Digitalisation and modern communication technology have made working from home a real possibility. It is increasingly popular to work partly or wholly from your home office. It helps with work-life balance: take the children to school in the morning, then head to your home office, and do the housework in between. But what if an employee has an accident in his or her private home? For accidents in the workplace, statutory accident insurance generally applies. But does this also apply to accidents in a home office? Or does the extra personal freedom mean the loss of accident insurance coverage?
Statutory accident insurance protection
Statutory accident insurance provides insurance cover for occupational accidents and diseases. According to s8 paragraph 1 sentence 1 of the Social Security Code VII (‘SGB VII’), accidents at work are accidents involving insured persons ‘as a result’ of an activity that justifies the insurance cover (according to s2 paragraph 1 no. 1 SGB VII). There must therefore be a link between the specific activity to which the accident related and the insured activity. This is determined by whether the employee was performing an activity that served the company and this will be confirmed by the objective circumstances of the individual case. The case law demands that the employee not only wanted to do his job, but that this was also reflected in the external circumstances (see BSG of 5 July 2016 – B 2 U 5/15 R).
According to this, accidents will be insured when they take place during company work (performance of the insured activity, where, for example, the employee is injured by a falling file when pulling it from the shelf) as well as on trips related to the employer organisation, that is, trips relating to the performance of the insured activity (such as where an employee falls on the way to the copy shop, where he or she wanted to copy an official document). This insurance also covers commuting accidents (accidents that occur on the way from home to work).
Insurance cover in home offices?
But what happens if an employee working from home has an accident? How will it be assessed, for example, if an employee whose home office is located on the upper floor of a residential building falls down the stairs to the ground floor where he or she wanted to get a glass of water from the kitchen? Or how about if the employee falls and is injured after entering the house, where there is a desk in the living room for working from home? The difficulty in these cases lies in differentiating between ‘official’ activities and those activities that are part of the private sphere and are therefore not insured.
In the first case, for example, the Federal Social Court (‘BSG’) denied insurance cover: the distance covered moving around within a residential building for the purpose of food intake is not regarded as an insured operating distance in the domestic area. This is because the employee did not make the ‘journey’ in the exercise of the insured activity, meaning the necessary connection between the activity actually exercised and the insured activity was absent (see BSG of 5 July 2016 – B 2 U 5/15 R).
In the second case, where the employee fell on the stairs between the basement garage and ground floor where his home office was situated, the BSG also decided to the detriment of the insured person. A commuting accident, which would have been insured, was ruled out, because the boundary to the ‘private’ sphere had been crossed when he crossed through the outer door. In addition, ‘travelling’ within the house is not an insured activity (see BSG of 12 December 2006 – B 2 U 28/05 R).
The decisive element for statutory accident insurance protection in the home office is what specific activity and for what purpose the employee is engaged in at the moment of the accident. In contrast to a job in the workplace, where insurance cover is regularly provided by statutory accident insurance, in a home office scenario it can easily be the case that insurance cover is not provided in the specific circumstances involved, due to the typical combination of official and private activities.
Employees who are interested in working from home should be aware of this and should make sure that there is a clear distinction between official and private life in their home workplace. Otherwise there is a risk of losing statutory accident insurance cover.