Judgment of the Regional Labour Court of Munich of 14 February 2022 in Case No. 4 Sa 457/21.
Infection ruins wedding. This is one way to summarise the decision of the Regional Labour Court (Landesarbeitsgericht, LAG) of Munich. A wedding celebration had to be cancelled because the bride had to isolate herself. At least the bride and groom were not saddled with a loss because (fitting for Valentine’s Day) the LAG awarded damages to the employee (who was also the bride).
Facts of the case
The Managing Director for the employer returned to the office after his vacation with a cold. Despite his obvious symptoms, he didn’t isolate himself as a precaution but returned directly to work after his vacation and took part in external meetings. The employee drove with the ill Managing Director in one car to various meetings. Neither of them wore a mask in the car. Then the inevitable happened: a short time later, the Managing Director tested positive for the Coronavirus. Under the rules applicable at the time, the employee had to go into quarantine as a close contact and the planned wedding celebration could no longer take place. The caterer, music and rented rooms: everything had to be cancelled. The total damages were EUR 5,000. The employee claimed this amount in damages from the employer. She won her case before the Labour Court. The employer did not want to pay and appealed the decision.
The LAG followed the decision of the Labour Court and found in favour of the employee. It held that the employer had breached its duty of care through the conduct of the Managing Director and caused the wedding to be cancelled. In the view of the LAG, the ill Managing Director should not have taken the employee with him in his car. If he had not come into the office or had they at least driven to the meetings in separate cars, the employee would not have had to go into quarantine and the wedding could have taken place as planned. The LAG also did not see any contributory negligence on the part of the employee that could have mitigated the circumstances (she could have worn a mask or driven in her car). The employee could not be expected to demand that her line manager take a separate car. In the Court’s view, this would be the same thing as the employee advising the Managing Director that he was not sufficiently considering his health and not responding appropriately. The LAG did not want to require this of the employee, especially during a pandemic.
Consequences for practice
The judgment takes a textbook approach to the catalogue of duties of employees, breach of duties, causality, and contributory negligence. The judgment is particularly relevant in practice because it highlights the importance of each company having a hygiene concept. A breach of the duty of care can be expensive in the circumstances and the judgment gives clear form to this duty, which is often less tangible.
The legislators have now bowed out of the fight against the pandemic in the workplace almost entirely. There are almost no clear and binding rules and responsibility has shifted to the employer. However, as the pandemic is not yet over and we can again expect to have a high number of cases in Autumn at the latest, employees should use the illusory “Corona summer break” to review and adapt existing corporate hygiene concepts. And one should remember: in 2020 and 2021, many weddings were cancelled due to lockdowns. And precisely these weddings (hopefully, in most cases anyway) will take place in 2022 and 2023 instead.