Coronavirus: frequently asked questions

The spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in our country raises many questions among Belgian technology companies. Below you will find answers to frequently asked questions about the coronavirus and government measures. Our experts monitor the situation closely and continuously update the information.



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The federal government took the following decisions in the fight against the coronavirus:

1. Movements necessary for commuting are permitted.

  • Persons are obliged to stay at home. It is forbidden to be on public roads or in public places, except in case of necessity such as carrying out professional travel, including commuting.
  • Public transport will be maintained. From the age of 12, citizens are obliged to cover their mouth and nose with a mask or any other alternative in cloth, from the moment they enter the airport, the station, on the platform or a stop, in the bus, metro, tram, train or any other means of transport organised by a public authority.Non-essential travel to and from Belgium is prohibited until 8. June. Travel controls to and from Belgium are carried out.
  • Delivery of meals and takeaway meals are allowed.

2. Lessons are suspended; there is emergency childcare service for children whose parents are unable to provide care.

From 18 May 2020, lessons and activities may be restarted in nursery, primary and secondary education, for the groups defined by the Communities on the basis of the recommendations of the experts and the competent authorities.

The higher education and social promotion institutions may restart their courses and activities in accordance with the directives of the Communities and the additional measures provided for by the federal government

3. Obligations for non-essential companies:

  • Non-essential businesses are, in principle, all businesses, whatever their size, unless they are explicitly included in the list of critical sectors or essential services.
  • Teleworking is recommended for all non-essential companies, whatever their size, for all staff whose position lends itself to it.
  • If teleworking is not applied, companies shall take the necessary measures to ensure maximum compliance with the rules of social distancing, in particular maintaining a distance of 1.5 metres between each person. This rule also applies to transport organised by the employer.
  • The companies shall take appropriate preventive measures well in advance to ensure the above or, if this is not possible, to provide at least an equivalent level of protection. These appropriate preventive measures shall be health and safety requirements of a material, technical and/or organisational nature as defined in the general guide (Dutch / French) to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at work, supplemented by guidelines at sectoral and/or enterprise level, and/or other appropriate measures offering at least an equivalent level of protection. The companies shall take appropriate preventive measures well in advance to ensure the above or, if this is not possible, to provide at least an equivalent level of protection. These appropriate preventive measures shall be health and safety requirements of a material, technical and/or organisational nature as defined in the general guide to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at work, supplemented by guidelines at sectoral and/or enterprise level, and/or other appropriate measures offering at least an equivalent level of protection.
  • In the metal sector (PC 111/209), a sectoral agreement was reached on this subject.
  • The additional Joint Committee for Employees (PC 200) also refers in a declaration to the application of this generic guide. For PC 105/224, PC 219 and PC 315.01, no additional sectoral guidelines were defined.
  • Collective measures always take precedence over individual measures.
  • These appropriate prevention measures are worked out and taken at company level, in compliance with the rules of social consultation within the enterprise or, failing this, in consultation with the workers concerned and in consultation with the prevention and protection services at work.
  • The companies shall inform the workers well in advance of the preventive measures in force and shall provide them with appropriate training. They shall also inform third parties on the preventive measures in force well in advance.
  • Employers, workers and third parties are obliged to apply the preventive measures in force in the company.
  • The social inspectors are responsible for informing and guiding employers and employees and for monitoring compliance with the obligations in force in companies.
  • Non-essential businesses shall be accessible to the public on condition that they comply with appropriate preventive measures. .See also the question "what is social distancing and how do you deal with it?"
  • See also the question "which are essential companies?"

4. Obligations for essential companies:

  • These companies should, as far as possible, apply the system of teleworking and the rules of social distancing. These companies who have not interrupted their activities and who have already taken the necessary safety measures themselves can use the generic guide as a source of inspiration.
  • Their offices and workshops are accessible to all members of the public, but only if interactions with the public cannot take place remotely. The rules of social distancing must be respected as far as possible.See also the question "what is social distancing and how do you deal with it?"

These measures shall apply until 7June.

Essential businesses are those operating in critical sectors or providing essential services, including producers, suppliers, contractors and subcontractors of goods, works and services that are essential to the performance of the activity of said businesses and services.

The Ministerial Decree on urgent measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 contains an annex to determine these essential businesses.

This annex contains 2 parts. The first part lists the businesses, private and public companies and services necessary to protect the vital interests of the nation and the needs of its people. In a second part, this list is additionally translated into an overview of the concerned joint committees, with or without a descriptive limitation.

You can consult this appendix here. (version as added in the MB of 17 April 2020)

On Friday 20 March, the federal government decided on a number of essential support measures. The most important one we, as Agoria, insisted on is the more flexible application of temporary unemployment due to force majeure. This is now possible for all cases of temporary unemployment linked to the coronavirus (e.g. closure of a company, too little work to continue to employ all workers, certain quarantine measures,...).

In short, the new measure means that:

  • All past, current and new applications, from 13th March onwards, will be treated as temporary unemployment due to force majeure.
  • This measure is currently in force until 31st May 2020. This period may be extended until 30th June 2020 if the sanitary measures are extended or strengthened by the Government. The application procedure is heavily simplified by means of 1 unique application (ASR scenario 5), in that personal data is also included and "coronavirus" is stated as the only reason.
  • The employer no longer has to send notices of temporary unemployment due to force majeure to the NEO.

Days worked can be alternated with days of unemployment.

  • All past, current and new applications, from 13th March onwards, will be treated as temporary unemployment due to force majeure.
  • This measure is currently in force until 30th June 2020 . The application procedure is heavily simplified by means of 1 unique application (ASR scenario 5), in that personal data is also included and "coronavirus" is stated as the only reason.
  • Days worked can be alternated with days of unemployment.
  • The employer no longer has to send notices of temporary unemployment due to force majeure to the NEO.
  • The obligation to issue the control cards (C3.2A ) for the months of March, April, May and June for all forms of temporary unemployment expires altogether (also for ordinary economic unemployment non-corona).
  • The obligation to fill in the validation book for the months of March, April, May and June for all forms of temporary unemployment is completely abolished (also for ordinary economic unemployment non-corona).
  • When calculating pay, the employer will only have to provide the correct pay codes to the payroll administration. Based on this, the payroll administration will inform the NEO of the temporary unemployment due to force majeure.
  • In addition to the temporary unemployment benefit, which was already increased retroactively to 70% of the capped salary by a previous government decision, all employees receive an additional allowance of EUR 5.63 per unemployment benefit (EUR 2.82 per half benefit). This allowance is paid and at the expense of the NEO. It is paid together with the unemployment benefit, i.e. 6 times per full week (maximum 12 times in case of half benefits) and is subject to a withholding tax on of 26.75%. (as of May: 15%)
  • The employees themselves must request a document C3.2 (Dutch / French) from their trade union or from the relief fund, which can be obtained via their website. They have to fill this out themselves and return it to make sure the pay-out can happen correctly.
  • Unemployment days for reasons of force majeure for the period from 2nd February 2020 to 30th June 2020 (included) will be assimilated for annual leave. There will be a separate Royal Decree for this assimilation (via the RJV Management Committee procedure).

