On 16 October 2020, the government decided to reinforce the urgent measures to limit the further spread of Covid–19. Teleworking is no longer ‘highly recommended’ but becomes 'the standard' for all functions for which teleworking is possible. Yet, the new rule is less far-reaching than during the first lockdown in March 2020 since an exception applies when the continuity of business operations, activities and services do not allow teleworking. Moreover, it is also possible for companies to organise well-organised moments of ‘return to the company premises’ if the sanitary measures are complied with. The reinforced measures will apply until 19 November 2020.
What do these new measures mean for your company?
1. Teleworking becomes the standard but with respect for the continuity of business operations
Since 19 October 2020, telework is ‘the rule’ for all functions for which teleworking is possible, but only to the extent that the continuity of the business operations, the activities and the provision of services so permit it.
Therefore, if the presence of any employees on the work floor is required for the continuity of business operations, the employer can still ask - and even oblige - these employees to come to the company premises, even if these functions theoretically lend themselves to teleworking.
However, a company policy in which employees, whose function allows telework, can still be present in the workplace without this being necessary for the continuity of business operations will, in principle, not be possible.
Although this new obligation applies to all companies, it seems to us that it will be easier for essential companies than for non-essential companies to demonstrate that the continuity of business or activities requires the presence of certain workers. A list of ‘essential or vital companies’ is again attached to the Ministerial Decree of 18 October 2020.
Another new feature is the right for the employer to organise ‘moments of return to the company premises’ if these take place with respect for the sanitary measures.
Workers whose function does not lend itself to teleworking can always carry out their work on the work floor.
Companies are encouraged to organise all work carried out at the company premises in compliance with the rules on social distancing (although, for essential companies, social distancing must only be respected ‘as much as possible’).
Reference is once again made to the Ministry of Employment’s ‘generic guide’ and sector guides to preventing the spread of Covid-19 at work and to the social dialogue at company level to determine the appropriate prevention measures.
2. Bars and restaurants (‘horeca’) are forced to close down for one month
Bars and restaurants must close until 19 November 2020, but are allowed to prepare takeaway meals until 10 p.m.
Hotel restaurants may remain open, but only for hotel guests and provided that specific prevention measures and restrictions are complied with. Hotel bars must be closed.
3. ‘Night curfew’ between midnight and 5 a.m.
Finally, the new Ministerial Decree stipulates that it is forbidden to be on public roads and in public spaces between midnight and 5 a.m.
However, an exception applies for professional travel, including commuting, so that workers working on the night shift can still go to work.
It is advisable to provide a certificate to your workers who have to work at night so that they can show this to the police in the event of a check.