French company liable for worker who died after sex on business trip

PARIS (AFP) - Should a heart attack during an adulterous tryst on a business trip count as a work-related accident? A French court has ruled it should, surprising even seasoned watchers of the country's protective legislation.

In February 2013, a company called TSO specialised in building railway tracks and based in north-eastern France sent a technician on a business trip to the town of Meung-sur-Loire.

The last the company heard of the man identified in court papers as Mr Xavier was when they received a call to say he had suffered a heart attack and died after having sex at the home of a woman he met on the trip.

France's health insurance fund ruled that the man's death was an industrial accident and ordered TSO to compensate his family, a decision which was challenged in court.

After losing a first appeal before a social security tribunal, the company took the matter to the Paris Court of Appeal which confirmed the lower court decision in May, according to the ruling seen by AFP.

The judgment, which only came to the attention of local media in recent days, found that having sex was as normal as "taking a shower or having a meal" and that Mr Xavier was still entitled to his company's protection.

The company argued the man was not working when having "an adulterous affair with a perfect stranger".

Rouen-based lawyer and lecturer Sarah Balluet, who brought the case to public attention on social media, said it lowered the bar for workplace accidents.

Under French law, an employee is considered at work for the entire duration of a business trip, unless the company proves otherwise.

Balluet argued that in her view by engaging in sex the technician had "removed himself from his employer's authority".

But the court ruled that TSO had "failed to provide proof that the employee broke off his mission to perform an act that was completely separate from it".

Balluet described the ruling as "surprising" compared with previous rulings by the Cour de Cassation, France's highest court, "which has always attempted to establish whether or not the employee was carrying out his professional duties". Neither TSO nor its lawyers were available to comment on the case, which has put employers in a bind.

"The question companies are asking themselves now is whether they need to expressly forbid workers from having sex during a business trip," Balluet said.