The procedure for the payment of temporary unemployment benefits as a result of the corona crisis was simplified as much as possible. You can find it on the website of the NEO (Dutch/French).

For more information please refer to the instructions of the NEO (Dutch/French), the FAQ of the NEO (Dutch/French) and the info sheets of the NEO (info sheet employers Dutch/French and info sheet citizens Dutch/French).

The NEO checks that no mis-use is made of the simplified procedure (NEO announcement – Dutch / French

Both the federal authorities and the regional authorities provide support measures for the enterprises and employees affected.

The COVID-19 issueis accepted as a factor to allow amicable payment terms for the social security contributions for the first and second quarters of 2020. In addition, payments to the NSSO can be postponed until 15th December 2020 for enterprises that are closed and for enterprises that are not completely closed, but see their economic activity significantly reduced for the 2nd quarter of 2020. For more information on these two measures, click for Dutch / French. See also the question "What NSSO measures are in place to mitigate the impact of the coronacrisis?

On 11th April, the core cabinet approved some support measures, including those concerning:

  • voluntary overtime in key sectors and essential services (see question "what about voluntary hours of overtime in key sectors and essential services?")
  • fixed-term contracts in key sectors and essential services (see question "what about successive fixed-term contracts in key sectors and essential services?")
  • Availability of workers to the critical sectors and essential services (see the question "can I provide workers to crucial sectors and essential services?")
  • student work (see the question "what about student work during the second quarter of 2020?").
  • temporary work in a vital sector during time credit or thematic leave (see the question "Can my employees work temporarily in a vital sector during a current time credit or thematic leave?")

For other federal support measures for enterprises and employees: see the categories Legal, Economy and Tax/Finance within this FAQ). For regional support measures for enterprises and employees: see categories Brussels, Flanders and Wallonia within this FAQ. For European support measures: see category Europe within this FAQ.

Should/Must meetings with the consultative bodies (works council, prevention committee) continue?

In principle, there is no reason why these meetings should not take place. Although the regulations provide for meetings to be held at the company's registered office, this is not a reason for the meetings not to take place. The regulations concerning the works council are binding and the employer is responsible for its organisation. If the foreseen meeting(s) cannot take place, the employer will demonstrate that he has made the necessary efforts to allow them to take place. In other words, the employer will have to be able to invoke the practical impossibility (see below) of not allowing the planned meetings of the consultative bodies to take place.

In addition to the regulations imposed to the employer to allow meetings to take place whenever possible, there is also the importance of the consultative bodies in the operation of the company and the role of the same consultative bodies and those of the employee representatives in the communication with the employees, in parallel with the direct communication from the employer to the personnel (see question 'How do I communicate with my personnel?')

What does it mean for the employer to make the necessary efforts ?

Can the 'physical meeting' continue as usual?
This is not impossible for those companies which still have a significant activity and where the impossibility of organising a large part of the work by teleworking means that a significant proportion of the staff is present in the company), but will in the vast majority of cases not be appropriate.

Digital meeting platform ?
Dhe most appropriate way to hold meetings is of course via a digital meeting platform (Skype, Teams, ... ). It will first have to be tested whether (a sufficient number of) the employee representatives have the necessary digital means and/or skills to have easy access to these digital tools

If meetings via a digital platform are not possible either, it is highly advisable to keep the lines of communication with the employee representatives open as much as possible, as if it were by telephone or via ‘written' communication such as e-mail and sms. In the event that one or more meetings of the consultative bodies cannot take place, it is advisable to have a report drawn up on the postponement and the reasons for it and to transmit it to all members of the consultative body concerned.

Social, economic and financial information to the works council

The annual, quarterly and occasional economic and financial information to the works council must enable the employees, through their representatives, to form a clear and accurate picture of the situation, the evolution and the prospects of the company. As far as social information to the works council is concerned, we think of information (at least annually) on the general prospects of the company and their impact on employment, information and consultation on changes in the organisation of work, employment in the company and the organisation of telework.

Closing of the financial year, discussion of annual economic and financial information in the works council and approval of the annual accounts in the general meeting

The need for the employer to make an effort to allow meetings of the consultative bodies to continue during Corona times, applies all the more to the special assembly at which the works council discusses the annual economic and financial information. After all, a postponement of that meeting not only has consequences for the Works Council, but also for the planning of the general assembly of shareholders that approves the annual accounts: in companies, the treatment of annual economic and financial information in the Works Council must precede the approval of the annual accounts by the general assembly of shareholders.

The role of the Committee for Prevention and Protection at Work

The Committee for Prevention and Protection shall be informed and consulted on all matters relating to the well-being of workers in the performance of their work.

In times of large-scale application of teleworking, we should also mention the competence of the Committee on (the) connection.

For companies without a works council but with a prevention committee: the prevention committee takes over an important part of the powers of the works council with regard to social, economic and financial information.

What about the union delegation?

No (mandatory) meetings are foreseen for the trade union delegation. The members of the trade union delegation are, of course, also best kept 'with the company' - they, too, have their role in the company and are (among other things) responsible for everything concerning work relations and, in that capacity, an important discussion partner for the employer. The trade union delegation also has an important role in assisting the employee. For companies without a works council, the trade union delegation also takes over a number of important powers from the works council. In the absence of a Prevention Committee, they take over the role of this body. In particular, the trade union delegation, in the absence of a works council and a prevention committee, has the power to obtain certain economic and financial information

The role of the consultative bodies in the organisation of temporary unemployment

The legislation provides for prior notification of the works council when introducing temporary unemployment for economic reasons. This obligation to provide prior information is not literally provided for in the regulations when temporary unemployment is introduced for reasons of force majeure (which is the case for all temporary unemployment resulting from the Corona crisis). In view of the role of the works council and the wide range of information and consultation powers it has, it is nevertheless highly recommended that the works council be closely informed and consulted on the organisation of temporary unemployment, including when it is introduced for reasons of (Corona) force majeure. In some sectors, information and consultation is formally foreseen in case of temporary unemployment due to force majeure (e.g. for the employees of the PC 209, through the trade union delegation) or is likely to be done in the near future.

And if the companies do not have a works council, a prevention committee or a trade union delegation?

In this case, the company relies on direct communication with its staff : see How do I communicate with my staff ?

Of course, every business approach includes a 'communication' section to the stakeholders of the company: who communicates ? To whom? When? What is being communicated?

