As we saw the covid graphs get steeper each day of last week, it is no real surprise that the Belgian government has now announced a new “Easter lockdown” for the next four weeks. Schools will close as of this Friday for an extended Easter break, that increasingly imperative haircut will have to wait another month and non-essential shops may open by appointment only.
Because decreasing compliance with the obligation to work from home is considered one of the main factors causing the spike in infections, the government has announced that going forward, Social Inspectors will monitor compliance more strictly. As a reminder, working from home is currently mandatory in Belgium unless this is “impossible due to the nature of the position of the employee or the continuity of the business, activities or services”.
To facilitate the Inspectors’ task, a new registration tool will be launched on the portal site of the National Social Security Office. As of Saturday 27 March, every employer will be required to register its total number of staff on the site, as well as the number performing tasks for which it says that working from home is not possible. This registration has to be updated every month.
The registration should make inspection visits much more efficient: the Social Inspectors can simply compare the registration with the actual situation on the work floor. If the number of employees present exceeds the number registered as required to be there, the employer is deemed non-compliant. Conversely, if an employer registers as required in the workplace a number of employees which is outwardly disproportionate to the nature of its business or its overall headcount, this will also raise questions (and probably provoke an inspection visit).
Non-compliance with the obligation to register online will be sanctioned, but we are waiting for the draft Bill to shed light on the detail. As regards non-compliance with the underlying obligation to have employees work from home in the first place, the Inspectorate has discretion to decide on a sanction depending on the gravity of the facts and circumstances. It may issue a warning, draw up an official report, order remediation or impose an administrative fine of 200 to 2.000 EUR or a criminal fine of 400 to 4.000 EUR. In exceptional circumstances, the Social Inspectorate may even impose a temporary cessation of work activities (the closure of the site) if it perceives that there is a serious and immediate risk to the health and safety of the employees.