The Employment team has prepared a brief summary of the 50-page guide to the prevention of the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, promoted by the Group of Ten (hereinafter the "Guide", available in Dutch and French). This summary focuses on the general principles of the Guide and certain legal points for attention when implementing it.
This summary is not exhaustive and is merely intended to provide you with an initial overview of the Guide and some food for thought.
Where necessary and possible, the joint committees (at industry level) will draft a sector-specific guide to supplement the Guide. Subsequently, based on the Guide and the sector-level guide, if any, specific measures should be taken at company level.
Structure and basic principles of the Guide
The Guide is structured around a normal working day and starts and ends with the employee's commute. After going through a normal working day, a number of issues are discussed, such as the applicable rules when the company works with external parties or self-employed persons.
The guide is based on the following three basic principles:
1. The Guide emphasizes the importance of social distancing, i.e. maintaining a physical distance with other persons of at least 1.5 meters.
If social distancing is not possible, other measures should be taken to avoid contact between individuals (e.g. Plexiglas partitions, limiting internal circulation, etc.)
2. Companies should rely on internal and external expertise when carrying out a risk analysis and implementing measures. In addition, the employee representatives must be consulted regarding the measures to be taken.
3. Information and transparency with regard to the measures taken vis-à-vis employees and external parties are crucial.
Information and consultation with employee representatives and employees
- The employee representative bodies, i.e. the works council, committee for prevention and protection in the workplace, the trade union delegation, and the employees themselves (in accordance with their respective powers) must be regularly consulted on the measures to be taken. For this purpose, the company should rely on the expertise available both internally and externally.
- Consultation should take place as early as possible, preferably before the return to the workplace and the resumption of work.
- The employees and other persons present at the company's premises should be sufficiently informed of the measures the company has taken. It is recommended to organize information meetings by teleconference or another means (such as loudspeaker) allowing employees to remain at their workstation and observe social distancing.
Measures throughout the day
- Hygiene measures (hand washing, cleaning of workstations, ventilation, and cleaning of collective and personal protective equipment) are essential.
With regard to face masks, the Guide refers to the general measures recommended by the Belgian Crisis Centre.
- Employers are also recommended to look into the possibilities of staggering the arrival, departure and breaks of employees throughout the day. The Guide provides for a number of examples of staggered work schedules (with both fixed and variable start and end times). Please find these examples attached hereto.
Depending on the provisions of your work rules, it may be necessary to amend the work rules in order to stagger the arrival, departure and breaks of employees. In certain cases, an addendum to the employment contract may need to be drafted.
- Furthermore, it is recommended to facilitate teleworking insofar as possible for functions that allow it. Attention should be paid to the provision of appropriate instructions to the employees and to pointing out the importance of sufficient breaks.
A comprehensive teleworking policy and an addendum to the employment contract for employees working from home will be necessary. Of course, much will depend on the decisions taken this evening by the National Security Council regarding the exit strategy.
- When working in shifts or teams, the size of teams and changes to the composition of teams should be limited.
These measures may also require an amendment to the work rules and/or an existing collective bargaining agreement at company level.
- In the event of illness, the employee should stay (or go) home and the procedure determined by the Federal Public Service for Employment, Labor and Social Dialogue must be respected.
- In addition, a circulation plan should be drawn up, in which consideration is given to measures to organize mobility within the company in a structured manner (e.g. tape to mark routes, one-way traffic in hallways and stairwells, etc.).
- It is also necessary to provide external parties with sufficient information about the measures taken within the company. Self-employed persons and freelancers working for the company must also be informed of the measures in advance.
The Group of Ten has already announced that any employer that fails to comply with the health and safety rules set out in the Guide may be sanctioned.
Should you have any questions regarding implementation of the measures included in the Guide (e.g. sanctions for violations by employees, the enforceability of measures against employees, addenda to employment contracts, etc.), please do not hesitate to contact our Employment team.
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