COVID19 - coronavirus - Is your company ready?

28 Feb 2020

What are the possible ways to protect your employees and the company?

As the spread of the Coronavirus Covid-19 in Europe begins to accelerate, so does the number of questions from companies. Is your company ready to face the consequences of this epidemic situation?

Since the press release of 6 February 2020 from the Minister of Employment, the coronavirus can now be invoked as a case of force majeure. Thus, Belgian companies impacted by the consequences of the coronavirus (for example because they no longer receive deliveries from China) can invoke the system of temporary unemployment due to force majeure. The employer must then submit an electronic declaration to the unemployment office competent for where his company is located, indicating the coronavirus as a reason for force majeure. For this purpose, the employer is also required to detail his request by providing evidence of force majeure - an unforeseeable event - and the existence of a link between the coronavirus and force majeure.

Based on the worker welfare legislation, the employer has the duty to analyse the risks arising from the coronavirus and, on that basis, to take all necessary and appropriate measures to safeguard the health, safety and well-being of all his employees. 

Employees themselves also have an important role to play in the health and well-being of themselves and their colleagues. They must therefore cooperate with their employer to enable him to meet his obligations under the worker welfare legislation.

Employers can take a few simple precautions to ensure the well-being and the health of their staff. For example: 

  • limit business trips to China. The Belgian government advises against all travel to Hubei province, and recommends postponing non-essential journeys to other parts of China;
  • correctly inform staff without causing panic. For example, the employer can give an explanation of the current situation and any government advice by e-mail or posters;
  • seek cooperation of the staff when travelling to highly infected countries. For employees who have recently returned from China or Italy, or have been in contact with someone who is infected with the virus, the employer could ask for the full cooperation of his employees, and advise them to consult a doctor for a diagnosis. The employer may request the assistance of the prevention advisor-occupational physician.

In the context of the coronavirus, the employer and the employees who have recently returned from China or even Italy may agree by mutual agreement that the employee will temporarily telework. Since the employer is responsible for the health of all employees, employees with symptoms associated with the coronavirus should be encouraged to not to enter the workplace in order to reduce the risk of infection.

However, at this moment, the employer could not demand the forced quarantine of an employee returning from China or Italy, thereby refusing him or her as such to return to work unless the employee poses a real risk of contamination to the other employees of the company. The Federal Public Service Health also emphasises that there is still not an epidemic situation in Belgium.

It should be noted, however, that people presenting a serious risk of contamination are in principle quarantined after their repatriation to Belgium. These employees are also able to invoke force majeure in order to continue to perform the agreement.

Lastly, employees who are actually infected with the coronavirus and are therefore unable to perform their duties under the employment agreement can rely on the usual rules for incapacitated employees, such as payment of the guaranteed salary for the first month’s absence, if they can provide the required medical certificates.

Action point

Be vigilant when employees return from their holidays: they might have stayed in contaminated regions.