5. Managing COVID-19-Related Employee Issues
Management of quarantine, childcare and medical leave for employees affected by COVID-19.
If employees become sick due to COVID-19, it will be treated according to the normal rules of sick leave (COVID-19 might become recognised as an occupational disease, which will give right to a higher allowance). The government has created a new medical certificate, the quarantine certificate, which is meant for employees who should confine themselves, because they came into contact with persons who are infected or because they tested positive, but do not show any signs. In that case, the employer can put these employees on temporary unemployment. More information can be found in our Corona FAQ.
Further, the government has introduced a system of corona-parental leave (applicable until 30 June) for parents of children up to 12 years (or disabled children). They can use this specific form of parental leave to decrease their working time with 1/5th or ½ in order to take care of their children. They will receive a higher allowance than is provided for the normal parental leave. Read more about this leave in our dedicated newsletter.
Employees who fear infection and refuse to work.
In order to prevent these situations, it is important to involve the structures for social dialogue at the company. The preventive measures should be discussed in the works council and the health and safety committee. In this way, the employees’ representatives can help to create support for the measures and facilitate their enforcement. Communication of the measures is key and it is equally important to effectively enforce the hygienic and safety rules. Concerned employees can address their worries to their superiors, the prevention advisor or the health and safety committee. If they still feel like the employer is not taking sufficient measures, they could contact the competent social inspection, which might control the company (after contacting the prevention advisor). Some academics have argued that workers have a right to remove themselves from the workplace in case of a grave and imminent danger (like the coronavirus). However, the relevant legal provision has never been called upon before the courts. Most Belgian employers will try to address these issues with a clear policy, which is communicated to the workers. If this does not help, it could be possible to take disciplinary measures against the illegally absent employees. Find more information in our Corona FAQ.
Disclosure of employees who are infected.
By virtue of the principle of confidentiality (GDPR Article 5.1, f) and the principle of minimum data processing (GDPR Article 5.1, c), an employer may not simply disclose the names of the infected persons involved within the company. Proportionality is also an important principle to be observed when processing personal data (medical or otherwise). With a view to, for example, preventing further dissemination, the employer may of course, inform other employees of an infection, without mentioning the identity of the person(s) involved. The name of the infected person may, however, be communicated to the occupational physician or the competent government services.
The Federal government also introduced some flexibility in labour law (mostly restricted to essential sectors), read more in our dedicated newsletter. For more information on other issues, consult our Corona FAQ.