeted at teachers, not the general public. It was held on a Saturday.

Teachers are entitled to ask their school to pay for professional development activities, but schools have to work within limited budgets and it is not uncommon for applications for funding to be knocked back.

In this case, the teacher did not ask her school to pay her conference fee.  She decided to pay for the conference herself to avoid the range of forms she would otherwise have had to complete. The day after the injury she completed a DET incident reporting form and handed it into her school to notify them of her injury.

The appeal

After receiving WorkCover’s rejection letter, the teacher sought advice from the Queensland Teachers’ Union and obtained help in lodging an application for review of WorkCover’s decision.  In that review, submissions were made to the review body (Q-Comp) to the effect: “Whether an injury arises from work and whether work is a significant contributing factor is a question to be decided based on the nature of the activity. It does not depend on whether the employer paid for the activity or even whether the employer would have paid for it.”

WorkCover accepted that the correct test is whether:

  • the injury arose out of or in the course of work
  • work was a significant contributing factor to the injury.

Whether the activity leading to the injury was mandatory or not is irrelevant.

The decision

Q-Comp finally accepted that even though the teacher paid for the conference herself and attended out of work hours, attendance at the conference was directly related to her employment.  It was an approved professional development activity which counted towards the 30 hours of professional development required to maintain eligibility for teacher registration and was relevant to her subject area.  The fact that it was outside of school hours and on a weekend did not affect her eligibility for WorkCover compensation.

The support of the Union’s legal service was essential in ensuring that the
member received proper compensation for her injury.

There is no DET process for teachers to apply for formal approval of professional development activities that they pay for themselves. You should always inform the school’s principal, preferably by email, of any professional development activities, even if you intend to pay for yourself.  While you don’t need formal approval if it is out of hours, it may be worthwhile to keep your principal informed.

Stay safe at work – and at conferences!

Rachel Drew

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 117 No 1, 17 February 2012, p25