Most ancient Greek philosophers were concerned with destiny (and the inability of men to define it). This is why there are so many quotes referencing destiny. The most known of them, “destiny is impossible to escape” («το πεπρωμένον φυγείν αδύνατον») is attributed to Pindar. The relevant Socratic phrase is more or less the same: “no one can avoid destiny” («Την ειμαρμένην ουδ’ αν εκφύγοι»).
Regardless of one’s position on destiny and fate, the law does not consider destiny at all.
Even when we talk about accidents. Especially accidents at work.
And then responsibilities are sought.
And persons to be held responsible.
II. Protection of workers
Protecting the health and physical integrity of workers when they are working must be (and largely is) the responsibility of the State and the legislator. To a significant extent of the business as well. The humanitarian dimension is critical (as well as self-evident). But the financial aspect of accidents at work is also important: accidents at work and occupational diseases come at a cost. And not a negligible one: a cost burdening the victims, businesses, insurance companies, insurance organizations. Of course the community as well.
III. Accident at work
Article 1 of Law 551/1915 provides: “Accidental incident, deriving from a violent event, involving a worker or employee doing one of the works referred to in Article 2, while they are performing or on account of the work, the owner of the business shall provide a compensation to the persons entitled, in accordance with the provisions hereof, in the event that the absence from work caused by the accident is more than four days, except in the case where the worker or employee had intentionally caused the accident.
Correspondingly, the provision of Article 8 law 1846/1951 (: “IKA (Social Security of employees) Institutional Law”) defines an accident as: “The violent incident or occupational disease occurring at work or because of work”.
Therefore: The concept of an accident at work
The concept of an accident at work covers any violent event that causes damage to the health of an employee. Requirement: it must have occurred while the employee was performing their job or because of their job. The concept of an accident at work also includes occupational diseases which are (directly or indirectly) related to the work of the victim. More precisely: if it is in a causal (direct or indirect) link with their work. Sometimes case law seems to, unfortunately, end up adopting extreme positions on what constitutes an occupational disease.
Employer liability in the event of an accident at work
The employer is obliged to compensate the victim (Article 2 of Law 551/1915). This is because (in accordance with Article 662 of the Civil Code): “the employer is responsible for the work and the place it is performed, as well as the residence, facilities and machinery or tools in order to protect the life and health of the employee.”
Consequently, taking appropriate measures to prevent an accident at work is one of the basic obligations of the employer. It is noteworthy that in the event of an accident at work, the employer is burdened with the strict liability to provide the victims with compensation. In addition: to compensate their relatives (in case of death). It is also noteworthy that the liability of the employer is independent of the fault of the employer or of their agents.
IKA (today EFKA) contributes (d. 1846/1951) to the compensation of the worker who suffered an accident at work. The employer’s liability for compensation of the employee extends, at least at first, beyond the contribution of EFKA.
The coverage and contribution of EFKA
When an accident causes the (insured) employee to be unable to work, they are entitled to receive (or, in the event of their death, the persons entitled) the insurance benefits provided by law (Act 1846/1951). Examples: medical care, sickness benefit, disability pension during his or her incapacity. In this case the employer is relieved of their responsibilities (from the Decree of the 24th of July 1920 “on the Codification of the Laws on the Liability of Compensation for Workers or Employees Involved in an Accident at Work”: liability for compensation, hospitalization and funeral). However, the employer (according to law) is not relieved from their duty to pay compensation for moral damage or for the psychological distress of their family (in the event of their death).
When an employee, insured under EFKA, has an accident, they are entitled to the benefits provided, and the employer is exempted from any liability [under Law 551/1915 or under common law (Article 60 § 3, a). 1846/1951].
The consequences of an accident at work are particularly (and on many levels) significant. It always activates provisions providing the affected employee with benefits. But it also activates the employer’s and business’s possible administrative, civil and legal responsibilities.
It is important to note that the deadline for reporting the accident is extremely short (five days). It must be emphasizes, although unnecessarily, that the description of the accident should not be a ‘typical’ procedure. It should always take place with special care.
IV. The responsibility (and waiver of responsibility) of EFKA
1. The existing institutional framework
1.1. The conditions for EFKA to claim from the employer everything it has paid.
(a) The provision of Article 34 § 2 a. 1846/1951 states:
«2. If, by judicial decision, it is ascertained that when the accident occurring in the performance or on account of the work is due to the misconduct of the employer or the person added thereto, the employer shall be liable to pay: (a) to IKA, every expense it made, for the benefits it provided due to the accident, (b) to the victim, or, in the event of their death, to the persons referred to in Article 28, the difference between the amount of the compensation due under the Civil Code and the total amount of the compensation benefits granted according to this law… “.
