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What does an accident at work mean?

Have you had an accident at work? What are you entitled to, what is pain and suffering and how is it determined? Does the procedure differ if you caused the accident in part by a breach of your duties? And why is your employer allowed to give you notice in connection with an accident at work? We answer all this in our article.

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What is an accident at work?

An accident at work is defined as an injury to an employee’s health or death resulting from or in connection with work tasks.

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Typically, we think of a workplace accident as an accident that occurs while doing some relatively dangerous work – for example, a gas leak in a laboratory and subsequent explosion that causes lacerations and damage to the eyesight of employees, or an electrical shock while installing electrical equipment.

However, an accident at work can also happen to any of us who are doing a perfectly safe job, for example in an office. For example, a sprained ankle caused by a fall in a stairwell on the way to the payroll department.

From the point of view of employment law, it is important to distinguish between the following work-related injuries:

  • fatal – i.e. an injury from which the employee died within one year at the latest. It is therefore irrelevant to the legal consequences whether or not the death occurs directly at the workplace,
  • serious – injuries involving hospitalisation for more than five days,
  • accidents at work with hospitalisation of more than 3 days (relevant for reporting purposes),
  • other occupational accidents.

What should be done if an accident occurs at the workplace?

If you, as an employee, have an accident and your health allows you to do so, you must notify your employer immediately. The same applies if the accident happens to another colleague. However, the mere fact that you do not report the accident to your employer does not deprive you of any possible claim for compensation.

Mr Paul fell on a construction site, twisted his leg in a pit and fell on it. He took little notice of the pain and reported nothing to anyone. During the night, his leg swelled up and began to hurt more and a doctor diagnosed a torn knee ligament and issued him with a sick leave. Although Mr. Paul did not report anything, he can consider his injury to be work-related.

If an injury is reported, the employer will first investigate how it occurred and whether it is indeed a work-related injury. The mere fact that an injury occurred during working hours does not necessarily mean that it is a work-related injury. It is always examined whether work tasks were being performed and the connection between the performance of work tasks and the accident. Employees are obliged to cooperate in the investigation of the circumstances of such an accident.

In a now legendary example of an accident at work, a construction worker claimed compensation for an accident that occurred during his break when he went to light a cigarette and sat on an unprotected skylight near the roof. From the employer’s point of view, the work was not in the course of work and the employee had been sufficiently warned not to sit on the spot (the court also found that the vulgar instruction “Shit, don’t climb on those skylights, you might fall off” was sufficient). Nevertheless, in the end, the courts held that when an employee stops work for a while, even though the employer has not declared a break in work, to smoke a cigarette during working hours, this is a normal act of the employee, which cannot relieve the employer from liability for any accident that happens to the employee at that moment. The injury was therefore accepted as work-related and the only subsequent consideration was the degree of contributory fault of the employee who failed to heed his employer’s warning.

Situations where, for example, an employee collapses or has an epileptic seizure at work and as a result injures his or her head are controversial. The employer must investigate what exactly led to the collapse or seizure. If the cause was any increased exertion, which may have included stress, i.e. mental exertion, then the subsequent injury is a work-related injury. This fact has been repeatedly confirmed by the Czech courts.

If it is confirmed that the accident was work-related, the employer must enter it in the accident book and, if it was an accident with incapacity for work for more than 3 days, he must draw up a record and send it to the relevant authorities and institutions and also forward it to the employee.

Tip: If the employer is concerned that there has been a loss or change in the employee’s ability to work, for example if the employee has not worked for more than 8 weeks after an accident at work with severe consequences, the employer can order an emergency medical examination. We have covered this topic in more detail on our blog.

What about accidents on lunch break, on a business trip or on the way to the doctor?

Occasionally, we receive queries when the injury occurred de facto during or shortly before or after working hours, but the employee was away from the workplace at the time. In this case, we need to distinguish which moment it was.

  • If you are only on your way to the workplace, or have already left it after working hours, this is not in the performance of your duties and any injury is not work-related.
  • If you leave for lunch or a doctor’s appointment, the same applies as in the previous point.
  • If you go to a business meeting or go on a business trip, the situation is different because it is in the performance of your duties. If you have an accident at a meeting or on the way to a meeting, it is considered work-related.
  • On the other hand, if you are celebrating the birth of a colleague’s child in the office after work and you knock over a desk and break your arm, it is not a work-related accident, even though it happened in the workplace.

Local time and material considerations are always taken into account to assess whether it was directly related to the performance of work tasks.

What am I entitled to if I have an accident at work?

Consider first the situation where you have had an accident at work for which you are not at fault – that is, you were not under the influence of alcohol, you did not break a set procedure or a regulation.

In this case, your employer is obliged to compensate you for:

  • damages in kind,
  • reasonable costs of treatment,
  • loss of earnings,
  • pain and suffering, and inconvenience to your social life.

Material damage – this is compensation in money for damage to property. If, for example, the employer’s own car (used with the employer’s consent), the employer’s clothes, etc. have been destroyed. In some circumstances, this may include other costs, for example, to arrange for people to look after your household if the accident has made this impossible.

Purposefully incurred medical expenses – this includes costs for medication, rehabilitation, nursing, doctor’s fees etc. The exceptions are costs paid by the insurance company and costs that are not reasonably incurred.

Loss of earnings – This means, firstly, the reduction in earnings during the sick leave following the work injury. The purpose of this compensation is to compensate the employee for loss of earningsduring the period of incapacity.

Should the work injury result in a permanent inability to earn the original earnings, the employer must also compensate for such loss. The employee would then be entitled to the difference between his average monthly gross earnings before the injury (determined by the employer) and the earnings he achieved after the accident or the occupational disease, plus any disability pension

Pain and impairment of social work – this is a one-off compensation for the damage caused by the injury to health, paid on the basis of a medical opinion. It is usually determined at the time when the medical condition is stable. In theory, however, it can be paid repeatedly if further pain is incurred.

In the case of pain and suffering, compensation is determined on the basis of a table where a certain number of points are assigned to each type of injury. In the case of work injuries, the value of one point is set at CZK 250 in 2022. An example would be

  • Severe concussion valued at 60 points, i.e. the pain award is CZK 15 000;
  • Shoulder dislocation valued at 50 points, the pain award is CZK 12 500;
  • Brain swelling valued at 200 points, i.e. 270 points = 50 000 CZK.

Exemption from employer’s liability for an accident at work

The employer shall be fully exonerated from liability if it proves that the damage occurred:

  • the injured employee’sviolation of regulations or instructions for ensuring health and safety at work, while the injured employee was duly acquainted with them,
  • as a direct result of drunkenness or under the influence of other addictive substances used by the employee.

However, the burden of proof in this case lies with the employer.

Long-term or permanent consequences of an accident at work

If, as a result of an accident at work, the employee can no longer perform his/her work according to the medical opinion, the employer is obliged to transfer the employee to another job. If this is not possible, this is one of the exceptional cases in which your employer may give you notice. However, in this case you are entitled to severance pay of at least 12 times your average earnings.

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Author of the article

JUDr. Ondřej Preuss, Ph.D.

Ondřej is the attorney who came up with the idea of providing legal services online. He's been earning his living through legal services for more than 10 years. He especially likes to help clients who may have given up hope in solving their legal issues at work, for example with real estate transfers or copyright licenses.

Education
  • Law, Ph.D, Pf UK in Prague
  • Law, L’université Nancy-II, Nancy
  • Law, Master’s degree (Mgr.), Pf UK in Prague
  • International Territorial Studies (Bc.), FSV UK in Prague

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