Under French law, every employer has a safety obligation to take the necessary measures to ensure the safety and protect the physical and mental health of workers, and failure to do so may have serious consequences.
In the event of an accident at work, such a failure may reveal an “inexcusable fault”, the recognition of which will oblige the employer to compensate the victim of the accident. Even if no accident at work has occurred, an employee could accuse the employer of disregarding its safety obligation and seek to have his contract terminated to the detriment of the employer by means of an application for judicial termination of his contract.
Recent case law recalls that if the employer wants to be exonerated from any liability under the safety obligation, it must prove that it has taken the measures provided for by the Labour Code (Articles L. 4121-1 and L. 4121-2) to ensure the safety and protect the health of employees.
It should be added that Article L. 4121-1 provides in particular that the measures to be taken to ensure the safety and protect the physical and mental health of workers include information and training measures.
In the case at hand, following an altercation with the company’s manager, an employee decided to apply to the industrial tribunal for judicial termination of the employment contract for the employer’s failure to fulfil its safety obligation. The application was rejected on appeal because, in the view of the judges, although the incident had an impact on the employee’s health, there was not “sufficient evidence to establish that the violence was attributable solely to the manager and that the employer was to blame for the termination of the employment contract”.
In addition, the fact that the undetermined circumstances of the events did not allow the employer to be held responsible for failing to meet its safety obligation.
The Cour de Cassation overturned the decision of the appellate court and decided that “the employer could only be exonerated from his responsibility under the safety obligation by proving that it had taken all the measures provided for in Articles L.4121-1 and L.4121-2 of the Labour Code”.
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