After 1.5 year of teleworking, the Belgian Coordination Committee (coordination body composed of Federal, regional and community ministers) decided to lift the recommendation to work from home as of 1 September 2021. As a result, many employees are now gradually returning to the office, often on a part-time basis.
To guarantee the safety in the workplace, employers should continue to apply the necessary preventative health measures, as included in the generic guide of the Federal Public Service for Employment, Work and Social Dialogue.
Remote work no longer recommended
Following the decision of the Coordination Committee of 20 August 2021, the recommendation to work remotely was abolished by Ministerial Decree of 25 August 2021.
In the press, it has been widely announced that remote working is still recommended in the Brussels-Capital Region due to the epidemiological situation and the evolution of vaccination in that region. Brussels-Capital Region’s first minister’s website includes the same communication. However, except for certain public administrations, this recommendation is not (yet) reflected in the regulations. The Ministerial Decree as published does in fact lift the recommendation to work remotely in general, without providing for an exception for the Brussels-Capital region.
As a result, all employers can (at least for the time being) have their employees return to the office, provided they take the necessary preventative health measures to guarantee social distancing and a maximum level of protection at the workplace.
Mandatory implementation of the generic guide for Covid-19 prevention at work
To determine appropriate preventative measures, employers organising the return to the office should consult the generic guide drawn up by the social partners in the High Council for Prevention and Protection at Work, in consultation with the Strategic Cell of the Minister of Employment and experts from the FPS Employment and the supplementary guidelines at sector level. This generic guide provides a mandatory framework of measures that can be adapted by each employer to their specificities in order to ensure that the activities can be resumed under the safest and healthiest possible conditions.
Despite the relaxation of the COVID-19 restrictions, the generic guide has not been updated since July 2021. Thus, the preventative health measures which employers should take remain the same.
Returning to the office will therefore, at least for the time being, still go hand in hand with social distancing, wearing mouth masks, contact tracing, and limiting the number of employees present in the office at the same time. Although no longer recommended by the authorities, this means that part-time remote work is probably here to stay in the coming weeks or months.