A Paris court ruled that a sex-induced death was a workplace accident

A model for us all.
A model for us all.
Image: Reuters/Benoit Tessier
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Although no one in the world may be as inclined to strike as the French worker, employees in France have exceptional legal protections, as a recent ruling from a Paris appeals court proves.

In a case about employer liability for a worker’s death while away on business, the judges found that sex-induced cardiac arrest can be considered a workplace accident, though the sexual liaison wasn’t strictly related to the employer’s mission. The May ruling, reported by France’s BFM TV on Sept. 6 (link in French) after a French attorney posted about it on LinkedIn, stems from a 2013 matter involving TSO, a railway construction company, and its deceased employee.

The company argued that it could not be held liable for the worker’s death, despite the fact that it happened while he was on an assignment, because the cause of his demise, cardiac arrest after sex, was unrelated to the job he was sent to do. In support of this position, TSO argued that the employee wasn’t even in the hotel room secured by the company during the encounter. Not only that, but the liaison was adulterous and with “a perfect stranger.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, French judges were unmoved by these prudish arguments. They noted that an employee traveling for work is the employer’s responsibility, whatever the employee may do and even off work hours.

Sex is just a part of daily life, like taking a shower or having a meal, they said. An employer is liable for the worker throughout an assignment unless the company can show evidence that the employee actually deviated from the company’s mission at the time of injury. TSO, however, did not provide proof that the employee’s sexual liaison constituted an interruption of his work mission—the sexual liaison thus did not shift the company’s liability.

This is a stark contrast to cases in the US, for example, where employer liability during business trips is generally limited to injuries arising “within the course and scope of employment.” An employee on a business trip may be entitled to “continuous coverage” but that coverage is interrupted if the worker deviates from the work mission for purely personal reasons.

Unlike the Paris appeals court judges, American jurists tend to make a much less generous view of what a worker might do on a business trip and what counts as an interruption of their employer’s mission. For example, in 2015, a Texas appeals court ruled that an employee away on business who was severely injured in a car accident while going from work to dinner with his son was not acting within the course and scope of employment.

“The first step [in determining whether an activity is in the course and scope of employment] requires determining whether the activity (1) originates in the employer’s work, business, trade, or profession and (2) furthers the employer’s affairs,” the court noted. Although the employee eventually died from injuries related to the accident, the judges did not find liability under worker compensation law, noting that the dinner meeting with family was purely personal.

You can just imagine then how they would have felt about a claim arising from a sexual liaison with “a perfect stranger.”