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Old 20.11.2020, 13:47
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Work laptop damage

Hey Guys,

I would really appreciate some help, advice, or even just your gut instinct on this incident:

Recently started my PhD at ETH.

I was given a beautiful new laptop (top of the range).
A 'communication error' between myself and my girlfriend resulted in a glass of water on the keyboard. I was working from home at the time.

Despite doing my best to dry it out, a repair is necessary and will cost 1200CHF. No personal insurance is available (household doesn't cover accidents).

The lab has offered to pay half the repair cost, and is looking at getting insurance for any future incidents.


I don't speak German and find it hard to interpret the google translation of my contract (available online in link below). This is the only reference to 'equipment' in my contract:

" 3. Abschnitt: Weitere Leistungen
Art. 43 Ausrüstung
(Art. 18 Abs. 1 BPG)
1 Die zuständigen Stellen rüsten die Mitarbeiterinnen und Mitarbeiter sowie Lehrlinge, Praktikantinnen und Praktikanten mit den erforderlichen Materialien und Schutzkleidern aus.
2 Im Einvernehmen mit der zuständigen Stelle können die Mitarbeiterinnen und Mitarbeiter eigene Geräte, Materialien und Schutzkleider verwenden. Es kann dafür eine Entschädigung vereinbart werden. "

" Section 3: Other Services
Art. 43 Equipment
(Art. 18 para. 1 BPG)
1 The responsible bodies equip the employees as well as apprentices and interns with the necessary materials and Protective clothing.
2 In agreement with the competent authority, employees and
Employees use their own devices, materials and protective clothing. It can for that compensation can be agreed. "


600CHF is a lot for me to stomach, especially if the machine is still technically owned by my employer. But of course I don't want to create animosity at this early stage.

I am interested to see what are people's gut feelings on how to proceed - do I dig in my heals, or pay up and move on..?

Best wishes,

An ETH employee...

https://ethz.ch/services/en/employme.../contract.html
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Old 20.11.2020, 13:57
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Re: Work laptop damage

Household insurance doesn’t cover accidents?? What’s the point in that??
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Old 20.11.2020, 14:03
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In principal the machine belongs to your employer and they should bear the cost of repair. Certainly proper employers I've worked for would do so.

I can't see that anything you've quoted from the contract would make you personally responsible for damage.

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Household insurance doesn’t cover accidents?? What’s the point in that??
It's not part of the household contents though, as it belongs to a 3rd party, so would be excluded anyway.
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Old 20.11.2020, 14:11
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Re: Work laptop damage

Liability insurance of the girlfriend to cover the 600?

But yes it's the employer stuff, they should cover it completely.
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Old 20.11.2020, 15:47
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Re: Work laptop damage

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In principal the machine belongs to your employer and they should bear the cost of repair. Certainly proper employers I've worked for would do so.

I can't see that anything you've quoted from the contract would make you personally responsible for damage.

It's not part of the household contents though, as it belongs to a 3rd party, so would be excluded anyway.
I guess this is the issue. Things covered by household insurance should be in the list of stuff declared to the insurance company.

Also, 1200 is around what companies pay for employee Intel i5 or i7 laptops, of course volume sales. Strange that they want to repair it instead of getting a new one or cashing the insurance. Maybe this laptop was bought with project money and not part of the standard ETH IT material....otherwise it would be insured, right?
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Old 20.11.2020, 15:52
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Re: Work laptop damage

Similar advice to above. Does your girlfriend have insurance ?



It's clearly your liability...or hers.... I'm finding it hard to see it any other way...
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Old 20.11.2020, 16:13
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Re: Work laptop damage

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The lab has offered to pay half the repair cost, and is looking at getting insurance for any future incidents.
The lab gave you the laptop and they accept the risk when they hand it over to you, hence them looking into insurance for future similar events. You had a duty of care to look after the laptop. However accidents happen and unless you acted negligently it's tough luck for the company. Whether you pay anything is up to you. 1200CHF would likely be the cost of a replacement laptop and it sounds like somebody is taking you for a ride. Like in the garage door post, unless the laptop is brand new it's likely part if not all of the capital value has already been written off. With 600CHF it could be that you're essentially paying all of it.
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Old 20.11.2020, 16:15
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Re: Work laptop damage

Pay and move on - best advise I can give you as this is "gross negligence" and every company has any right to let you go (terminate) for company equipment damage due to the above. So it's a thin ice...

should it been your "customer" / "patient" / "student"or anyone else that relates to the job you do to spill the water on your laptop - it be ETH to cover.



Your GF may have insurance to cover that however there is deductible likely in range of 300CHfs or so ..

Also question is what is the acquisition costs of the laptop as 1200 for repairs may be Apple stuff but not dell/lenovo/HP

good luck
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Old 20.11.2020, 16:15
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Re: Work laptop damage

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Household insurance doesn’t cover accidents?? What’s the point in that??
Household insurances covers only your own stuff but not stuff from 3rd parties.

Liability insurance covers stuff and damages caused by you to 3rd parties.

Getting household insurance is purely optional and the risk can be easily calculated. It is all what you posses.
Liability insurance is also optional but highly recommended as it covers damages caused to other people and their stuff up to several millions.
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Old 20.11.2020, 17:10
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Re: Work laptop damage

Thanks everyone.

I think most people believe I should not have to pay.

It's a top-of-range Mac and the entire logicboard has to be replaced, hence the 1200

My home insurance doesn't cover laptops (or phones, TV, , my liability insurance doesn't cover items owned by employer. What the hell it is useful for I guess you only find out when the world comes to and end.

My GF is from UK and seems like she can claim on her travel insurance, so oddly enough this is our best option. Should cover most of my half of the bill..

And I'm not bringing the thing home again until it is properly insured!!