When we think of 'stakeholders', we immediately also think of the staff. A communication strategy is already very important in 'normal times'. It becomes absolutely crucial when crisis conditions force us, through social distancing, teleworking and temporary unemployment, to a much greater distance between the company and the employees and employees amongst themselves than we are used to: after all, the daily routine of direct contact in the workplace is largely eliminated.

The company's communication to the employees includes the state of affairs of the company and further practical information : application of the containment measures in the company (practical modalities such as social distance, teleworking and temporary unemployment), the procedure in case of sickness or suspicion of infection, contact with the occupational physician and the other prevention advisers, the contact details of the crucial contact persons in the company, ..

Of course, all sorts of information circulates on the internet about Corona: however, not all information is reliable. It is therefore advisable to show the employees a way to clear, relevant and exact information via reliable links (see the section 'External links' at the bottom of this page).

Employers and trade unions within the Group of 10 have decided to postpone the social elections, perhaps until the autumn of 2020.

The decisions of the Group of 10 are included in the law of 4 May regulating the suspension of the social elections procedure for the year 2020 following the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic (Moniteur belge 13 May 2020). The new election date and the modalities of the resumption of the procedure have yet to be determined by royal decree.

The most important principles are the following:

Suspension of electoral procedure: timing and consequences for the ongoing procedure

The (current) procedure runs up to and including X+35. The candidate lists have been submitted between 17 and 30 March 2020.

For companies that started later or for which the election procedure was delayed (labour court appeal), the procedure is also suspended on X+35, i.e. possibly on a date after 30 March 2020.

The candidate lists received are not posted or made available electronically.

In companies where no candidate list has been submitted for any employee category, the employer may decide to stop the procedure altogether. An appeal against this decision can only be lodged after the suspension.

The agreements and decisions already made within the companies within the framework of the election procedure will be maintained. This does not apply to those agreements concluded because of the corona virus.

The election procedure will be resumed from X+36 onwards.

New period

The new election date (day Y) will be set in the period from 16 to 29 November 2020 (depending on the evolution of the health status due to the coronavirus).

Companies will not be able to freely determine their new day Y themselves. The new date will automatically follow by inserting the originally chosen date in the new period.

Protection against dismissal

The existing consultative bodies will continue to function until the installation of the new consultative bodies.

The new candidates for the social elections 2020 are known and therefore protected under the Act of 19 March 1991.

The period of variable remuneration to which they (may) be entitled pursuant to this protection against dismissal started at the earliest (the original) X-30 and will run until after the social elections 2024 (end of their mandate).

  • The (current) protected employees who were nominated in the social elections 2016 and who are now no longer candidates in 2020 are still protected.
  1. If such an employee has already been dismissed before 18 March 2020, the variable remuneration will be calculated on the basis of the original day Y (May 2020) and will therefore apply until the (fictitious) date of the installation meeting of the new consultative bodies (Y+45) based on day Y.
  2. If such an employee is dismissed after 17 March 2020, the variable remuneration will be calculated on the basis of the new day Y (after the suspension) and the date of the installation meeting of the new consultative bodies based thereon.

A candidate who will be nominated by the trade unions for replacement (after the procedure has been resumed and after the candidate lists have been posted and until X+76 at the latest) will be protected from 36 days before the day on which the procedure is resumed (start between 18 August and 31 August 2020).

If no new consultative bodies need to be set up (average number of staff under 50 or 100), the members of the existing consultative bodies will enjoy an additional protection of 6 months from the 1st day of the election period. The new day Y must be taken into account.

Eligibility conditions

All eligibility conditions of the nominated candidates for the social elections 2020 will be assessed on the basis of the original date Y.

The 2nd seniority condition that temporary workers must meet to be eligible to vote (26 working days between X and X+77) will be neutralised during the period of the temporary suspension of the procedure (between the original date X+36 and the resumption of the procedure).

Source: Law of 4 May 2020 regulating the suspension of the social elections procedure of the year 2020 following the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic (Moniteur Belge 13 May 2020)

It is not compulsory, but advisable, to provide your employees who have to move as part of their work with a certificate proving that they are moving to/from work. Here you will find a model of certificate in Dutch and French.

When a worker is sick during a period of temporary unemployment, he is (no longer) entitled to unemployment benefit. The employee is only entitled to guaranteed pay for days of sickness that do not coincide with the days of temporary unemployment. For the remaining days of illness, he will receive benefits from the health insurance fund.

In other words: the employer does not pay any (guaranteed) salary for the period of temporary unemployment, regardless of whether the employee falls ill during the period of temporary unemployment or whether the illness had already started before. The sick employee does receive benefits during this period, although not from the NEO (such as his non-sick colleagues), but from the health insurance fund.

The first question you have to ask yourself is whether you can still travel to the other country. After all, air traffic and international rail traffic are severely disrupted. Take into account the obligation of social distancing in case of transport organised by the employer.

Your employees are allowed to work in neighbouring countries.

Commuting and relocation for professional reasons are considered essential journeys - including cross-border journeys. Of course, for cross-border relocation, the necessary certificates/vignettes must be provided at border controls, and the same social distancing measures stay in place for foreign workers in Belgian companies.

Check in advance whether the country where your employees will be working also imposes Corona-related restrictions or whether documents are required. The situation is changing rapidly. Always check the website of the other country for the latest update. The information below is the situation on 17th April 2020.

We recommend you to provide your employee with two certificates: the Belgian employment certificate (see link below) and the corona related certificate of the country concerned (see link below).

Belgian Employment certificate:

It is advisable to give your employees who have to cross the border to work in another country an employment certificate. You can download a template on the following website: Certificate demonstrating the need to cross the border for work. This template can be used for any kind of professional activity and for all sectors.

Should the situation deteriorate and only essential activities in vital industries be possible, you can add the following template.

It has been agreed between Belgium and the Netherlands that these employees can put a special vignette behind their car. You can download the vignette, with on the back a stamp of the employer or the institution that justifies the essential movement across the border (and insofar as it is part of the sectors included in the Ministerial Decree of 3. April 2020).

On the following website you will find the latest state of affairs: https://crisiscentrum.be/nl/news/grensarbeiders-vitale-sectoren-en-met-cruciaal-beroep-kunnen-sneller-de-grens-over-met-vignet

Corona-related documents in the other countries (state of play at 17th April 2020)

Also in our neighbouring countries everyone is obliged / recommended to stay at home. People are allowed to cross the border to work in another country. This includes the obligations imposed as a result of the corona crisis. These are in addition to the usual obligations of the host country, which you must respect at all times when posting workers to that country.

France:
In France, it is compulsory to have a document with you for any movement in public spaces. This is strictly controlled. It should be noted that France would apparently not admit all posted workers. Check the below-mentioned documents to check whether you are an exception.

