Mr. Wang, a senior manager of a foreign-invested company, suddenly died at home and Human Resources and Social Security Bureau of Chaoyang District in Beijing (”Chaoyang HR Bureau ”) refused to approve his case as work-related injury. Mr. Wang’s wife held that he was under continuous working state before his death, thus his death should be deemed as work-related injury. So Mr. Wang’s wife brought an administrative suit. The court of the first instance made the judgment to uphold the Decision on the Non-approval of the Work-related Injury issued by Chaoyang HR Bureau. This article introduces and analyzes this case in detail, in order to provide some views about the approval of work-related injury.

1 Facts

Mr. Wang was an employee of a foreign-invested company’s Beijing branch, and his position is Finance Manager of Northern China. He was residing in Beijing. On May 28, 2013, after work, Mr. Wang had a dinner with other senior managers in Beijing as invited by the Director of Northern China, then went back home at late night. On May 30, Mr. Wang died in the bathroom of his residence.Death by trauma and by poisoning was excluded but not sudden death. The actual cause of death remained unknown.

Mr. Wang’s wife then applied for approval of work-related injury. After investigation, Chaoyang HR Bureau found that (i) Mr. Wang was subject to flexible working hour system but he did not need to work at night; (ii) his residence was his private property; (iii) dinner on May 28 was a private party based on voluntary participation. Based on those reasons, Chaoyang HR Bureau made the decision of non-approval.

Mr. Wang’s wife held that after Mr. Wang’s return from the dinner and before his death, he replied to several of his work emails. Therefore, he did die on position in work time. Chaoyang HR Bureau held that the specific time of death was May 30, 2013, but he did not work at his office, hence, it does not meet the requirement of being deemed as work-related injury, where the person “died on position or within 48 hours after unsuccessful emergency medical treatment of an acute disease breaking out during the working time and at the work post”.

The court of the first instance affirmed the opinion of Chaoyang HR Bureau.

2 Analysis

This is a typical case related to work-related injury approval of senior managers.

The same with the other cases, the approval of work-related injury of senior managers also depends on the “three work-related” elements, which refer to the work time, work location and being caused by work. Article 15 of Regulations on Work-Related Injury Insurance provides that a work-related injury should be deemed if the employee dies in work time and on work position due to an outbreak of illness, either immediately or within 48 hours despite the medical treatment (“a circumstance which should be deemed work-related injury”). In this case, the issue shall be identified as whether Mr. Wang’s death is a circumstance which should be deemed work-related injury.

Mr. Wang’s wife held that Mr. Wang was subject to flexible working hour system and he was under the continuous working state before his death. Therefore, he died on position in work time. However, Chaoyang HR Bureau held that the time of death, i.e. May 30, 2013, was a working day and Mr. Wang’s work location was his office, but Mr. Wang failed to attend work at office, on the contrary, he died at home. Therefore, his death cannot be deemed as death on position in work time.

The court upheld Chaoyang HR Bureau’s opinion and we agree with the court for the following reasons:

Firstly, it cannot be proved that Mr. Wang was working before he died just based on the fact that he was subject to flexible working hour system.

Flexible working hour system does not necessarily mean the arrangement of working from home. Employees subject to flexible working hour system can be working at the workplace of the company, which depends on relevant stipulations of employment contract. Normally, where the employee works from home, there should be written documents providing special agreements. Specifically, if the employer requires the employee to work from home, it should be expressly agreed in the employment contract. And if the employee is willing to work from home, the employee needs to obtain the employer’s consent. If there is no such agreement or written document, it cannot be deemed that the employee’s work location is his/her home.

With regard to this issue, the investigation conducted by Chaoyang HR Bureau indicated that the work location of Mr. Wang is the office in the company, while Mr. Wang’s wife failed to provide contrary evidence to overturn the conclusion.

Secondly, the fact in this case is, Mr. Wang participated in a private party after work on May 28 andreturned to his residence after that. Then on May 30, he was found dead in the bathroom. Such situation is not enough to infer that Mr. Wang’s death happened during his work, thus cannot prove that he “died in work time and on work position due to an outbreak of illness, either immediately or within 48 hours despite the medical treatment”.

With regard to this issue, the investigation conducted by Chaoyang HR Bureau indicated that the day Mr. Wang died (May 30) was a working day but he did not attend work at his work location (the office), therefore his death does not happen on work position and during work time.

Given all above, Mr. Wang’s wife failed to prove Mr. Wang was under continuous working state before his death. On the contrary, Chaoyang HR Bureau proved that when he died, he was neither on position nor in his work time. Therefore, his death cannot be deemed as work-related injury.

3 Afterthoughts

1) Provisions on Several Issues concerning the Hearing of Administrative Cases of Work-related Injury Insurance issued by the Supreme Court (effective as of September 1, 2014, referred to as “Provisions”)gives interpretation about the standard of approving a work-related injury, which is worth employers’ attention.

In this case, if the dinner is an activity organized by the company, and Mr. Wang died at the dinner, or died on his way home after the dinner or died during the overtime work after his return to home, the judgment may be different. The legal base is that, the Provisions deem “period during which a employee engages in activities related to job duties in a place other than the workplace upon assignment by his/her employer or due to the needs of work” as "period of going out for business", and deem “employee's commute between the workplace and his/her domicile, habitual residence or dormitory that occurs within a reasonable time and a reasonable route” as "commute to and from work".

Another highlight in the Provision, “if an employee is injured when participating in the activities organized by the employer, or when participating in the activities organized by another entity upon the assignment by the employer”, such injury shall be deemed as work-related injury. Accordingly, the employer should not force the employees to participate in risky activities and need to assure their securities in the activities.

2) If the employee works at home, the employer should take measures to control the employee’s work time and work status to avoid dispute arising from the approval of work-related injury.

As to this point, the employer can take actions such as: (i) expressly stipulating in the employment contract about the employee’s work time and stipulating that any overtime work should be approved by advance application; (ii) adopting an efficient pattern to record the employee’s work time, such as formulating a work time tracking system (which requires employee to log in and record work time), etc..

In conclusion, legal issues in regard of work-related injury are complicated. To avoid unnecessary disputes and legal risks, the employee should actively make work-related insurance contribution for the employees, and improve and perfect its system related to work time and work position, as well as take note of collecting and preserving relevant evidence.