Because of the corona virus, more and more German companies are sending their employees home to work for security reasons. After the announcement of comprehensive school closings in Germany, many managers hope to be able to keep the business going – and to ensure the health of their employees. Millions of Germans are suddenly working from home these days thanks to laptops and smartphones.
For many employees, this is something new – which also raises new questions. As nice as it sounds in theory, everyone can now sit in a dressing gown with the boss in an audio chat. So far, unrestricted, regulated safeguards that apply to employees working at home are unclear.
Because even at the desk at home, a mishap happened quickly. But who pays when the employee injures himself at work at home? The answer to this is trickier than many think. Because what many do not know: The rules for the home office are different from those in the office.
Statutory accident insurance makes a strict distinction between private and professional activities, as the Association of the German Insurance Industry explains. Employees are less in the home office than in the company under the protection of the statutory accident insurance. “Insurance coverage for home work is significantly lower than in the office,” warns Rita Reichard, lawyer at the Consumer Advice Center North Rhine-Westphalia.
If an employee stumbles in the office on the way to the coffee machine or water dispenser and injures himself, the matter is clear. If the accident happens in the company, the statutory accident insurance applies.
It looks different in the home office. There, employees are only legally insured directly at their workplace or directly there. Having coffee in the kitchen is not one of them, as the Nürnberger Versicherung emphasizes. If an employee injures himself on the way there, the employer is not liable – but in case of doubt, the employee himself.
This also had to be experienced by a worker who had been brought to court because he had climbed down the stairs in his home office in his attic apartment to fetch water and had a serious fall. The Federal Social Court decided in 2016 that this fall was not covered by statutory accident insurance.
“If at a domestic work place (home office) a route is covered within the residential building in order to pursue an economic activity (here: drinking)”, the judges found, there is no insurance protection through the statutory accident insurance. According to the Federal Social Court, the employer cannot be made responsible for the risks in the employee’s private home (Federal Social Court, file number B 2 U 5/15 R).
Even those who hurt themselves on the way to the toilet in their home office are not automatically insured by law. At least that’s how the Munich Social Court sees it. An employee had fallen on the way back from the toilet on his way home and wanted to claim the fall as an accident at work, which the judges denied (file number: S 40 U 227/18).
According to the judges, the decisive factor for insurance protection is above all the question of whether the activity is closely related to the professional tasks. The Federal Social Court speaks of a tendency to act.
If an insured person falls down the stairs, for example, and injures himself because she is on the way to the business call with her boss, which was necessary for business communication, this accident would be insured in case of doubt. This was decided by the Federal Social Court (file number B 2 U 28/17), for example, after the fall of a woman who, according to a contractual agreement with her employer, worked almost entirely in her home office. However, if she falls down the stairs because she wants to receive a private parcel, she would not be insured.
It is therefore important for homeworkers to be able to prove their intention to do something professional in the event of insurance damage. “I can therefore only give the urgent advice that anyone who has an accident in their home office immediately documents what they have just done, which document they have edited, who they have called,” says lawyer Reichard. It is also important to describe the situation to someone as quickly as possible, how the accident happened – this could be the neighbor or the doctor. Because many employees are alone in the home office.
Taking screenshots, printing e-mails or saving call lists can also help, the expert advises. Employees would have a better chance of statutory accident insurance stepping in if they could provide evidence of the professional context of the accident. “However, if you wait days to inform the employer or look for witnesses, it will be harder to convince the judges that the injury is an accident at work,” warns the lawyer. The evidence is often a problem.
Stefan Boltz from the German Social Accident Insurance also admits: “The distinction between insured and uninsured work is not that easy, especially in the home office.”
So what to do? Anyone who is preparing as an employee to spend the next few weeks in their home office and wants all-round protection can think about taking out private accident insurance. This policy also covers accidents in leisure time and in the household – and thus also damage cases that are not covered by the professional associations.
However, lawyer Reichard warns: “Temporary consequences of an accident, such as a broken leg after a fall, are not insured.” In the first six weeks, the continued wages paid by the employer jump in.
Expensive disability insurance
The core of private accident insurance is a lump sum payment in the event of prolonged damage to health. The insurer therefore pays if there is permanent damage after the accident. Depending on the design, the policy then sometimes also covers the costs of domestic help or the renovation of your own home. “Anyone who thinks about such policies should compare the offers well, since the offers differ significantly,” advises Reichard. “It is important, for example, to pay attention to a high cash payment in the event of total disability.”
Consumer advocates and the Confederation of Insureds, however, point out that accident insurance is fundamentally not suitable for providing long-term financial cushioning for the loss of labor. For this, employees should better consider occupational disability insurance, which offers a pension in the event of an insured event. This policy pays a monthly pension for the duration of an occupational disability, regardless of whether due to an accident or illness, depending on the agreement of up to 80 percent of the net income to the policyholder, the consumer advocates explain.
However, a BU policy is significantly more expensive than accident insurance. “However, accident insurance offers at least some, if only selective, protection for people who are unable to take out or only have a very expensive BU due to previous illnesses,” says lawyer Reichard from the Consumer Advice Center in North Rhine-Westphalia.
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