Website: https://www.gouvernement.fr/info-coronavirus (French)

To work: professional relocation

  • "Attestation professionnelle" justificatif de déplacement professionel: if your employees are in France for a few days, provide sufficient paper certificates, which you partly fill in in advance for each day that the employees are in France
  • "Attestation pour un voyage international depuis l'étranger vers la France métropolitaine": again, bring some documents, again for each day that the employees are in France. Clearly indicate in which exception category you fall.
  • In addition, add the Belgian employment certificate, showing that you have to cross the border for professional purposes: Certificate demonstrating the need to cross the border for work: 1 is sufficient.
  • Word of caution: as an employer, you must respect the French regulation with respect to social distancing. A very comprehensive brochure can be found on the following website: https://www.preventionbtp.fr/Documentation/Explorer-par-produit/Information/Ouvrages/Guide-de-preconisations-de-securite-sanitaire-pour-la-continuite-des-activites-de-la-construction-Covid-19.

Hotel stays: also non-professional trips

  • If employees stay the night in France, it is necessary for them to use the French document that the French residents must also fill in whenever they leave their home. Whenever the employee leaves the hotel for a non-professional reason (which is very exceptional in France!), the document "attestation dérogatoire" must be completed. It is advisable to print this document in Belgium (multiple copies) and give it to each employee. Even if a digital version of this document exists, it is not clear whether the digital version can be used by individuals whose main residence is not in France ("attestation dérogatoire numérique").
  • Besides the compulsory documents that each country imposes, we recommend you to give employees additional documents, indicating where the employee will work and what he/she will do. For example, a document or email drafted by the host company requesting the work to be done, with the address where the work will take place. You can also think of a purchase order or commercial contract (you can blur the numbers and amounts should you wish); a timetable showing that the employee has to be with a certain customer; …

Germany:
There are no border controls between Germany and Belgium. However, there are border controls between, among others, Germany and France, Germany and Luxembourg, etc. Certificate demonstrating the need to cross the border for work

Netherlands:
There are border controls between Belgium and the Netherlands to stop non-essential traffic (tourists, shopping, ...). For the time being, no additional document is required for Belgian employees who are going to work in the Netherlands.

Check the latest information on the following website: https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/onderwerpen/coronavirus-covid-19

Luxembourg
The border between Belgium and Luxembourg is still open. Check the national website for updated information. https://meco.gouvernement.lu/en/dossiers/2020/coronoavirus-entreprises.html

International Employment Experts answers social and tax questions and issues related to international employment. For more information about our services and our rates, please contact us at international.employment@agoria.be

Commuting and journeys for professional reasons are considered essential journeys. This also applies for cross-border journeys. In case of crossing the –border between two countriesspecific certificates/vignettes must be produced at border controls. The Belgian rules on social distancing must be respected in Belgian companies for all employees.

Agoria provides a model document giving proof that the cross-border worker must indeed come to Belgium to work, or that they must go to a (neighbouring) country to work.

A frontier worker is an employee who lives in one country, for example France, and works in Belgium for a Belgian employer. The term 'frontier worker' refers to blue-collar workers, white-collar workers, executives or managers. In short: every employee.

Document needed to cross the border to come and work in Belgium (status at05/05/2020 at 8h00):

International Employment Experts answers social and tax questions and issues related to international employment. For more information about our services and our rates, please contact us at international.employment@agoria.be

Frontier workers are allowed to work from home during the corona crisis, without impact on the social security system.

A frontier worker who lives in another country, but normally only works in Belgium, is subject to Belgian social security (country of employment). By also working in the country of residence, such as teleworking, you end up in a situation of simultaneous employment in several countries. This could have consequences. The NSSO has taken the pragmatic decision that the work of a frontier worker through teleworking in his country of residence (another country) will not have any consequences for the submission to the Belgian NSSO. Moreover, as a company, you do not have to notify the NSSO about this. You do not need to apply for an A1 document. Conditions:

  • The change in working patterns should only be due to the measures taken in relation to the COVID-19 virus
  • The pattern of work should return to "normal" once these measures have been lifted.

A written agreement or concrete instructions from HR are useful as proof afterwards. HR must ensure that the instructions are followed and that the employees concerned effectively resume their normal work pattern after the end of the COVID-19 measures.

No impact on frontier workers under the tax agreement between France and Belgium

In response to the corona crisis, the tax authorities published a notice on Friday 13 March 2020 for French frontier workers who will have to telework more in the coming days and weeks. In order to benefit from the frontier workers scheme, French frontier workers must work exclusively in the Belgian border region. However, a tolerance of 30 days per year is provided for in which the border area may be left and in a number of exceptional cases - where the border area is left - which are not taken into account for the application of the 30-day rule. These exceptions include cases of force majeure beyond the control of the employer and employee. The Belgian and French authorities consider that the current coronavirus situation clearly constitutes a case of force majeure. It was therefore decided that as from Saturday 14 March 2020, the presence of a French frontier worker at his place of residence in France (mainly to telework there) will not be taken into account for the calculation of the 30-day period. This measure shall apply until further notice. It should be noted that we do not yet have information on other situations relating to frontier work.

No impact on frontier workers under the tax agreement between Luxembourg and Belgium

On 16 March 2015, the authorities reached an arrangement by mutual agreement on the application of Article 15 of the Double Taxation Convention between Belgium and Luxembourg. A tolerance rule was introduced whereby the frontier worker may carry out his activity for up to 24 days outside the usual State of work and still remain taxable in that State of work. Due to the corona crisis (COVID-19), many of these frontier workers will be working more from home in the coming days and weeks. Luxembourg and Belgium have therefore agreed that in these times, working from home is a case of force majeure. As a result, the teleworking of the employees in their place of residence will not be taken into account for the calculation of the 24-day period. This measure is applicable from Saturday 14 March 2020 until further notice.

If you employ foreign workers from non-EU countries with a single permit that must be renewed, you can submit the application file electronically. Under certain conditions, foreign workers who would normally travel back to their home country in the coming weeks, but cannot return, may apply for an exceptional extension of their residence document and work permit.

If these foreign workers are temporarily unable to work because of the covid-19 crisis, they may face difficulties if they no longer meet the wage requirements that normally apply to most categories of work permits. All the competent regional authorities have confirmed to us that they will take this situation into account and that the period of unemployment will be neutralized in the future assessment of the wage condition. This principle applies to both local and temporarily posted workers.

Each region has provided a specific information page on this issue:

For new applications for work permits/single permits: these can currently also be submitted electronically, but you must take into account the entry ban to the Schengen area and the complications of travelling between the different Member States of the Union. The Immigration Department also announces that the Belgian consulates currently no longer grant new visas in principle. It is of course very uncertain until when these measures will remain in force.

