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Newsflash: New lockdown and strengthened measures for companies: impact on employers

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Because of the alarming numbers and to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus, Belgium has been in lockdown again since 2 November 2020. The stricter measures contained in the Ministerial Decree of 1 November 2020 will continue to apply until at least 13 December 2020. 

We summarize the most important consequences for employers below.

Obligatory certificate if telehomeworking is not possible

Telehomeworking is compulsory for all companies, associations and services and for all staff members, unless this is impossible due to the nature of the function or the continuity of the business, activities or services. Staff members are all persons working in or for a company, association or service.  An employer-employee relationship is not required, so this applies also to self-employed workers (freelancers).  

If telehomeworking is not possible, the necessary measures must be taken to ensure maximum compliance with the rules of social distancing.

To this end, the "Generic Guide to prevent the spread of Covid-19 at work", which contains appropriate prevention measures, was updated on 30 October 2020 (Dutch and French). Employers should complement the measures in this guide with guidelines at sectoral level (see list on the same website in Dutch and French).

What is new is that the employer or principal must provide staff who are unable to telework, a certificate or other proof confirming the need for their presence at the workplace. If not, the employer can be punished with a criminal fine of EUR 400 to EUR 4000, or an administrative fine of EUR 200 to EUR 2000, multiplied by the number of employees involved.

However, there is already some criticism from employers about the administrative burden this entails. In some sectors and for some functions, it is obvious that teleworking is not possible (e.g. production companies or construction companies). It is therefore possible that there will be a further adjustment and that, for example, it will only be required for support functions or will only have to be submitted by the employer in the event of an inspection by the inspection services.  

Reimbursement of expenses for working from home remains applicable

In principle, employers are not obliged to reimburse the costs of temporary teleworking because of Covid-19 (as opposed to structural homeworking).

Already during the first lockdown, employers were able to grant a specific flat-rate allowance for teleworking of 129.48 EUR per month to their employees (the so-called office allowance).  Employers can still apply this allowance (but are not obliged to do so).  This office allowance is free of taxes and social security contributions and covers the costs of heating, electricity, small office equipment, etc. In addition, employers can also grant an allowance of a maximum of 40 EUR  per month for the use of their own internet connection (maximum 20 EUR) and computer (maximum 20 EUR).

Temporary unemployment made more flexible again?

From 1 September 2020, the highly simplified procedure for temporary unemployment due to force majeure because of Covid-19 will only apply to exceptionally hard hit companies (i.e. companies that have experienced temporary unemployment of at least 20% during the second quarter of 2020) and exceptionally hard hit sectors (as listed by the Minister of Employment). They can still use the simplified procedure until at least 31 December 2020 (date may be extended). For the time being, nothing will change for these companies and sectors in terms of temporary unemployment.

As of 1 September 2020, companies not belonging to the exceptionally hard hit companies or sectors have to make use of existing systems of temporary unemployment for reasons of force majeure (which must be proven, for example, in the event of compulsory closure) or economic reasons (with proof of reduced turnover).  In view of the new lockdown, we expect that the simplified procedure of temporary unemployment due to force majeure because of Covid-19 will be applicable again to all affected companies, but this has yet to be confirmed and the legal basis for this has yet to be published. We will of course keep you further informed. 

From 1 October 2020 (provisionally until 31 December), employees who have to stay at home to care for a child for the days of the early or extended autumn holidays or when the daycare has to close for another reason (e.g. quarantine of a school (group) can apply for temporary unemployment due to force majeure.