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Accident at work – and what’s next: The link between accident and work

In order for an incident to be considered an accident at work, it is necessary to establish its connection with work. In this respect, no serious doubt is raised with respect to an accident suffered by an employee in the performance of his or her duties. However, in some cases, the accident report refers to an accident that occurred in circumstances not directly related to the employee’s performance of his or her work, for example during a staff social event. To properly classify such accident, it is necessary to determine whether the event was work-related.

Accident while performing work

An accident suffered by an employee during and at work should be classified as a work-related accident. However, there are exceptions from this rule. This applies to accidents which occur in circumstances justifying the assumption that the link with work has been broken. It relates to the employee taking actions inconsistent with the purpose of employment. For example, this may be the case when the employee deals with private matters during the course of work or when the employee arbitrarily leaves the workplace. For example, the case law has established that the link with work is broken when an employee is a victim of a beating exclusively as a result of his or her misbehaviour and with relation to a private conflict.

The qualification of events that occur when the employee is working while under the influence of alcohol or narcotics is problematic. Although such employee behaviour is obviously reprehensible and contrary to his or her duties, it cannot be considered on this basis alone not being an accident at work. The link with work will be broken if the employee consumes alcohol instead of working. Thus, as long as the employee is doing his job, the link will not be broken. An exception is made if the employee is pulled away from his or her job due to a state of intoxication and yet takes up work on his or her own initiative. It should be noted, however, that an employee who, under the influence of alcohol or drugs, has contributed significantly to causing an accident will not be entitled to a one-off compensation for suffering an accident at work.

There are also doubts as concerns accidents that occur during a break in the performance of work. The purpose of such a break is crucial in this respect. If it is a short break connected with work (for example, in order to eat a meal), then the link with work is not considered broken. On the other hand, an accident that occurs during a longer break taken to handle private matters (for example to appear in court in a case unrelated to the workplace) will not be considered work-related.

Accident outside working hours

An accident at work may also be considered to be an event that occurs outside the time and place of work. This applies to events that take place in connection with the employee’s activities conducted on behalf of the employer. Indeed, an accident at work may be considered to be an event which occurs during a training course to which the employee was referred by the employer. The link between the accident and work is not precluded by the fact that the employee performed activities without the employer’s instructions or even knowledge if they were undertaken in the employer’s interest. For example, this may be the case when the employee undertakes to extinguish a fire that he or she happens to notice at the workplace. The opposite of activities undertaken on behalf of the employer is work done exclusively for the employee’s or a third party’s interest.

What if an accident occurs during a staff social event? There is no clear answer to this question. In practice, it depends on whether the employee’s participation in such event was mandatory (for example, it was linked to a visit by representatives of the company’s headquarters) or whether it was entirely voluntary. An accident during a meeting in which the employee took part at the employer’s request may be considered an accident at work. On the other hand, if participation in the event depended solely on the employee’s discretion, then there are no grounds for considering the accident at the event to be an accident at work, even if the event was organised by the employer. Such circumstance can only be considered an unfortunate accident.

Anna Kluj, Attorney-at-Law