International Employment Experts answers social and tax questions and issues related to international employment. For more information about our services and our rates, please contact us at international.employment@agoria.be

No, the name of an infected worker cannot be communicated as this violates the following principles:

  • Confidentiality
  • Minimal data processing (this data can only be used for personnel management purposes, in particular incapacity for work)

Moreover, communicating identity would not be proportionate as there are other less privacy-intrusive measures available to prevent it:

  • Inform the employees of an infection (without mentioning the identity).
  • Inform the employees of the measures taken by the employer or the person himself to prevent the spread of the virus
  • Remind employees that it is important to contact the employer quickly in the event of (suspected) infection in order to be able to prevent further spread.

See also the website of the Data Protection Authority (in Dutch/French) on the processing of personal data in the context of Corona.

The principle of social distancing is also central in the restart phase. Wherever possible, teleworking remains the norm.

Is teleworking necessary voluntary ? Can an employer enforce teleworking if necessary?

In principle (i.e. in 'normal times') the consent of employer and employees is required.

Given that teleworking, where the organisation of work allows it, should be the norm, voluntariness should be nuanced. The employer, who can also organise work via telework, should actually do so.

Therefore, the employee cannot refuse to telework in this situation.

Cost of teleworking : does the employer have to intervene ?

Teleworking does not require the employer to reimburse costs. However, the employer must technically enable the employee to telework, i.e. he must provide the necessary equipment, there must be provision for installation and maintenance of the equipment and the (internet) connection. If the employee uses his own equipment (Work with your own device -less usual, but it occurs), a contribution from the employer to the costs of the own equipment must be agreed. In the case of the Work with your own device formula, the NSSO and the tax authorities leave an exempt lump sum of up to € 20/month for a contribution towards the costs of a private internet connection. The same maximum amount of € 20/month applies to the employer's contribution to the costs of the private PC (including peripherals and software)

Cost of teleworking : can the employer intervene ?

Can the employer intervene in the costs of telework other than the amounts already mentioned for telework in which the employee uses his or her own equipment ? This is possible, but not mandatory. After all, the employee who effectively and regularly works from home also incurs costs for the furnishing and use of a desk, printer and computer equipment, office supplies, utilities such as water, electricity and heating, maintenance, insurance, property tax, ...

In the context of the fight against the COVID-19 virus, the tax authorities and the NSSO accept that an amount of € 129.48/month is granted to anyone who effectively and structurally teleworks. A lower fixed amount is possible. However, the Advance Decisions Service does provide that all employees should receive the same compensation. A distinction in amounts is therefore not possible. Furthermore, the Advance Decisions Service states that working from home can be considered regular and structural if it takes place at least 5 working days per month.

It is stressed that this possibility is a temporary measure and expires at the end of the federal government measures on the COVID-19 virus. Employers who wish to make use of this possibility must submit an application to the Preliminary Decisions Service: (in Dutch / French).

Is the teleworker insured against work-related (road) accidents?

The Workplace Accident Act provides for a presumption on the basis of which the accident to the teleworker is deemed to have happened during the execution of the employment contract. The route from the place of residence of the occasional teleworker to the school or the place of childcare of his children is considered equal. These provisions apply to both structural and occasional teleworkers.

Especially if an agreement regarding teleworking is not available, it is advisable to contact your occupational accident insurer.

https://abcverzekering.be/news/het-coronavirus-annulatieverzekering-update-19032020 (in Dutch)

Agoria and the trade unions have been able to agree in a short time on the applicable sectoral supplementary allowances for temporary unemployment due to the corona virus. As with the blue-collar workers in the metal sector, the temporarily unemployed white-collar workers will receive an additional allowance of €12.07 per full unemployment benefit.

The additional compensation for the white-collar workers is to be paid directly by the employer. In the case of blue-collar workers, the payment of this supplementary allowance is made via the payment institutions of the trade unions and the unemployment fund.

The social fund for white-collar workers will intervene for half of the amount with regard to the employer. The concrete modalities of this intervention will be worked out and communicated in the short term. We will keep this as simple as possible and, where possible, as automatic as possible.

The supplementary allowances are calculated, for both blue-collar and white-collar workers, in function of the number of unemployment benefits the temporary unemployed person receives.

This can be different from the number of days of temporary unemployment in a month, as the unemployment regulations work with a 6-day week. For each unemployment benefit under the temporary unemployment "coronavirus" there is an additional allowance of €12.07 to be paid by the employer (maximum 6 benefits per week). For a part-time worker, the supplementary allowance amounts to €6.04 per half unemployment benefit (maximum of 12 half benefits per week).

If, as an employer, you have already made agreements in the context of the temporary unemployment "Corona crisis" for your white-collar employees, these remain applicable but can be set off against the new sectoral allowance.

The agreement for the white-collar workers also provides for regular information and consultation on the manner and extent of temporary unemployment. This consultation can take place via video-meetings or via e-mail. This consultation will take place with the trade union delegation. If there is no trade union delegation, it will be held with the works council or, failing that, with the committee for prevention and protection at work.

The government decided to provide for equal treatment for the application of the rules on the annual leave of the days of temporary unemployment due to the corona virus. No other assimilation was provided for in this collective agreement.

The scheme for white-collar workers is temporary in nature. The starting date is 1 March 2020 and the end date is 30 June 2020. As a result, it is applicable in the event of an extension of the simplified procedure. Temporary applications for force majeure that are invoked before or after the end of the simplified procedure are also included.

The combination of the sectoral reimbursement with the additional measures taken by the government, including an increase in temporary unemployment benefits to 70% and an additional lump-sum allowance of €5.63 per benefit, now gives a very large proportion of the temporary unemployed a fully-fledged income guarantee during this period of crisis.

No social security contributions are due on the additional allowances in the event of temporary unemployment. On the temporary unemployment benefits and any supplements (from funds or the employer) there is a withholding tax of 26.75%.

This withholding tax is only an advance on the personal income tax to be paid. Depending on the employee's situation, it is therefore possible that he or she will receive a refund from the tax authorities, or will have to make an additional payment to the tax authorities. Since the percentage of wage withholding tax of 26.75% provided by law is rather low, there is a real chance that the employee will still have to make an additional payment when he receives his personal income tax assessment.

You can read the full text of the collective agreement on temporary unemployment "Coronavirus" here.

Blue-collar workers in the non-ferrous sector (PC 105) who, at the time they are made temporarily unemployed, count at least 15 days of service in the company, are entitled to an additional unemployment allowance of EUR 6.17 for each day of unemployment for which the National Employment Office grants full unemployment benefit with a maximum of 4 weeks per case.

This amount shall be reduced by half for the days on which the NEO grants half unemployment benefit.

Source: collective agreement of 2 September 2019 amending the collective agreement of 27 April 2005 on the sectoral social security system.

For the non-ferrous sector white-collar workers (PC 224), no additional unemployment allowance in case of temporary unemployment is foreseen at sector level. It is not excluded that an additional allowance may be paid at company level.

As a reminder, in the event of temporary unemployment - coronavirus - the blue-collar and white-collar workers in the non-ferrous sector also receive an allowance at the expense of the National Employment Office of EUR 5.63 per full unemployment benefit.

