MIND THE GAP – DOES INSURANCE COVER FOR ACCIDENTS IN A HOME OFFICE?

1.                  The problem

Home Office – a modern solution from which both employees and companies can benefit. But even though it is very popular, many legal aspects have not yet been adequately addressed.

On this matter, the Social Welfare Court (SG) in Munich had to decide a rather complex case (4 July 2019; docket number: S 40 U 227/18). An employee had fallen off his stairs when he returned to his home office after going to the bathroom. He thereby suffered a serious injury to his foot.

This employee claimed compensation from his employer’s insurer, as his accident had to be qualified as work-related. The insurance company, however, argued that since the accident occurred in the employee’s private home and not on the employer’s premises, the employee had no entitlement to insurance coverage.

The employee then filed a lawsuit against the insurance company before the Social Welfare Court in Munich.

2.                  The decision

The court followed the insurance company’s arguments and dismissed the employee’s lawsuit. It pointed out that an accident could only be qualified as work-accident, if an objective connection between the work and the accident existed.

First it emphasized, that accidents that occur while using the restroom, are never covered by the employer’s insurance, since they result out of a basic human need and not out of performing a duty for the employer.

In contrast, accidents that occur on the way to the bathroom are covered by insurance. The court hereby referred to decisions of the Federal Social Welfare Court (BSG) according to which this is only the case if the employee works at the employer’s premises and uses the bathroom there. However, if the employee goes to the restroom in the home office, this is usually not insured. The court justified this by stating that the employer only had an influence on the accident risk of its employees if, as the owner of the premises, he could eliminate safety hazards. However, if employees work in a home office, the employer has no influence on the safety hazards there. Since the accident insurance only has to be liable for damages for which the employer is responsible to his employees, it does not have to pay for accidents in the home office.

The plaintiff had objected to this argument, arguing that the office in his cellar, which he used for his work, was not a normal home office. His company had no own bureau in his area, therefore his office would have been used for meetings with business partners, as well as for supplying drivers for the company on their way to customers. In return  his employer paid him a monthly lump sum. Therefore his office had to be seen as premises of his employer, so that he would be entitled to insurance coverage.

The court, however, did not follow this arguments. It pointed out that even though the company paid  the employee a lump sum, it did not even have a key to the house. Accordingly, the responsibility for the building and possible safety hazards remained with the employee. Therefore all rooms of the plaintiff’s home apart from his office had to be seen as a private space, and the accident on the stairway was therefore not covered by the insurance.

3.                  The impact

The verdict complements the case law in this area. It follows the decision of the BSG according to which the employer’s insurance did not have to cover for an accident of an employee in a home office, who slipped on the stairs while getting a glass of water from her kitchen (5 July 2016, docket-number: B 2 U 2/15 R).

Employers and employees have therefore to note that insurance coverage is generally not provided in a home office. Exceptions are very rare, for example when the accident occurs in the home office because the employee was in a particularly great hurry due to operational reasons.