New mandatory rules on homeworking in Belgium

By Pieter De Koster

11-2021

With effect since 20 November, the Belgian government has introduced new and stricter rules on homeworking, in the wake of alarming adverse developments in the COVID-19 pandemic. The rules include mandatory homeworking for 4/3 days per week, compulsory registration of the workforce and those who cannot work from home, and the introduction of ‘return to the office’ moments for 1 or 2 days per week.

Henceforth, homeworking is again mandatory, for all employees and for all those who perform services in a business environment irrespective of the nature of the professional relationship (consultants, active Board members, etc). Every business (except those indicated below) has an obligation to register the number of (i) their full workforce and (ii) those for whom it is impossible to work from home, because of the nature of their duties or because of required business continuity or business activities. Registration must be done in the electronic register at the disposal of the business community with the National Social Security Office (RSZ/ONSS). Registration must as a rule be completed by the 6th of every month listing the situation for both categories on the first business day of the month (so for January 2022, registration by 6 January with the situation as on 3 January 2022). For the period until year-end, registration must be completed by 30 November based on the situation as on 24 November.

Those for whom it is impossible to work from home must carry a certificate issued by their employer (or principal) confirming that their presence at work is indispensable. There is no prescribed model for such certificate or statement.

Exempt from the registration rules are small businesses employing fewer than 5 employees (incl. consultants), the full care/hospital sector, educational institutions (other than universities), and police services.

At the same time, there is a possibility to introduce so-called ‘return to the office’ moments, of 1 day per week (until 12 December) or 2 days per week (from 13 December 2021 onwards). A number of conditions are attached to these, including:

- The purpose of these moments must be the enhancement of mental well-being and team spirit of the team,

- Spreading is required, in that only 20% of the full workforce (40% as from 13 December onwards) are allowed to return to the office on the same day (with deviating rules for small businesses with fewer than 10 employees),

- Employees must voluntarily participate and cannot be compelled to return to the office,

- Safety and security measures must be communicated beforehand, and obviously maintained at the office,

- Employees with COVID-19 symptoms or other illness cannot return to the office,

- The commuting to the office must avoid public transport or carpooling to the maximum extent,

- The decision to organise return to the office moments and the terms must be subject to social dialogue within the company.

Monitoring of these rules is entrusted to the social inspectorate services (which have rendered about 75,000 site visits since the beginning of the pandemic). Failure to observe the above rules can be sanctioned in accordance with the general provisions of the Social Penal Code, but also based on the specific provisions of the new Pandemic Act (of 14 August 2021), incl. fines and imprisonment.