There are no sectoral agreements in PC/CP 200 on temporary unemployment due to force majeure. Employees who are temporary unemployed due to force majeure are, however, entitled to the intervention at the expense of the National Employment Office of € 5.63 per full unemployment benefit.

It is not excluded that, at company level, an additional allowance may be paid or periods of temporary unemployment may be treated as working days in certain cases.

There are no sectoral agreements in PC/CP 219 on temporary unemployment due to force majeure. Employees who are temporary unemployed due to force majeure are, however, entitled to the intervention at the expense of the National Employment Office of € 5.63 per full unemployment benefit.

It is not excluded that, at company level, an additional allowance may be paid or periods of temporary unemployment may be treated as working days in certain cases.

There is currently no vaccine against the coronavirus. However, you can recommend your employees, suppliers, contractors and visitors to apply the necessary hygiene regulations:

Your external service for HSE can certainly provide you with the necessary posters and guidelines regarding general hygiene regulations.

In addition, you can also provide the following general recommendations:

  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Stay at home when you are ill.
  • Cough or sneeze in the elbow fold and not in the hand. Throw used paper handkerchiefs in the trash immediately.
  • Regularly clean and disinfect objects that are in common use (e.g. door handles, telephones, push buttons, ...).

Read more information in our note: "besmetting voorkomen en aanpakken (dutch)" / "Preventing contamination and dealing with it. (french)"

  • Isolate the employee concerned
  • Have him / her contact his General Practitioner (GP)
  • Ask him / her to follow the GP’s advice
  • Seek advice from the Occupational Doctor if an employee shows symptoms

Want to know more? Consult our explanation: "besmetting voorkomen en aanpakken (dutch)" / "Prévention et gestion de la contamination (french)"

Yes, but first of all the rules of social distancing should be applied at the very most.

In situations where the 1.5m cannot be complied with and after the organizational measures and collective protective equipment have been exhausted, wearing mouth masks may be necessary as an additional measure, in conjunction with other preventive measures and with respect for the prevention hierarchy. Moreover, to be effective, these masks must be worn and taken off correctly.

For more information about mouth masks we refer to the following FAQ: My employees have to wear mouth masks. What do I need to take particular care of?

We advise you to urga an employee who is showing symptoms to contact his doctor by telephone.

As an employer, you cannot test your employees. The doctor will determine the necessary steps.

A group of Belgian experts developed procedures that were sent to all our general practitioners and hospitals. This way, they know how to quickly identify a patient who may be infected with the coronavirus, and what to do in that case.

Guidelines for general practitioners, hospitals, specialists, laboratories and other health professionals can be found here:https://epidemio.wiv-isp.be/ID/Pages/2019-nCoV_procedures.aspx

The information is only available in dutch and french.

Since mid-March we have been surrounded by the coronavirus. The virus has resulted in an increase in proposals for preventive measures to keep infections out of the company and to protect the employees as well as possible.

One of the measures that has been on the agenda of several companies since the start of this crisis has been to measure the body temperature of the employees (and also of the visitors). Supported by a positive advice from the FPS (response received on 3 March), a number of companies had started taking these measurements.

A few weeks ago, however, we heard from a number of member companies that the Labour Inspection imposed a ban on these measurements. Agoria approached the labour inspection on this matter.

The FPS responded by publishing a modified position on its site:

Dutch:
https://werk.belgie.be/nl/faqs/vragen-en-antwoorden-coronavirus (under the heading: 'Welzijn op het werk': Question: "Mag ik, als werkgever, de lichaamstemperatuur meten van werknemers die de onderneming binnenkomen").

French:
https://emploi.belgique.be/fr/faqs/questions-et-reponses-coronavirus under the heading: bien-être au travail, question: Est-ce que je peux, en tant qu'employeur, procéder à la prise de température corporelle des travailleurs qui entrent dans l'entreprise?".

To summarise: the employer is not allowed to measure the temperature, but exceptionally (in Corona times) this is possible provided that it is registered in the labour regulations (via the normal procedure).

Companies that have already introduced this measure can submit their questions to our experts An Goethals (an.goethals@agoria.be), Geert Verschraegen (geert.verschraegen@agoria.be), Bart Snels (bart.snels@agoria.be) and Geert De Prez (geert.deprez@agoria.be).

What about the privacy of the employee/visitor of the company if temperature measurements are entered?

When an organization questions visitors or employees about COVID-19 / coronavirus (e.g. 'Have you had contact with people who are infected?' or 'Are you showing symptoms of disease?')or when it performs tests such as temperature mesurements, it is an invasion of their privacy.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) does not apply when personal data is not processed in a file (in a certain structure so that it can be easily found: e.g. a certain file or folder, alphabetically, chronologically, by name). The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) does not apply when personal data is not processed in a file (in a certain structure so that it can be easily found: e.g. a certain file or folder, alphabetically, chronologically, by name). This means that GDPR does not apply when the question whether someone has been in an affected area is asked verbally and when no written/electronic note is taken of the answers.

However, this does not change the fact that the privacy of the person concerned can be invaded by asking questions about his/her personal situation (the feeling of entering the personal bubble).

The impact on the person concerned must be proportional and limited to what is strictly necessary. In order to guarantee the proportionality of the organisation's measures as much as possible, we suggest the following actions:

1) Confer with the works council and the Committee for Prevention and Protection at Work

  • What questions will be posed to employees / visitors?
  • What measures will be taken (distance temperature gauge)?
  • What communication will be given to the workers / visitors?

2) Communication to and questions to the employees / visitors

  • Prior to the visit (e.g. the day or a few days before), report that questions will be posed to the visitors/employees regarding a possible infection with the Corona virus or that temperature measurements will be carried out.
  • Clearly inform about the concrete and practical implementation of the temperature measurements.
  • To those concerned, stress the importance of prevention, general public health and the vital interests of everyone in asking the questions and/or taking the measures, so that the person concerned understands the importance and agrees to provide the requested information.
  • Obtain the informed consent of the person concerned. This will consist of answering the question or allowing the temperature measurement.
  • Inform the person concerned that the information will be treated confidentially, e.g. as only a few people get access to that information. Assure the employee concerned that his/her name will not be disclosed.
  • Ask YES / NO questions.

3) Measures: use a distance temperature gauge

  • Only use a distance temperature gauge after consultation with the occupational physician.
  • Use a reliable (calibrated) temperature gauge.
  • After consultation with the occupational physician, set the temperature so that the temperature gauge shows the following result (instead of the temperature itself): GREEN / RED or OK / NOT OK.
  • If, based on the results, further examinations are required, contact the occupational physician so that he/she can carry out the examinations.
  • Inform the person concerned that any information will be treated confidentially, e.g. as only a few people get access to that information. Assure the employee concerned that his/her name will not be disclosed.

