Coronavirus: our guide for businesses

The Federation of Enterprises in Belgium is closely monitoring the impact of the coronavirus outbreak. This article gives an overview of available information sources and the possible consequences for businesses. It also explains the measures that employers can take if production is disrupted, to prevent possible contagion in the workplace, or if an employee is infected.

 

 


Anouar Boukamel, COMPETENCE CENTRE ECONOMICS & BUSINESS CYCLE Hanne De Roo, COMPETENCE CENTRE LABOUR & SOCIAL SECURITY Olivier Joris, COMPETENCE CENTRE EUROPE & INTERNATIONAL Louis Warlop, COMPETENCE CENTRE LABOUR & SOCIAL SECURITY
12 March 2020

The most up-to-date and reliable information can be found at the following sources:

1. Information about health risks and travel advice

  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) publishes all information about the coronavirus on this website.
  • The Federal Public Service Health is monitoring developments closely and provides all available information on this website.
  • You can view the travel advice issued by the Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs here (French or Dutch only).

If you suspect there is a risk of infection, contact your prevention service!

Employers are responsible for monitoring and evaluating health risks and taking any necessary action. If you believe there is a risk of infection, you should contact your prevention adviser/occupational physician as soon as possible. They will assist you with taking preventive measures.

Can I deny employees returning from affected areas access to the workplace?

It is not the employer who decides whether to place an employee in quarantine. That decision is taken by the government.

If an employer wishes to deny an employee access to the workplace simply because he or she has been travelling in an affected area, this could be considered as a unilateral change to the employment contract. In such circumstances, the employer must also continue paying the employee's salary.

However, if an employee is showing symptoms of the virus, you are advised to refer him or her to the occupational physician as soon as possible. At that point, the employer has a duty to prevent contamination within the company. The occupational physician will then examine with the general practitioner whether any further steps are necessary.

If in doubt, we recommend that you always consult with the employee(s) concerned and always seek the advice of the occupational physician. Alternative arrangements such as working from home or teleworking may also be a pragmatic solution in such circumstances.

2. Information about economic risks

  • A Federal Public Service Economy task force is assessing the impact of the 2019-nCoV coronavirus on the activities of Belgian companies. The FPS Economy will evaluate the economic consequences of COVID-19 for trade relations between Belgium and China as well as its wider impact. As soon as this information is available, we will post the web link here.

  • Temporary unemployment due to force majeure: the National Employment Office (NEO) and Employment Minister Nathalie Muylle have announced that Belgian companies reliant on supplies from affected regions can invoke temporary unemployment due to force majeure if they can prove that the force majeure is linked to the coronavirus.

Temporary unemployment can also be invoked for employees of Belgium-based companies who are stranded abroad or who are placed in quarantine for a certain time after returning from an infected region.

The purely preventive exclusion of employees returning from a stay abroad, who have not been quarantined by the government, will not be considered as a force majeure situation. The mere fact that an employee has returned from China, without any specific evidence of a risk of infection, cannot be invoked to make that employee temporarily unemployed due to force majeure. This also applies to employees returning from other outbreak areas.  

If an employee is hospitalised abroad, this is not counted as temporary unemployment but as incapacity for work. In this case, the employer is obliged to pay the guaranteed salary in accordance with the applicable provisions.  If the incapacity lasts longer than one month, the employee is fully covered by health insurance.

Employers who invoke force majeure must file an electronic declaration as soon as possible with the unemployment office in the place where the company is based, stating the reason as 'CORONAVIRUS'. Click here for more information (in Dutch, French or German) about the force majeure procedure in case of temporary unemployment.

3. Information from your sectoral employers' organisation

Many sectoral employers' organisations will also provide sector-specific information (e.g. Agoria, Fevia, Febelfin). Employers are advised to check their websites regularly.

 

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An optimum business environment is vital for a sound economy and sustainable growth. FEB aims to help create and maintain such an environment by, among other things, closely monitoring all issues of direct relevance to businesses. Here, grouped into 17 themes, are the issues on which FEB focuses most of its attention and action.


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