The Federal Labor Court was recently asked to decide to what extent the exemption from personal liability applies if one colleague physically attacks another at their workplace. Much like in many other parts of the world, German law sets forth that if an employee, while performing his work duties, injures another employee, the employee causing the injury will generally not be subject to personal liability nor will the employer be subject to a damage claim.

The victim in the case before the Federal Labor Court had recovered some financial compensation from workmen’s compensation for the injuries he suffered. However, the victim sought additional compensation from his colleague for pain and suffering, monetary losses for the difference between the workmen’s compensation received and the salary he would have earned had he not been injured, and compensation for future damages. The plaintiff argued that because he was physically accosted at the workplace, this did not constitute a work-related action, and thus, the exemption from liability should not apply. The defendant counter-argued that it was, in fact, a work-related incident since the initial argument that subsequently resulted in the altercation was work related. Also, since he did not intentionally injure the victim, he should not be required to pay damages for the injuries incurred.

The Federal Labor Court rejected the plaintiff’s argument. The court held that though a fight at the workplace between colleagues generally does not constitute a work-related action, the case at hand did not cross the threshold, and thus, the defendant could rely on the statutory exemption from liability.

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