4) Use only measures, such as temperature measurements, during the period of stricter measures in the context of the Corona crisis and in order to prevent contamination.

5) Measuring the temperature will not diminish the social distancing measure !

6)Do not record the answers to the questions or the results of the temperature gauge.

7) Keep attendance lists (i.e. not the answers to questions or results of temperature gauges) for 40 days to

  • identify possible sources of infection;
  • be able to take preventive measures (isolate/warn people).

The coronavirus is also becoming increasingly widespread in Flanders. And in the interest of our society and economy, it is therefore important that everyone takes their responsibility to cope with this crisis as well as possible. For many companies, however, there is a serious impact. In order to assist and support our companies as much as possible and to prevent them from ending up in serious financial problems, the Flemish Government has taken a number of corona specific measures.

More information about the measures taken can be found in the subsidy database.

Measures

  1. Crisis Guarantee
  2. The Flemish government is (for the time being) allocating 100 million euros for crisis guarantees. In this way, during this crisis period, companies and the self-employed can also have a bridging loan for existing debts guaranteed by Participatie Maatschappij Vlaanderen. Anyone wishing to make use of a financing request on the basis of the corona guarantee scheme should contact the bank or leasing company. They will decide after analysis whether your financing is eligible for a guarantee. You will have to prove that the financing request is a consequence of the corona crisis. The existing guarantee scheme at PMV/z will be extended until the end of this year for the financing of debts up to 12 months and the premium amounts to 0.25% of the total amount.

    More info: Corona expansion

  3. Gigarant capacity increased from EUR 1.5 billion to EUR 3 billion (new)
  4. The guarantees above 1.5 million EUR - the so-called Gigarantee guarantee scheme - are used to support bankers in financing issues that are more difficult to answer on their own today. Today, Gigarant has a guarantee capacity of 1.5 billion EUR. This capacity is now being increased to no less than 3 billion euros. In this way, Gigarant will be able to place an adapted COVID-19 guarantee on the market that offers more flexibility.

    The COVID-19 guarantee is only granted for the financing of a company that was not a company in difficulty on 31 December 2019 (the standard guarantee is evaluated at the time of granting);

    The maximum duration is 6 years;

    For this crisis guarantee, the premium to be paid at the time of granting is reduced in comparison with the current Gigarant premium;

    A good spread of risk is ensured between banks and the government;

    The amount of COVID-19 guaranteed funding is temporarily limited per company in accordance with European regulations (twice the total annual gross wage bill 2019 or 25% of the total turnover 2019 or, subject to appropriate justification, the liquidity needs for the next eighteen months for an SME and for the next twelve months for a large company);

    Dossiers that fall within the scope of the federal 'corona agreement' are excluded from the Gigarant guarantee.

  5. Subordinated loans for SMEs and start-ups (new)
  6. The Flemish government provides 250 million euro to grant subordinated loans at a reduced interest rate over a period of 3 years via PMV. This measure is specific to SMEs, but the emphasis is explicitly on start-up and scale-up companies. The measure also focuses on companies that are active (again) and employ more than 80% of their staff. This should promote the restart of the economy.

    The system of subordinated loans will be operationalised via the PMV. Contacts with PMV confirm that the subordinated loan will be reserved for so-called viable companies. In concrete terms, this means that arrears of VAT, social security contributions and business withholding taxes will be checked before 31 December 2019. PMV also facilitates contact with the banks in order to be able to propose an optimal financing mix to affected companies.

    PMV wishes to quickly place a landing page online on which all details regarding the conditions and application procedure will be communicated. We will keep you informed as soon as possible.

  7. Nuisance premium
  8. The nuisance premium can only be applied for by companies that are obliged to close down. These are mainly the hotel and catering industry and non-essential shops. It is also only possible to apply for 1 premium per enterprise number. In the event of complete closure, a one-off premium of 4,000 euros can be obtained; after 5 April, a lump-sum payment of 160 euros per day will be added. The annoyance premium can be applied for via the Vlaio website.

    More info: Corona hinderpremie

  9. Flexibility towards conditions for innovation subsidies and accelerated approval and payment
  10. Enterprises which, as a result of the crisis, find it difficult to meet the deadlines laid down for certain VLAIO grants may discuss with the Agency the possibility of extending these deadlines.

    In addition, from now on, SMEs will also be able to benefit from the SME growth subsidy. The SME growth subsidy supports SMEs in acquiring the missing strategic knowledge needed to realise their growth trajectory at an important tipping point. This knowledge can be acquired through an external advisor and/or the recruitment of a strategic profile. Exploring new markets or reviewing the supply chain as a result of the corona virus can be accepted as a 'tipping point'.

    More information about the SME growth subsidy SME growth subsidy

    Vlaio also undertakes to develop a new abridged procedure for the evaluation of development projects with an application for aid of less than €250,000. Initial results at Vlaio indicate that these projects could now be decided in 4 to 6 weeks. Payments of the first instalment will also be accelerated. Finally, Vlaio has also just tightened up its internal procedures and monitoring in order to speed up the settlement and payment of projects that have been completed.

  11. Postponement of collection of property tax
  12. The Flemish government has decided not to send the assessment notes for the payment of the property tax until September, which temporarily gives entrepreneurs a little more breathing space.

  13. VDAB initiative to fill sudden staff shortages in essential sectors
  14. VDAB has created a platform where, for example, people in temporary unemployment can apply for a job in those sectors where extra personnel is now needed.

    As an employer, you can use my VDAB to create a vacancy free of charge with the title #covid19

    More info via this link: https://werkgevers.vdab.be/coronacrisis/vacatures

  15. Temporary unemployed due to the Corona crisis receive 1 month's water and energy bill reimbursed by the Flemish government.
  16. All employees who are temporarily unemployed on or after 20 March on account of COVID-19 and who are domiciled in the Flemish Region can count on an intervention in their water and energy bill.

    It is the intention that the Flemish government, via information from the NEO - National Employment Office, will automatically and directly pay the amount into the employee's account. The employee does not have to do anything for this. The full compensation will be paid to all employees who are temporarily unemployed regardless of the number of days.

    The intervention is based on an average water and energy bill of all households. This is the quickest way to pay the intervention.

    This compensation amounts to a total of € 202.68 and is composed as follows:

    • for water 30.77 €
    • for the heating costs 95,05 euro
    • for the electricity costs EUR 76,86

    More info via this link: https://www.vlaanderen.be/water-en-energievergoeding-bij-tijdelijke-werkloosheid-door-covid-19/wie-komt-in-aanmerking-voor-de-water-en-energievergoeding-bij-tijdelijke-werkloosheid-door-covid-19

  17. Increased incentive bonus for part-time employees
  18. The incentive bonus that already exists to encourage people to work part time to avoid redundancies will be extended to companies facing, for example, declining production, declining sales or falling orders as a result of the corona crisis. The monthly premium for the worker will be between 68 and 172 euro. The condition is a reduction in production of at least 20%. This extension only applies for the period 1/4/20 to 30/6/20. The application must always be made in full months.

