In parts of the United States, workers can be fired for filing a claim for workers’ compensation. At some of our nation’s assisted-living facilities, employees are not entitled to any compensation if they develop a bacterial infection on the job. Unlike in most European countries, workers’ compensation in the U.S. does not typically cover injuries suffered while commuting to and from work. Meanwhile, the rates that employers now pay injured workers in the U.S. trail far behind both international standards and our nation’s own historical ones. In 2015, a poultry worker lost an arm while toiling at a plant in Alabama. He received just $45,000 for his troubles.
In France, they do things a little differently. In 2013, a French engineer suffered a cardiac arrest while having an adulterous liaison with a stranger on a business trip. This week, a Paris court ruled that this tragedy qualified as an “industrial accident,” and ordered the engineer’s employer to pay the deceased man’s family’s up to 80 percent of his salary until what would have been the year of his retirement. According to reports from the Times of London and BBC, the French appeals court judges reasoned that a worker traveling on assignment “is entitled to their employer’s protection for the duration of their mission … whether or not the accident takes place as part of a professional activity or as an act of normal life.” A 2016 lower court ruling in the same case had established that a “sexual encounter is an act of normal life like taking a shower or eating a meal.”
This story has garnered tabloid attention in the Anglophone press because there is something amusing in the way its details seem to affirm some of our crudest stereotypes about the French (i.e., that their workers are pampered, that they view extramarital affairs as banal, everyday activities akin to showers or meals). But one shouldn’t lose sight of the human tragedy at the heart of the matter. Someone lost her husband forever as a result of an embarrassing accident that might have never happened, were it not for the demands of his job. Let’s hope that the court’s decision brings the deceased’s family a modicum of material and emotional relief — and inspires the American left to fight a bit harder for a United States where workers get what they deserve (and, perhaps in some cases, a little bit more).