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28 October 2020
On 16 October 2020 the government reinforced the urgent measures to limit the further spread of COVID-19. Teleworking is no longer highly recommended, but has become the standard for all employees whose roles allow for telework. Yet, the new rule is less far-reaching than that in place during the first lockdown in March 2020, as an exception now applies when the continuity of business operations, activities and services does not allow for teleworking. Moreover, companies can arrange occasions on which employees can return to the company premises if they comply with sanitation measures. The reinforced measures will apply until 19 November 2020.
This article outlines what these new measures mean for employers.
Since 19 October 2020, telework is the rule for all employees whose roles lend themselves to telework, but only to the extent that the continuity of business operations, activities and services permits it.
Therefore, if any employees' presence in the workplace is required for the continuity of business operations, the employer can still ask – and even oblige – these employees to come to the workplace, even if the employees' functions theoretically lend themselves to teleworking.
However, a company policy under which employees whose roles allow for telework can be present in the workplace, without this being necessary for the continuity of business operations, is, in principle, prohibited.
Although this new obligation applies to all companies, it seems that it will be easier for essential companies to demonstrate that the continuity of business or activities requires the presence of certain workers than it will be for non-essential companies. A list of essential companies was attached to the ministerial decree of 18 October 2020.
Another new feature is employers' right to organise occasions on which employees can return to the company premises if they comply with sanitation measures.
Workers whose roles do not lend themselves to teleworking can always carry out their work from the workplace.
Companies are encouraged to organise all work which is carried out at the company premises in compliance with the social-distancing rules (although, for essential companies, social distancing must be respected only to the extent possible).
Reference was once again made to the Ministry of Employment's generic guide and sector guides on preventing the spread of COVID-19 at work and to the social dialogue at the company level to determine the appropriate prevention measures.
Bars and restaurants must close until 19 November 2020, but can prepare takeaway meals until 10:00pm.
Hotel restaurants may remain open, but only for hotel guests and provided that specific prevention measures and restrictions are complied with. Hotel bars must close.
Finally, the new ministerial decree stipulates that it is forbidden to be on public roads and in public spaces between 12:00am and 5:00am.
However, an exception applies for professional travel, including commuting, so that night shift workers can still go to work.
Employers should provide a certificate to employees who must work at night so that they can show this to the police in the event of a check.
For further information on this topic please contact Phillipe De Wulf or Esther Soetens at ALTIUS by telephone (+32 2 426 1414) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com). The ALTIUS website can be accessed at www.altius.com.
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