Teleworking: what happens in the case of a workplace accident? Key points to consider

Searching for a new work culture is undeniably the norm in almost every work environment today. What is known as ‘hybrid working’ is evolving after the Covid 19 pandemic with attempts to create a framework that revolves around employees’ well-being. Companies are experimenting to what extent a combination of trust, flexibility, autonomy and commitment can result in a hybrid working environment. Teleworking is a valuable tool for this purpose.

Teleworking is neither a right nor a duty. The employer and employee need to make written arrangements regarding where and when it occurs, taking the legislation on teleworking into account. The Belgian Workplace Accidents Act of 1978 remains fully applicable. An important consequence of applying this Act is that there is always a presumption of a workplace accident and the victim need only prove they have sustained an injury because of a sudden event. If no arrangements have been made, there is no legal presumption, and the victim must prove that the accident occurred while performing their employment contract. This is sometimes difficult while working from home because work and private life often overlap. The question of whether an accident is a workplace or private accident is driven mainly by financial considerations because the benefits for a workplace accident are higher than for a private accident.

Teleworking need not happen at home; it can also be done in a coworking space, a second residence, or even from your holiday address as long as this is documented in advance with written arrangements. It should be noted that an accident which occurs while travelling between two teleworking sites is not regarded as a workplace accident. However, the legislature views travel to get lunch or to take children to or pick them up from school as insured.

By definition, teleworkers need to be able to connect to the company through the internet or business computer network. If this is not possible, the legal presumption does not apply and the victim must still prove that it was a workplace accident.

In all cases, the insurer may always prove that a teleworker’s accident is unrelated to performing their employment contract. In such disputes, an insurer will sometimes examine the circumstances to see whether this accident could also have happened in the workplace. For example, if a teleworker sprains their foot while emptying their post box, one can check whether the post was actually necessary for performing the employment contract.

As you can see, there are some points for both the employer and employee to consider:

  1. Making clear written arrangements is imperative.
  2. Inform the employer if there are deviations from these arrangements.
  3. Make sure there are witnesses to an accident (preferably a neighbour or someone passing by; an independent party).
  4. Contact a doctor and have the injuries recorded as soon as possible.

Lastly, to cover ‘grey-zone’ cases as much as possible, there is the possibility of including the Excess Cover Act or law of general application in the statutory workplace accidents policy. Under this policy, you not only insure the total salary (including the part above the threshold for workplace accidents) but for some years now, most insurers have also provided an extension to still compensate a rejected teleworking accident as a private accident.