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Employers and unions in Belgium reach agreement on key coronavirus measures

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Belgian employers and unions have agreed on three key measures for managing the coronavirus crisis relating to medical certificates, sickness benefit and notifying temporary unemployment.

The Group of Ten, the consultative body of Belgian trade unions and employers, reached an agreement on 14 April 2020 on three hot topics in the current Corona crisis. Specifically, it is an agreement on a new medical certificate model, the adjustment to the amounts of sickness benefits and a prior notification obligation for employers who wish to request temporary unemployment.

New medical certificate

A new medical certificate model will be introduced allowing the doctor to clearly indicate whether an employee is ill or whether he or she should stay at home as a precaution. In the latter case, the possibility of teleworking must be examined. If this is not feasible, the employee will be placed on temporary unemployment and will receive unemployment allowances.

Adjustments to sickness benefits

Employees who are sick during a period of temporary unemployment are not entitled to unemployment allowances but receive sickness benefits. The social partners requested  adjustment of the amounts of sickness benefits so that they are more in line with the amounts received by employees under the temporary unemployment scheme.

The social partners emphasise that the adjusted sickness benefits can only be applied as long as unemployment under coronavirus measures applies (currently until 31 May 2020).

Notification obligation

The application of temporary unemployment on the grounds of the coronavirus crisis is possible for the employer without formalities. For instance, it is not even mandatory to give prior notice of the days of unemployment. Now, the Group of Ten has reached an agreement on a so-called ‘notification obligation’ that the employer must respect if he invokes temporary unemployment.

The employer must indicate the period covered by the notification and, for this period, the actual days of unemployment and the days on which the employee is deemed to work. Afterwards, if necessary, the employer can withdraw days of temporary unemployment (if it wishes the employee to work on those days).

This notification obligation must be fulfilled for individual employees. Collective communication is also possible, but only if it is clear to each individual employee which working regime will apply specifically to him or her.

This notification must be made no later than the day before the starting date of the temporary unemployment. If the employer does not respect the notification obligation, it cannot invoke temporary unemployment.

Subsequently, the employer must inform the works council (or, if there is no works council, the Committee for Prevention and Protection at Work or the trade union delegation) about the temporary unemployment.

This Group of Ten agreement is now being transmitted to the competent ministers.