Belgium: Covid-19: Mandatory Remote Work Returns
Now that Belgium is in the midst of a fourth wave of Covid-19 infections, the Government has decided to take stricter measures, including the reintroduction of mandatory remote or telework for 4 (and later 3) days a week.
Compulsory telework was already in force during previous Covid-19 waves in 2020 and 2021. Thanks to the vaccination programme and a decline of cases during late spring and early summer 2021, the obligation to telework for workers (whose jobs make it possible to work from home) was abolished at the end of June 2021 and it was replaced by a mere recommendation. In Flanders, the vaccination rate was deemed high enough to even lift the recommendation (in Brussels and Wallonia the recommendation has always been maintained). However, in the light of the increase of infections, Flanders was forced to reintroduce the obligation in October.
As the 4th wave continues to cause more and more infections and hospitalisations, the advisory Committee of Experts, followed by the Government, are currently of the opinion that a “strong recommendation” to telework does not suffice to truly avoid contacts at the workplace, as this recommendation is not followed by a sufficient number of companies and workers.
Therefore, the Government introduces a hybrid obligation of 4 mandatory telework days per week, starting from 20 November 2021. As from 19 December 2021, the obligation will be decreased to 3 days per week. In this way, there is still a possibility to organise days during which the employees can see each other at work (while respecting the preventive measures). The mandatory telework will be controlled by the social inspection and employers need to register the teleworkers through the online social security platform. However, the enforcement does not seem an easy task as everyone has the right to be one (and later two) day(s) at work and it will be very difficult to establish that they were present multiple days.
The telework obligation will remain in force until 28 January 2022 (but may be prolonged).
Furthermore, employers still have to take measures to prevent the spread of the virus in accordance with the Generic Guide (published here). There is still no obligation to get vaccinated (although the Government is discussing it and a specific vaccination obligation for health care workers has already been approved for March 2022) nor is it yet allowable to control or register whether your employees are vaccinated or not (a recent data leak in the Bruvax system of Brussels, which allowed employers to check the vaccination status of the Brussels-based employees, caused the necessary turmoil).
Key Action Points for Human Resources and In-house Counsel
- Introduce a system for mandatory telework for employees whose functions allow it.
- Organise their physical attendance days so they can be useful, without letting all employees come to work at the same day (to avoid too many contacts).
- Register the teleworking employees through the online social security platform.
- Continue to take preventive measures at the workplace (face masks, hand hygiene, social distancing,…).
- Do not request the vaccination data of your employees.