(b) Simply put: If a court ruling deems the employer or their agents fraudulent, the employer is obliged to pay to EFKA what the latter (EFKA) has paid to the employee (or, in the event of their death, to their relatives).
1.2. The (previous) controversies regarding the employer’s misconduct
The above provision (under 1.1.a) is particularly important. This is because, in the event a court finds a misconduct on the part of the employer, they are the one who bear the sole burden of compensating the employee (or, where appropriate, his or her relatives) in the event of an accident at work. In such a case, EFKA would be completely exempt.
The payment by the employer of the social security contributions of their employees aims, inter alia, at mitigating their (strict) liability from possible accidents at work. When, however, is it considered that the employer should not be assisted by EFKA?
It is true that there has been a lot of debate in the legal world about the exact content of (required by law) employer misconduct. Could we assume that an employer intends(!) to have an accident happen to an employee?
In one hand, the employer’s misconduct (and their full liability) only existed if the misconduct also covers the outcome of an accident at work. That is, in cases where the employer wanted or accepted as probable the harm of the employee.
According to others, the concept of fraud in the aforementioned provision also refers to the case where the accident at work is causally linked to fraudulent breach by the employer of the laws, decrees and regulations providing for the mandatory measures for the protection of safety and health at work.
In order to clarify the specific legal considerations, the legislator undertook the authoritative interpretation of this provision. And the result was not in favor of the employer.
1.3. The (rather unlimited) expansion of employer liability
(a) Article 212 of Law 4512/2018 provides:
‘The true meaning of Article 34 (2) of Law 1846/1951 (A’ 179) is that the employer is obliged to pay the expense provided for under:
(i) paragraph 2 and the difference between the amount, according to the Civil Code, of the compensation and the insurance benefits provided for in point,
(ii) of paragraph 2, where, by judicial decision, it is found that the accident, in the performance of, or on the occasion of, the work, is due to the act of the employer or the added person from them, or as a result of the accident itself or in non-compliance with the provisions of laws, decrees or regulations which define the safety and health measures at work, if the accident is causally linked to violations of these provisions.”
(b) Simply put: It is possible (and of course extremely common) for a court to associate an accident at work with a breach of an obligation to take (mandatory as per the existing institutional framework) measures relating to the health and safety of workers.
In this case:
(i) the employer is considered to have acted fraudulently and
(ii) the employer is also liable for what EFKA was obliged to pay to the employee who suffered the accident or, in the event of their death, to their relatives.
V. Regarding the extent of the liability and risks of the business
The primary responsible for compensating the victim is, at least at first – according to law 1846/1951- both the business and EFKA.
In the event accidents at work occur, the liability of the employer and the business is already extremely wide (above under III.1.3.a).
Failure to comply (or failure to least imperfectly comply) with safety standards in an enterprise constitutes the necessary grounds for the full relieving of the EFKA of its obligations to the affected employee. What EFKA paid for it is then sought by the company. The insurance contributions paid by the employer on behalf of the employee do not appear, in this case, to ‘be worth something’ …
Experience has also shown that it is extremely easy for any accident, in any business, to be attributed (and is easily attributed) to incomplete compliance with safety standards. This fact establishes the employer’s misconduct (!!!). And, as a consequence, the sole responsibility of the employer and the full exemption of EFKA from any liability before the affected employee.
VI. In conclusion
It is only natural that the modern legislator does not deal with accidents at work as they were doing so in ancient Greece. Let alone dealing with them by invoking (the inevitable) destiny.
But the company’s liability regarding accidents at work has already become very broad. Possibly: unjustifiably broad.
Compliance to safety standards is not sufficient on the part of the business. It is also mandatory to invoke and prove such compliance. A slightly differentiated view of the auditors appointed to the specific accident at work can lead to significant (possibly even disastrous) consequences for the business and the entrepreneur.
What should be done? It is imperative not only to comply with the safety standards but also to be able to prove (full) compliance.
Extremely careful management of (in any case, completely undesirable) accidents at work is absolutely crucial. Regardless of whether one believes (or does not believe) in “destiny” and “fate” one thing is certain: The (possibly extremely) adverse consequences of an accident at work can certainly be mitigated.
The same goes for the consequences affecting the business.
P.S. A brief version of this article has been published in MAKEDONIA Newspaper (December 22nd, 2019).