The legal definition of "workplace accidents" under French law does not normally make global headlines. However, as many of you will have read, a recent decision of the Paris Court of Appeal (CA Paris, May 27, 2019, n°16/08787) did just that.
The facts in this case were more salacious than most. The employee died of a heart attack after having sex with a woman during a business trip. The headlines were caused by incredulity that the Court determined that the death was an "accident du travail" - a workplace accident.
In this blog, we seek to separate the sensational from the legal principles. The real lesson from this case is a reminder of the extent to which an employer is liable for what happens to its employees under French law when an employee is on a business trip.
As to legal background, the starting point is the broad legal definition of an accident du travail as "any physical injury or psychological damage resulting from an event occurring on a certain date and by or in connection with work" (C. Sec. Soc. Art. L. 411-1). Moreover, there is a legal presumption that any accident during working time and at the workplace is an accident du travail. Applying this to a business trip, the caselaw has held that an accident occurring during a trip, whether in connection with "professional acts" (e.g. at a client meeting) and "everyday acts" (e.g. having a meal during a trip even if alone), is presumed to be an accident du travail. This presumption is only rebuttable if an employer can prove that in the course of the business trip, the employee had interrupted that trip for a personal reason (Cass. Civ. October 12, 2017 n° 16-22.481). In the absence of such proof, the employee is considered to be under the employer's authority and any accident is deemed to be an accident de travail.
In this case, notwithstanding the sensational facts, the key issue was whether the employer could prove that the employee's activities constituted an interruption of the trip for personal reasons.
In this regard, the Courts have adopted an extremely broad definition "everyday acts", limiting the scope for an employer to show acts that take place during a business trip are for personal reasons. This is illustrated by a 2017 decision, holding that an...