The European Court of Justice has recently ruled over employees’ prescription glasses.
In a society where employees are increasingly required to work on screens, with the harmful consequences that this can have on their eyesight, one can ask whether employers should intervene in the cost of prescription glasses.
What are the facts regarding the prescription glasses ?
A Romanian employee carries out his work on display screen equipment, and considers that his on-screen work, discontinuous visible light, the absence of natural light and mental overload caused a significant deterioration of his eyesight. The employee was therefore required, after a medical consultation, to change his glasses to correct the decline of his eyesight.
Since the Romanian health insurance did not reimburse the price of the new glasses, the employee had requested his employer to reimburse his glasses, but the employer refused.
Faced with his employer’s refusal, he brought an action before the national courts. The national Courts however decided to request the preliminary ruling of the European Court of Justice, since the European Union has indeed adopted a Directive on health and safety requirement on display screen equipment.
What is the court’s decision regarding prescription glasses?
The Court first notes that the Directive provides that employees:
- Should be entitled to an appropriate eyesight test at various times during the employment relationship and on the occurrence of visual impairment;
- If the results of such tests make it necessary, and if normal corrective appliances (Normal corrective appliances can be defined corrective appliances which do not correct visual difficulties established by eyesight examinations as provided for by the Directive. Such appliances are also worn outside the workplace and are therefore not necessarily linked to working conditions. They are not used to correct visual difficulties relating to work and may not be specifically linked to work with display screen equipment.) cannot be used, employers must provide their employees with special corrective appliances (Special corrective appliances can be defined as appliances which must necessarily seek to correct or prevent visual problems which a normal corrective appliance cannot correct or prevent, following the eyesight examinations as set out above.) for their work, without this resulting in an additional financial burden.
According to the Court this should be interpreted in the sense that:
- special appliances may also include “regular” spectacles with corrective lenses;
- such appliances must not be used exclusively for professional purposes; and
- the eye injuries must not specifically have been caused by a display screen.
Finally, the Court considers that the employer can either provide the glasses or reimburse them.
What is the situation in Belgium regarding prescription glasses?
The abovementioned Directive has been transposed under Belgian legislation. According to the national rules, employers are required to provide their employees with special corrective lenses if:
- the employees use display screen equipment on a regular basis during a significant part of their normal working time,
- the results of the eyesight examination make this necessary; and
- a normal correction appliances does not allow the performance of the work on the screen
Based on the recent ruling of the Court of Justice, Belgian employers may therefore be required to provide their employees with “normal” glasses with corrective lenses, which can also be used for private purposes, to the extent that the above conditions are fulfilled and if normal corrective appliances cannot be used.