[France] Consequences of business trip hookups treated as work-related accidents

A French court has made a surprising decision, given the country's protective legislation, by saying a heart attack during an adulterous tryst on a business trip should count as a work-related accident, Merco Press reports.

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

The company later received a call to say the man (identified in court papers as Mr Xavier) 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 the man's death an industrial accident and ordered TSO to compensate his family. The decision was challenged in court.

After the loss of its first appeal in front of a social security tribunal, the TSO took the matter to the Paris Court of Appeal. According to the ruling, in May it confirmed the lower court’s decision.

The judgment found that having sex was as normal as “taking a shower or having a meal” and ruled that Mr Xavier remained entitled to his company's protection.

The company’s argument was that the employee was not working when having “an adulterous affair with a perfect stranger”.

Sarah Balluet - a Rouen-based lawyer and lecturer - reportedly brought the case to the public’s attention on social media. She said it lowered the bar for workplace accidents. But French law says an employee is considered at work for the duration of a business trip unless the company can prove otherwise.

Ms Balluet said it was her view that the technician had “removed himself from his employer's authority” by engaging in sex. But the court’s ruling said that TSO had “failed to provide proof that the employee broke off his mission to perform an act that was completely separate from it.”

Ms Balluet described the ruling as “surprising” when compared with previous rulings by the Court 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 or its lawyers were available to comment on the case. Leaving employers with a tricky question. “The question companies are asking themselves now is whether they need to expressly forbid workers from having sex during a business trip,” Ms Balluet said.