By Fani Batsila, Firm: KREMALIS

A Greek court has held that an employee’s death from a fatal heart attack at home attributable to the stress he was experiencing over his employer’s reorganisation plans should be considered a work accident.

The Athens Court of First Instance has ruled in a recent unprecedented decision that an employee’s death at home from a heart attack can be considered a work accident if attributable to work stress.

In the case at hand, the Court concluded that the death of the employee as linked with the intense work stress he had suffered due to insecurity and uncertainty over his employment relationship, in view of a planned reorganisation by the employer. The employer had apparently not taken the appropriate precautionary measures to mitigate the risks associated with its business decision and had not provided adequate information or clarification to its staff to minimise the implications of the restructuring on the mental and physical health of its employees.

Moreover, the Court acknowledged that the employer had failed to take any action to counteract the stress factor for the employee, despite the fact that his managers were aware that he was experiencing intense work stress resulting from the increasing uncertainty regarding his work and was at risk of collapse. In other words, because of the employers’ failure to notify the employee regarding the future of his employment relationship and his new tasks in a timely manner, the employee was forced to perform his duties under unconventional and extreme conditions of stress, which led to unusual wasting and death due to myocardial infarction.

The Court considered that the fatal work accident might have been avoided if the employer had fulfilled its obligations to inform the employee in a timely manner of the impact and consequences of the restructuring. Moreover, as accepted by medical science, high work-related stress is causally linked to the occurrence of cardiovascular diseases, which may be fatal. In light of the above, the Court ordered the employer to pay to the employee’s son and wife EUR 160,000 Euro in compensation.

In view of constantly evolving workplaces, the gradual shift from traditional formal office environments to work from home and flexible working schemes, the above decision raises important questions about employers’ obligations to identify and manage work-related stress, as well as the necessary preventive measures to be taken in the light of employment changes or modifications, for example, the obligation to conduct an impact assessment of reorganisation plans on employees’ health conditions.

Moreover, the integration and unfolding of new technologies including AI is impacting workplace stress. Employers are encouraged to carefully evaluate the impact of these types of changes on employees’ health and wellbeing and manage the changes in the employment relationship created by the diffusion of new technologies, especially considering that they may be regarded as increasing complexity at work, resulting in wage disparities or depriving employees of their jobs.