Judgment in occupational injury case

On 21 April 2021, a slaughterhouse was acquitted of liability in connection with an elbow disorder that arose in connection with carrying out stressful slaughterhouse work.

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Judgment of 21 April 2021

On 21 April 2021, the court in Herning acquitted a slaughterhouse of liability in connection with an elbow disorder that arose in connection with carrying out stressful slaughterhouse work. The anonymized verdict can be read here (in Danish).

The employee had been employed at the slaughterhouse for 14 years and performed stressful work in the form of deboning pork. This work led to the employee in 2014 developing an elbow disorder and was examined further for this. According to a specialist statement, the employee had sustained a double-sided tennis elbow, and it was the work that was the reason for this.

Already in connection with the examination by the specialist, the specialist discussed with the employee whether it was more appropriate to get an education or apply for another job.

The elbow disorder was reported to the Labour Market Insurance, who acknowledged the disorder and awarded compensation for permanent injury of 12%.

However, in the subsequent process, the employee remained at the slaughterhouse as he enjoyed the work and the colleagues.

The slaughterhouse was aware of the elbow disorder and the vulnerability of the employee. An introductory meeting was therefore held in connection with the return to work, where an attempt was made to agree on safeguard considerations as far as possible.

The employee then continued to work at the slaughterhouse, and quarterly follow-up meetings were held where the employee informed about the status. In the following years, the employee was able to maintain the job full time, but in the spring of 2018, he was reported sick due to the resurgence of the nuisances from the elbow.

The situation was that the amount of safeguarded tasks had decreased, which is why the employee was to a greater extent than before engaged in the strenuous work where he had to debone pork.

A worsening of the elbow disorder then occurred, which the employee complained about to the management. The management stated that they were aware of the newly arisen nuisances and that they would continue to assign safeguarded tasks to the greatest possible extent. However, the scope of safeguarded tasks were still limited, which is why a sick leave in the spring of 2018 could not be prevented.

Hereafter, the employee claimed compensation from the slaughterhouse. It was alleged that the slaughterhouse had an obligation to relocate the employee so that he was not subjected to the onerous work task of deboning pork. This should especially be the case after the employee complained of a worsening of the elbow disorder.

Compensation was claimed for the period of the sick leave and it was stated that compensation also should be paid for the subsequent rehabilitation process for the pedagogical assistant, which the employee was assigned in connection with a social process, which was triggered by the sick leave in 2018.

The court acquitted the slaughterhouse and noted that the employee had already in connection with the examination by the specialist in 2014 been instructed on job change and education, in order to get away from the burdens that the stressful slaughterhouse work inflicted on him. When the plaintiff nevertheless chose to continue his employment at the slaughterhouse, the slaughterhouse was not obliged to provide him with permanent tasks that met his individual needs. Especially not when the employer had otherwise arranged regular follow-up interviews and tried to meet the safeguard considerations, taking into account the company's structure and operation.

Kennedys' comments

It is firmly established in case law that an employer has an obligation to spare employees from harmful effects on the health. It is further established that the employer must be aware of any particular vulnerabilities of the employees.

However, the judgment illustrates that the employee also has a responsibility for their vulnerability. In the current situation, there was a change in the operation, which did not allow for safeguarded tasks to the same extent as before. The responsibility for a resurgence of the nuisances in connection with the stressful work that had triggered the original work injury was then not the employer's. It is noted in this connection that the work was not in itself reckless and liable, merely stressful.

The verdict would have had far-reaching consequences if the slaughterhouse had been convicted. In that case, it would have been obviously disadvantageous for the slaughterhouse to try to retain employees who, due to work or other reasons, had a safeguard concern. In that case, the slaughterhouse was in risk of being hit by large claims for compensation when safeguard considerations could no longer be met.

It is not yet known whether the judgment will be appealed.

The case was brought before the court on behalf of the slaughterhouse by Thomas Arleth, Associate.