190913 french
For illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Pixabay

LONDON: A court in France has ruled that a man who died from a heart attack after having sex during a business trip had suffered a work-related accident and that his employer was liable.

The man, who was identified in court documents only as Xavier, traveled in 2013 to the Loiret region in central France as a security technician for the rail engineering company TSO. After work one night, he had sex with a woman at her house before returning to his hotel. He later died from a heart attack said to have been linked to the encounter.

A health insurance fund decided that the death resulted from a work-related accident, but TSO appealed, saying that the employee had interrupted his work trip for an adulterous relationship, and had therefore acted outside the company's purview.

The Court of Appeal in Paris upheld the insurance fund's decision in a ruling released in May, but the case only gained public attention after the details were published last week on LinkedIn by a French lawyer, Sarah Balluet, who specializes in labor disputes.

Like that of other countries, French law considers any accident that happens on a business trip to be work-related, even if the activity is not closely related to the employee's mission.

The court in Paris said that the law protected employees engaged in everyday activities for the entirety of any such trip, unless they interrupted planned business activities. It heard from the insurance fund that sex was part of everyday life, "like having a shower or a meal," and that the employee, therefore, was covered by work-related protections while on the trip.

Finding that TSO could not show a schedule proving that the man was supposed to be working at the time, the court upheld the insurance fund claim.

"This ruling is without precedent," Balluet wrote, adding that the case should be reviewed by a higher court. "Obviously, in this case, considering that the heart failure happened in a situation outside of professional activity, the ruling is questionable," she added.

According to AurElien Boulanger, a lawyer at Gide, an international law firm based in Paris, the Court of Appeal's decision was not entirely surprising.

"There are even more extraordinary cases like that of an employee stung by a wasp while driving a car, considered as a work accident," Boulanger said in a telephone interview.

Once it was established that the accident had happened at a place of employment or during time spent on business, it was up to the employer to prove that the event had nothing to do with work, which could be very difficult, he added.

Among the reasons for a company to fight the recognition of an accident as work-related is the fact that each case increases their social security contributions, sometimes significantly.

According to the French national health insurance fund, the partner of a person who dies in a work-related accident can receive a pension of up to 40% of the deceased's annual income. In addition, the insurance pays for a share of the funeral costs and the partner can be eligible for a one-time payout of about $3,800.

The health and safety of workers can be an expensive concern for companies around the world. Businesses in the United States, for example, spent $2.6 billion on treating drug abuse and overdoses in 2016 in fallout from the country's opioid crisis - and that figure did not include the cost of lost productivity.