14 June 2021

Return to the workplace moments

Last week, the Belgian federal government decided to ease mandatory telework (Ministerial Decree of 4 June 2021).

The organisation of telework remains until the end of June 2021 mandatory for all employers with no exception even for private and public undertakings, considered to be necessary in defending the Nation’s vital interests and the needs of the population. This obligation to telework applied to all workers, regardless of the nature of their employment relationship.  The only exception for mandatory telecommuting was if this modus operandi was impossible because of the nature of the function or the continuity of the business, activities or services.

Since 9 June 2021, Belgium employers have been able to schedule weekly “return to the workplace moments” for its teleworking workers.

The following terms are applicable on these return to work moments:

  • A return time of maximum one working day per week per person.
  • A maximum of only 20% of all teleworkers may be at the same time present at work. Undertakings employing less than 10, this maximum is determined to be five teleworkers returning to the workplace at the same time.
  • Appropriate preventive measures to be taken during the return times in order to guarantee the rules of social distancing and to provide a maximum level of protection.

Employers must bear in mind that:

  • The aim of these return times is to promote psychosocial well-being and team spirit.
  • Return to work moments cannot be enforced by either party against one another. In other words, an agreement between employer and employee is required.
  • An employer may not hold any consequences against its employees as to whether or not they wish to make use of these return to the workplace moments.
  • Returning to the workplace workers must be instructed in advance on all measures to be taken to ensure that their reappearance is safe. Whoever is present at work must comply with all the preventive measures that apply at the workplace (such as the rules of social distancing, mouth masks when travelling,…). The National labour council’s Generic Guide remains the gold standard for prevention measures in the workplace.
  • The employees must be reiterated that they can under no circumstances return to the workplace if they feel ill, show symptoms of illness or are in quarantine.
  • Travel to and from work by public transport during peak hours or carpooling should be avoided as much as possible.
  • The decision to organise weekly return times must be taken in compliance with the rules on social dialogue in the company, and all conditions must be checked.

No distinction should be made depending on the vaccination status of the employees.

A certificate or other evidence of the need to be present at the workplace remains mandatory for those who cannot work from home. This certificate does not need to be provided for the weekly return times that are agreed with teleworking staff.

As long as telework remains mandatory, the employers’ obligation to register each month, via the electronic registration system made available by the National Social Security Office, the total number of employees in the company per branch unit and the number of employees carrying out a function that cannot be fulfilled via telework, remains fully applicable.

If the current Covid infection rates’ trend remains favourable, mandatory telework is no longer expected to remain mandatory as of 1 July 2021.

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