Can an employee claim compensation for damage also under the Civil Code?

Since the entry into force of Act No. 89/2012 Coll., Civil Code, as amended, a number of lawyers have considered this issue. On 10 March 2020, the Supreme Court issued a decision file no. No. 21 Cdo 710/2019, in which the court outlined that in a situation where there is no right to compensation under the Labour Code, a right to compensation under the Civil Code can exist.

Two survivors - adult children - sought compensation from the employer for the non-pecuniary damage caused to them by their father's death from an accident at work, which infringed their personal rights. The employer rejected their claim on the grounds that the employee's death was due to the fault of the deceased himself. Employer further argued that the survivors are not dependent children and one-off compensation for survivors belongs only to dependent children (Section 378 (1) of the Labour Code).[1]

The courts of first and second instance upheld the survivors in part, basing the defendant's liability on a combination of employment and civil liability. Based on the appeal of the employer (defendant), the whole question was re-examined by the Supreme Court of the Czech Republic.

The Supreme Court concluded that one-off compensation for survivors according to the Labour Code belongs only to cases defined in the Labour Code and this scope cannot be further extended to other survivors. Therefore, if the Labour Code stipulates that one-off compensation belongs only to dependent children, it cannot be provided to non-dependent children. The provisions of the Civil Code[2], which regulates the extent of non-pecuniary damage consisting of mental suffering due to the bodily injury and death, cannot be used for this purpose either.

However, in this case, the Supreme Court concluded that causing the death of a family member is an unjustified intrusion on the privacy of family members. This also corresponds with the interpretation of the Constitutional Court, which within respect for private life also includes the right to develop relationships with other people, including (of course) family members. Compensation for non-property damage caused by an interference with the absolute right to personality is thus possible according to the general regulation of compensation for damage under the Civil Code.[3]

It means that the obligation to compensate non-pecuniary damage to another as a result of an interference with the right to personality rests only with the person who has interfered with this right through a culpable breach of an obligation stipulated by law; fault is presumed.

The Court of first and second instance therefore erred in holding that the employer was liable for damage under employment law. The strict liability for damage under the Labour Code applies only to those compensations which are regulated directly by the Labour Code. As this was not a case of compensation under the Labour Code, the courts had to decide whether the employer was guilty of a breach of a statutory obligation, what was the fault and whether there was a causal link between the breach and the harmful consequence (death of the employee).

The Supreme Court returned the case to the Court of Appeal.

What does this mean? The concurrence of liability for damage under the Labour Code and the Civil Code is clearly possible. However, in the case of liability under the Labour Code, it is necessary to proceed in accordance with labour law regulations, and in the case of liability under the Civil Code, it is necessary to follow the rules and conditions under the Civil Code. You cannot combine individual rules. In this case, the survivors were not among those entitled to the payment of one-off compensation to the Labour Code. But how will the situation be assessed when the survivors will be paid the one-off compensation according to the Labour Code? Will they be able to demand compensation for interference with personal law? And if the conditions are met, how will the court consider the fact that they have already received or will receive compensation under the Labour Code? We still have to wait for the answer to this question.

The specific issue addressed in this case, i.e. the question of whether one-time compensation, which serves not only as a security but also as a compensation for emotional damage, also belongs to the non-dependent children of the deceased employee, will be resolved by 1.1.2021 by amendment of the law – the compensation will be paid to these persons in the amount (equal to other entitled persons) determined as at least twenty times the average wage in the national economy recorded from the first to third quarters of the calendar year preceding the calendar year in which the right to this compensation arose.

Author: Veronika Odrobinová

[1] 1.1.2021

[2] Sec. 2959 of Civil Code

[3] Sec. 2894 of Civil Code

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