Thank you everyone for your input.
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Old 20.11.2020, 17:22
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Re: Work laptop damage

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my liability insurance doesn't cover items owned by employer.
Because they expect any liability to fall on the employer, unless there was negligence in which case they wouldn't pay out anyway.
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Old 20.11.2020, 18:05
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Re: Work laptop damage

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Pay and move on - best advise I can give you as this is "gross negligence" and every company has any right to let you go (terminate) for company equipment damage due to the above. So it's a thin ice...

should it been your "customer" / "patient" / "student"or anyone else that relates to the job you do to spill the water on your laptop - it be ETH to cover.



Your GF may have insurance to cover that however there is deductible likely in range of 300CHfs or so ..

Also question is what is the acquisition costs of the laptop as 1200 for repairs may be Apple stuff but not dell/lenovo/HP

good luck
That's rubbish, spilling a glass of water on a laptop in not gross negligence. IMHO it was at worst a little careless, realistically shit happens and we see plenty of laptops that get stuff spilt on them or fall off desks without crying "negligence" all the time.

I assume OP is working from home due to COVID, or as part of normal practice at ETH - in which case I would see it as 100% the responsibility of the employer to pay for the repair, unless their contract very explicitly says otherwise.
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Old 21.11.2020, 16:34
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Re: Work laptop damage

What you say that every employee working from home is entitled to damage company property due to the working environment they are placed in due to the COVID - while still keeping one on the payroll .

Good luck with that ...
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Old 21.11.2020, 17:14
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Re: Work laptop damage

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What you say that every employee working from home is entitled to damage company property due to the working environment they are placed in due to the COVID - while still keeping one on the payroll .

Good luck with that ...
No that's not what newtoswitz said.
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Old 21.11.2020, 17:38
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Re: Work laptop damage

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Thanks everyone.

I think most people believe I should not have to pay.

It's a top-of-range Mac and the entire logicboard has to be replaced, hence the 1200

My home insurance doesn't cover laptops (or phones, TV, , my liability insurance doesn't cover items owned by employer. What the hell it is useful for I guess you only find out when the world comes to and end.

My GF is from UK and seems like she can claim on her travel insurance, so oddly enough this is our best option. Should cover most of my half of the bill..

And I'm not bringing the thing home again until it is properly insured!!

Thank you everyone for your input.
I noticed my home insurance does not cover it either but an additional 50 CHF for the first year and 100 CHF a year after that, it is an additional option certainly with my insurance company.
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Old 21.11.2020, 18:50
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Re: Work laptop damage

We had a somewhat similar issue in the pre-quarantine times. Damage to a laptop during a trip to a conference, when it was spilled coffee on while working from a hotel room. Issue was resolved at the university's expense, since it was a damage to a work equipment, provided to an employee to perform work duties.



It might have been an employee's responsibility only in case of a gross negligence (like using said laptop under the rain or leaving it a sauna) or a malicious intent (voluntarily spilling a liquid onto a laptop for any personal reason). Accidentally spilling a drink is a usual happening, so it can count as neither a gross negligence nor a malicious intent, unless an employee had a special training on how to avoid such usual situations.



Also, when an employer allows its equipment to be used outside of the safe work environment, such employer shall not impose additional risks to the employee (unless parties agreed on that) and shall cover for such risks by getting an additional insurance for the equipment, developing and teaching to the employee a proper set of rules for safe use of said equipment.

It is especially important with liquid damage, since, for example in my case, I don't case about spilling liquid onto devices, since I use mostly Lenovo ThinkPads, which don't care about water spillage on the top case or keyboard. I wouldn't expect any expensive laptop to have an issue with water spilled on it, because that's just what happens a lot with laptops and because there is a remedy for this deficiency developed many years ago.



On the OPs situation: having your GF in the equation makes this situation much trickier, since there is a clear responsibility on her side for damaging 3rd party's property. It wouldn't surprise me me, if de jure in this situation the right solution would be, that the Uni is paying for the repairs and is requesting your GF to cover those costs.
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Old 21.11.2020, 20:24
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Re: Work laptop damage

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..... (household doesn't cover accidents).
You need a liability insurance (so does your girlfriend), I'm surprised you got a rental contract without it. The household is for your own things (stolen, fire ... what ever) but will not cover any costs you caused breaking things in the flat when you move out. I you don't own much in fact you don't really need a household insurance. But you do need a liability insurance. Go get one.

Check again whether your household insurance is not linked with a liability insurance, they often are. It seems unusual to me for somebody to get the household insurance but not the liability. The other way around - as I said - is often the case with young people and perfectly okay.

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Household insurance doesn’t cover accidents?? What’s the point in that??
Not for the things of other people which by coincidence are in your home.
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Old 21.11.2020, 20:31
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Re: Work laptop damage

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Household insurance doesn’t cover accidents?? What’s the point in that??
It's generally an extension for extra cost, fire & theft being the most useful. Also a top end Mac will likely need to be declared as it's an expensive single item.
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Old 22.11.2020, 00:04
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Re: Work laptop damage

Back over the years in most cases I recall damaged equipment was covered by the employer, the exceptions:
- An employee who’s wife drove the car over the laptop - no realistic explanation was provided
- A gentleman who left a laptop outside the toilets at Zürich airport...
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Old 22.11.2020, 04:52
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Re: Work laptop damage

You're going to spend a few years at ETH and your best shot at getting good PhD with decent publication record is having a really good relationship with your supervisor, postdocs and colleagues in the group. Why take a chance of leaving a bad impression, in particular doing it just after taking the position?

The amount hurts, I get it as well as a PhD that started at Rate 1, but it's not worth continuing the arguments. Yes, you can win and convince them, but is it worth it?
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