A ruling of the European Court of Justice (“ECJ”) dated December 22, 2022, in response to a preliminary ruling that the Court of Appeal, Cluj, Romania had requested in Case C-392/21, held that, whenever an employee carries out work that involves using equipment fitted with a display screen, the employer is obliged to:
> provide spectacles with corrective lenses; or
> reimburse the employee for the expense incurred for correcting and preventing visual disorders. (A national health system may assume this expense, where such a provision exists.)
The question raised concerned the interpretation of Articles 9.3. and 9.4 of Council Directive 90/270/EEC of 29 May 1990 on the minimum safety and health requirements for work with display screen equipment (the “Directive”). This concerned a case in which the Romanian General Inspectorate of Immigration rejected a request from one of its employees—who had claimed a “significant deterioration” in his eyesight caused by display screen work—to be reimbursed for the costs of acquiring glasses.
According to the Directive, employees are entitled to an appropriate eye and eyesight test carried out by a person with the necessary capabilities:
i. before starting display screen work;
ii. at regular intervals after they have started display screen work; and
iii. if they experience visual difficulties that may have resulted from display screen work.
Employees may also be entitled to an ophthalmological examination if it is considered necessary following an eye or eyesight test. The cost of this examination will be covered by the employer.
The ECJ also (i) defined the meaning of “special corrective appliances”; (ii) outlined the circumstances in which they should be used (i.e., limited to use in employment or with personal use included); and (iii) established how this need should be fulfilled.
The ECJ ruled that employers must provide or pay for special corrective appliances, such as spectacles with corrective lenses, in cases where the type of work carried out involves the use of display screens and this causes or worsens visual impairment, regardless of whether the employee only uses the special corrective appliances in the workplace.
The ECJ also ruled that an employer cannot mitigate the above cost by increasing the remuneration it pays to the employee.
How does this ruling affect Portugal?
The Directive was transposed into Portuguese law by Decree-Law 349/93 of October 1 (the “Decree-Law”). The Decree-Law establishes the employer’s obligations to (i) analyze workstations to identify any potential risks to eyesight and to take necessary precautions; and (ii) provide employees with special corrective appliances designed for the type of work they carry out, whenever medical examinations consider this necessary.
Specifically, the Decree-Law states, “whenever the results of the medical examinations so require, and normal corrective appliances cannot be used, employees must be provided with special corrective appliances designed for the type of work they carry out.”
To conclude, the ECJ ruling has clarified that corrective lenses are explicitly included in the definition of special corrective appliances.
Note that a decision of the ECJ in response to a request for a preliminary ruling is binding on all courts in the Member States of the European Union, not only on the national court that made the request. Therefore, should an identical case arise in Portugal, the employer will have to comply with the obligations summarized above.
Employees wishing to claim the payment must provide proof that they need spectacles, contact lenses, or other corrective appliances due to the type of work they carry out. The employee can provide this proof through regular occupational health assessments or a diagnosis—approved by Social Security—stating that the employee suffers from an occupational illness.