Work-related injury and teleworking: strict application of the legal presumption of imputability
CA de La Réunion 4-5-2023 n° 22/00884; CA Amiens 15-6-2023 n° 22/00474
Since the health crisis, the use of telecommuting has accelerated at an unprecedented rate, and has become a permanent feature of our working lives.
It is in this context that two recent rulings have been handed down on the question of whether or not to apply the presumption of imputability of a work-related accident that occurred while teleworking during the health crisis.
In two rulings handed down on May 4, 2023 and June 15, 2023, the Réunion and Amiens Courts of Appeal ruled that the legal presumption of imputability did not apply, since in this case the accident had occurred either outside the workplace or outside working hours.
As a reminder, an accident at work, whatever its cause, is considered to be any accident caused by or in the course of work to any person employed or working, in any capacity or in any place whatsoever, for one or more employers or company managers.
The law establishes a principle of legal presumption of imputability, according to which an accident occurring at work is presumed to be an accident at work.
This means that the employee does not have to prove that the accident was caused by work-related causes, but only that the accident occurred at the time and place of work.
This protection against workplace accidents is extended to teleworking employees, since the law also stipulates that an accident occurring at the teleworking location during the teleworker’s professional activity is presumed to be a workplace accident.
In the absence of a presumption of imputability, it is up to the employee to provide proof by any means of the causal link between the accident and his professional activity.
In both cases, it was ruled that this proof had not been provided.
In the first case decided by the Réunion Court of Appeal, the employee had started teleworking when he heard a noise outside his home and his Internet connection went down. He then went outside to talk to the truck driver, who had just hit a telephone pole when a second vehicle pulled on some wires, causing the pole to fall on the employee.
The employee maintained that he had gone out in order to understand the origin of the computer breakdown and restore the connection so that he could resume his activity. He deduced from this that he had left his home for the purposes of his professional activity and that the accident had occurred at work and in the course of the performance of his employment contract.
Conversely, the Court of Appeal considered that the occupational nature of the accident had not been established, as the employee had stopped work for a personal reason and was not under his employer’s authority at the time of the accident.
In the second case decided by the Amiens Court of Appeal, an employee had set up a telecommuting office in her basement, accessed via a staircase, at the request of her employer in response to the health crisis. She had finished teleworking at 4:01pm, in accordance with her work schedule, and said she had fallen down the stairs at 4:02pm, fracturing her right elbow and upper limbs.
The employee maintained that she had informed her employer of her fall very quickly, and that her accident would have been taken care of had she not been teleworking, as it occurred within a minute of the end of her working day.
The Court of Appeal considered that the evidence could not be derived solely from the employee’s statements that she had fallen one minute after leaving her telecommuting position, and that the employee could only justify informing the employer at 5:33 pm and being hospitalized at 5:50 pm.
Strict application of the presumption of imputability of an accident at work :
Both decisions strictly apply the conditions for implementing the presumption of imputability.
For the record, it should be remembered that the case law of the French Supreme Court (Cour de cassation) adopts an extensive concept of time and place of work.
For example, the occupational nature of an accident suffered by an employee who had just left his workstation and was still on the premises of the establishment where he was employed was confirmed (Cass. ass. plén. 3-7-1987 n° 86-14.914).
The Courts of Appeal of Réunion and Amiens have ruled that this extensive approach cannot be transposed to telecommuting.
However, the question arises as to whether, in view of the development of teleworking, other appeal courts will adopt the same position or a more extensive conception of working time and place.
The position of the Court of Cassation is awaited in this matter, as an appeal will be lodged against the ruling of the Réunion Court of Appeal.
Towards European legislation on teleworking :
Within the European Union, teleworking is governed by the 2002 European Framework Agreement. This agreement is non-binding, allowing each member state to adopt its own legislation, with the result that regulations vary widely (see the March 2023 report by EUROGIP on the recognition of work-related accidents in teleworking).
However, in 2022, a European negotiation process has officially begun between the European social partners with a view to preparing a proposal for a directive on telework, in order to harmonize its framework.
In addition, consultations between European states have resulted in a Framework Agreement on cross-border teleworking, which takes effect on July 1, 2023.
This framework agreement enables cross-border employees who telework less than 50% of their working time in their country of residence to continue to be covered by the social security legislation of their country of employment.
However, the text only applies to relations between two signatory states, i.e. 18 countries including France as of July 1, 2023.