During a posting, the employee is bitten by a tick. He throws his back out while loading. He gets sunburnt while working outside. A common feature of these cases is that they are all accidents at work. Yet, if the employer does not pay attention to these, he can find himself at a serious disadvantage.
If an employee becomes incapacitated for work purposes due to an accident at work, the health insurance company will pay him/her accident-related sick pay and, after two years, accident benefit. Meanwhile, the situation is not pleasant for the employer either, as the employee that’s now off work has to be replaced. However, according to current practice, unless the employee has filed a lawsuit to claim compensation for his/her additional damages not covered by the sick pay, the employer did not have to worry about any further financial consequences. At least not until now.
Government offices are getting tougher
According to a regulation that has long been in effect, if an accident at work is the result of an employer violating occupational safety regulations, the government office’s health insurance body may claim a refund to cover the cost of the healthcare services/benefits provided.
In the past, government agencies have only used this opportunity to a minimal extent. However, experience shows that this practice has changed significantly recently. Health insurance bodies regularly issue resolutions on reimbursement of healthcare services/benefits. Some of these concern smaller amounts not exceeding HUF 100,000; however, there has been a case where the government office imposed a payment obligation in the millions of forints.
Work safety rules – compliance is no easy task
The condition for the employee to be held liable in such cases is that he/she has violated the health and safety rules and that this is the reason why the accident happened. But it can be very difficult to fully comply with workplace safety rules. If, for example, the employer does not provide adequate safety equipment (gloves, helmets, boots, creams, etc.) and the employee is injured as a result, the employer is liable. But the employer is also in breach of work safety regulations if he does not regularly check the condition of the gloves, helmets or boots, and replace them at regular intervals, maintain them or provide training on work safety rules. The boundaries of work safety rules are extremely wide, and it’s often difficult to avoid breaking them even with the utmost care.
What should you do?
If an accident at work has occurred, the most important thing is to ensure that it is properly documented. Several years later, the circumstances of an accident may be difficult to ascertain. It is equally important to continuously document precisely how the employer has complied with the occupational safety rules (e.g. through training records). It should be noted that there are several situations in which the employer is exempt from liability – for example, if the accident suffered by the employee was not caused by the infringement of work safety rules, or if only the employee can be blamed for non-compliance with such rules (e.g. the employee failed to wear the safety boots in spite of having been instructed to do so).
In the event of an accident at work, it is always necessary to thoroughly investigate the circumstances. It is often the case that not everything in an accident happened the way it first seemed.
And, finally it’s worth not giving up, even if the government office has already passed a resolution on the matter. In many cases, the decision of the authorities is based solely on the testimony of the employee and other facts that have sporadically become known to it. In many cases, therefore, it is possible to successfully fight against the decision of the authorities and to refute the circumstances on which the decision was based.
By Péter Barta, Attorney-At-Law Jalsovszky