According to a recent judgment by the Court of Justice of the European Union, companies should only be liable for the cost of prescription glasses when, as a special corrective device, they serve to correct or prevent vision disorders that are specifically related to the job and not problems of vision or pathologies of a general nature, irrespective of the work and are not related to the working conditions.
Recent news has referred to a judgment by the Court of Justice of the European Union with headlines stating that companies are under the “obligation” or “duty” to pay the cost of prescription glasses to employees that work with screens.
In particular, the news was based on the judgment by the Court of Justice of the European Union of December 22, 2022 (case C-392/21), given as a result of a preliminary issue raised by a court in Romania, requesting an interpretation of article 9 of Directive 90/270/EEC of the Council of 29 May 1990, referring to the minimum provisions of health and safety relating to work with equipment that includes screens.
Section 3) of the provision expressly states that “workers must be provided with special corrective devices for work that requires them, if the results of the medical checkup referred to in section 1 or acknowledgment in section 2 show that they are necessary and normal corrective devices cannot be used”.
After interpreting the provision, the Court of Justice of the European Union concluded that:
- The concept of “special corrective devices” according to the Directive, includes “prescription glasses that are specifically used to correct or prevent vision disorders related to work with equipment that includes a screen”.
- These special corrective devices “are not limited to devices used exclusively in a professional field”.
- The obligation to provide devices may be fulfilled by the employer by providing them directly or by reimbursing the cost, but not by paying a supplementary salary item in general.
However, the obligation on the part of the employer is not unconditional and absolute due to the mere fact that the worker provides services using a screen.
Nothing further from the truth. An analysis of the reasoning of the judgment clearly shows that for said obligation to exist, the prescribed classes, as a special corrective device, must be used to correct or prevent vision disorders specifically related to the job and not vision problems or pathologies of the general nature, irrespective of the work and are not related to the working conditions.
The court concludes, after several passages of the judgment, that “a special corrective device must necessarily be used to correct or prevent vision disorders that a normal corrective device cannot correct or prevent”, and that “the special nature of the collective device (…) enables it to correct or prevent vision disorders that are specifically related to the job and diagnosed in the examination referred to in article 9, stating that “the court is responsible for checking that the prescription glasses in question effectively serve to correct vision disorders related to the job and not just eyesight problems of a general nature that do not necessarily relate to the working conditions”.
This is in line with the wording of article 4 of Royal Decree 488/1997, of April 14, 1997 on minimum health and safety devices relating to work with equipment that includes screens that transposed the Directive, when it establishes the obligation to provide special corrective devices free of charge, provided the obligation is the result of the results of health surveillance.
In short, the obligation or not to provide workers with prescription classes will depend on each specific case, according to the evaluation and results obtained from medical examination.
Finally, but not least, other major issues could be raised, such as: should the glasses be left at the work center at the end of each day?, If personal use is allowed of the glasses, will they be considered as salary in kind?, Could the worker be penalized for refusing, for any reason, to use the glasses provided by the employer?, Is the employer obliged to provide contact lenses instead of glasses when so requested by a worker?, Can this criterion be extrapolated to other elements that are necessary to perform the job?
Given the novelty of the judgment, as always, we will have to wait to see how it is interpreted by our courts and tribunals.
Garrigues Labor and Employment Department