Germany: Bed To Home Office Injury Represents Workplace Accident
Before the pandemic broke out, the number of people working away from the office was already increasing. However, the phenomenon mentioned has developed even more since then. Employers have noticed that employees in certain fields can work partly or fully online. Therefore, it’s expected that hybrid work will be widely adopted. Even so, this fact generates various legal concerns, especially about workers’ rights.
Recently, a German court ruled that a man who fell while walking from his bedroom to his home office was actually injured at work, and therefore, will be compensated under his employer’s workplace accident insurance policy.
The context of the workplace accident
In a ruling issued in December last year, the German Federal Social Court agreed to the claims made by a sales manager who suffered an accident in 2018. Usually, the man started his day with work-related activities. Thus, as he headed to his home office, he slipped on the spiral staircase in his apartment, breaking a thoracic vertebra.
According to the court documents, it was decided in the first instance that the plaintiff’s walk to his home office was not a matter to be covered by the work accident policy, but rather “an uninsured preparatory act which only precedes any insured risks”. Finally, the employee went to a higher court.
In his complaint, the employee argued that people who work from home should not receive less legal protection in the event of possible work accidents compared to those who work on-site. He also pointed out that, during the current pandemic in Germany, a significant percentage of people chose to work from home, facing similar situations.
The motivation of the court
The Federal Social Court agreed with the worker’s claims. The court stated that, in exceptional cases, if the insured activity takes place in the household of the insured person or in another location, the insurance policy provided by the employer will take effect in the same way as when the work is performed at the company’s premises.
Moreover, according to the court, there are additional factors to be taken into account relating to the objective tendency of the insured person. In other words, the employee wanted to perform an activity in the service of the employing company, which in practice led to the accident.
At the same time, the decision took into account the legal framework for teleworking, respectively, the law applies to “telework stations”, i.e. “computerized workspaces that are permanently arranged by the employer in the private area of employees.”
Why this decision is important
The case raises a number of essential questions about the culture of teleworking. When an employee’s home is also his or her workplace, what rights and obligations do he or she have? What happens if you get injured while working at home? It’s considered a workplace accident?
First of all, it’s necessary to mention that people who work from home, either remote or hybrid, may also suffer various accidents related to professional tasks. In principle, the safety measures that normally could be observed in the workplace are completely missing at home. There are relatively few home-based offices that comply with the rules for a well-designated workspace. Moreover, not all workers benefit from technical facilities from the employer for work from home, such as desks, ergonomic chairs, and monitors, proper lighting, etc., plus other basic elements for a workspace that limits the occurrence of accidents.
For example, about 28% of all families in the United States reported various home injuries in 2020. The vast majority were due to a fall or injury with a sharp object. Globally, experts have seen an increase in spinal cord injuries, lumbar disk pain, or carpal tunnel syndrome.
The culture of hybrid work in Germany
As the Covid-19 pandemic seems to be spreading indefinitely, more and more companies are realizing that “hybrid” forms of work may become the new norm. Hybrid work involves a flexible mix of office attendance on some days and remote work on others.
In principle, the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) sector in Germany, also known as the “Mittelstand”, was particularly skeptical about the adoption of the remote working model, criticizing the authorities’ decisions to force employees to work in this way. But nowadays, according to the latest data provided, employers are amazed at how well their staff is doing.