Reed Smith Client Alerts

As we struggle to contain the spread of COVID-19, many employers are using teleworking to ensure continuity of their activities.

However, the use of telework can generate significant risks for employees; notably, risks of stress, burn-out, and more broadly, all other forms ill-being at work.

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Psychosocial risks correspond, according to the France’s institute for the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases (INRS), to “work situations in which are present, concomitantly or not:

  • Stress: Imbalance between the perception a person has of the constraints of his work environment and the perception he or she has of his own resources to cope with them;
  • External violence: Insults, threats, aggression committed in the context of work by people outside the company;
  • Internal violence: Moral or sexual harassment, exacerbated conflicts between two or more people of the company.”1

These risks can be induced by the activity itself or generated by the organization and work relations. According to the INRS, “there are no ready-made solutions to address psychosocial risks; from one company to another, from one work situation to another, the psychosocial risks factors are different. Solutions should therefore be sought for each company after an in-depth assessment or diagnosis of its own psychosocial risks factors. The collective prevention approach, centred on work and its organisation, is to be favoured.”

It is therefore up to employers to be vigilant and to prevent psychosocial risks that could result from telework.

  1. The employer is subject to a safety obligation of result even for teleworkers

Article L. 1222-9 of the French Labour Code provides that “telework means any form of work organization in which work that could also have been performed on the employer's premises is carried out by an employee outside those premises on a voluntary basis using information and communication technologies”.

In general, the employer is bound towards his employees by a safety obligation of result, and as such, must take the necessary measures to ensure his employees’ health and safety.2

Moreover, the French Labour Code expressly provides that the employer has the same obligations regarding prevention of occupational risks for all employees, including teleworkers.3

For example, an accident occurring during teleworking is presumed to be an occupational accident under Article L. 411-1 of the French Social Security Code.4

The employer may obviously dispute the occupational nature of the accident, but in practice it is difficult for it to demonstrate that the accident occurred outside working hours or the workplace, or that it was due to a cause totally unrelated to work.

The obligation to prevent occupational risks also raises issues relating to the risk of occupational diseases.