A seven-year employee of a McDonald’s restaurant in Australia has won a court case granting her rights to workers’ compensation benefits, after the court deemed a smoke break taken before her shift began was part of the time she was required to be onsite. She had arrived ten minutes early to “help with the shift transition,” and injured herself while taking a smoke break on the roof of the building.

It sounds like they have very weird shift transitions in Australia.

According to court records, she had gone to the roof for a “smoko,” and ended up breaking her leg when she fell off the ladder climbing back down. Her application for workers’ compensation was rejected by WorkCover Queensland. She successfully appealed to the Industrial Court of Queensland, with that court determining that the time she was required to be at work before her official shift was an enforced work break, and that entitled her to workers’ compensation benefits.

Australian laws, very similar to most US statutes, require that an injury or disease arises out of, or in the course of, employment to qualify for coverage from workers compensation legislation.

The case is a bellwether for Australia, as it now defines that an employee required to be on the premises outside shift hours can be termed as “within the course of” their employment. This is not really news in the US, as many comp systems have taken that interpretation for some time.

No, actually the big news here is that people in Australia apparently call smoke breaks “smoko’s.” That is the real headline. Also, having your employees climb to the roof in order to smoke, which is the apparent common practice at this restaurant, is just plain stupid. We only have one smoker in our office, and we made him stop climbing on the roof years ago, although it wasn’t out of concern for a workplace injury. It is a two-story building and we did not want him denting any of our cars.

The attorney for the employee noted that lax supervision during these “enforced pre-shift breaks” may be a contributory factor in the case. She said, “So, in these types of claims, if [smoking on the roof is] common practice and no-one says, ‘Hey, you actually need to stop doing that,’ the onus falls back on your employer to actually take steps to train and direct and instruct your staff that that is not a practice that is actually allowed.” 

In other words, don’t be an idiot and allow your dumbass employees to smoke on the roof of your building. That arrangement, as we now see, sometimes does not end well. Proper supervision of employee activities, including pre and post shift, is essential.

And if you require your employees to be there 10 minutes early so they can have a “smoko” on your roof and break their leg while climbing down, well that is just a really dumbo thing to do. There has to be a better way to transition those shifts…..

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