    More information via this link: https://www.vlaanderen.be/aanmoedigingspremie-bij-onderneming-in-moeilijkheden-privesector

The Brussels Government has taken a series measures to complement the federal measures. These decisions by the Regional Government include support totalling €350 million for businesses in difficulty, particularly in the sectors most affected, such as catering, events, tourism, the retail trade and organisers of leisure activities.

A task force of public administrations and organisations has been set up, expanded to include visit.brussels. The task force will be able to call on the expertise of the various economic sectors in order to get to know the reality on the ground. The impact of Covid-19 on the Brussels economy and in particular on the threatened sectors will be monitored on a weekly basis by IBSA, in collaboration with Hub.brussels, Visit.brussels and all members of the Task Force.

SUPPORT CASH FLOW

Strong support for the cash flows of affected companies by granting (via the Brussels Guarantee Fund) public guarantees on bank loans for a total amount of 20 million euros;

Note: the Brussels guarantee will supplement the federal state guarantee .

FOREIGN TRADE

hub.brussels will be tasked with regularly monitoring the impact of the Covid19 virus on the Brussels economy and, in particular, on highly threatened sectors. There will be close cooperation with the private actors. Following the cancellation of foreign missions (major fairs, missions in high-risk areas), hub.brussels contacts the companies individually to provide them with clear explanations of the technical details (information on the cancellation, explanations on how their costs can be reimbursed, etc.). Depending on the evolution of the situation, hub.brussels will formulate alternative proposals for the cancelled missions.

PROPERTY TAX

At the proposal of the Minister of Finance and Budget, Sven Gatz, the government approved a draft decree providing for a two-month extension of the deadlines for the payment of property tax for the 2020 tax year, in order to give the taxpayer more financial freedom in the current context of the Covid-19 health crisis. Payment conditions will also be made more flexible.

PREMIUMS

Like the other regions, the Brussels government has created a number of (one-off) premiums for sectors that are obliged to close. On 16 April, the government decided to introduce a new one-off premium: a compensation premium of 2,000 euros will be introduced for entrepreneurs and micro-enterprises (with 0 to 5 FTEs) which saw their activity significantly reduced by the measures against the spread of the coronavirus. All information on this can be found at https://1819.brussels/en/blog/coronavirus-faq-entrepreneurs.

The creation of a bilingual website containing all the recommendations and decisions taken by the Brussels government regarding the coronavirus: coronavirus.brussels. Posters can also be downloaded from the website in 10 different languages (French, Dutch, German, English, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Romanian, Turkish, classical Arabic). A multilingual poster campaign will also be launched.

SUSPENSION OF LEZ FINES

finally, the Brussels Government has decided to change the date on which the dispatch of fines in the context of the Low Emission Zone starts (originally planned for 1 April 2020) and to temporarily suspend the dispatch of fines for the vehicles concerned since 2018. The entry into force of the fines will be postponed until the first day after the end date of the measures taken by the federal government to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. Since 1 January 2018, Brussels has had a low emission zone that limits the use of the most polluting vehicles in order to improve air quality and the health of the population in the Brussels-Capital Region. In view of the crisis we are currently experiencing, all citizens affected must be given the opportunity to go to hospital and all other movements that are essential as a result of this pandemic must be made possible.

In addition to the health measures taken in agreement with the other entities, the Walloon Government has set up a task force on the initiative of the Minister for the Economy, Willy Borsus, to deal specifically with the economic challenges posed by the coronavirus. The aim of this task force is to inform, help and support Walloon companies facing difficulties related to the presence of the coronavirus in our country and in the world. Specifically, the task force will ensure that the needs of the various Walloon economic sectors are identified and corrective and support measures are proposed.

This Task Force brings together the SPW Économie-Emploi-Recherche, AWEX, SOGEPA, SOWALFIN, SRIW, UWE, UCM, SNI, CGT, WBT, trade unions (FGTB, CSC, CGSLB) as well as representatives of the Minister of Health Christie Morreale and the Minister of the Public Office Valérie De Bue.

The Task Force meets every week (Tuesday) or earlier if necessary to monitor the situation of our companies and "continuously" identify the actions to be taken. The approach is therefore intended to be dynamic and participatory. For questions or possible contributions on this subject, please contact: geoffrey.joris@agoria.be.

On the basis of the first meetings, the following measures have already been approved:

  • Information: 1890 is the only reference telephone number for Walloon businesses and the self-employed with questions about the epidemic, within the framework of Walloon competences. It will be accessible from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and will make it possible to give concrete and appropriate answers to businesses and the self-employed. More information is also available at: https://www.1890.be/
  • Corporate treasury: SOWALFIN, SOGEPA and SRIW will respond, in consultation with the banking sector, to companies with cash flow problems in the form of a bank guarantee or loan.
  • Support: SOGEPA's monitoring unit will provide support to companies requesting it for more specific problems related to their sector.
  • Deadlines for the regional procedures: the SPW Economy will relax the deadlines for companies making a commitment to the Walloon Region (objective in terms of employment, deadline for repayment of aid, etc.).

Any new measures will be discussed at the meeting of the Corona working group. Agoria will immediately inform its members of any new measures via the newsletter and this web page.

Following an agreement within Assuralia, companies and workers whose income is affected by the coronavirus crisis will be able to apply for payment deferrals from their insurance companies. In concrete terms, the purpose of the agreement is to ensure that insurers grant employers and employees a grace period until 30 September to pay premiums due between 30 March and 30 September.

For employers this measure covers the following cases:

  • Companies that have been shut down will be able to apply for the deferral of their premiums due between 30 March and 30 September, including premiums relating to “group” insurance.
  • Certain types of insurance will be adapted automatically to the interruption of activities so that the premiums can be adapted to the decrease in turnover or payroll (this is particularly the case of policies relating to industrial accidents and civil liability).
  • A moratorium similar to that applied to mortgage loans is also possible if these loans have been granted by insurers.

For employees, this measure covers the following cases:

  • Protected temporarily laid-off workers and employees placed on temporary unemployment can rest assured that the pension, death, disability and hospitalization benefits they receive under their group insurance will be maintained. These benefits are in principle suspended with the employment contract in the event of temporary unemployment.
  • In addition to insurance policies included in the employment contract, employees will also be able to defer payment of their premiums linked to their “outstanding balance” insurance policies and/or their “fire” insurance policies linked to their mortgages.

    The number "1890" is the unique reference number for companies and self-employed people with requests for information on the epidemic, in connection with the official measures adopted (regardless of the level of authority). It is a call centre that will provide information at a general level on the measures adopted and should logically refer to specific services for more in-depth approaches.

    To save time and give our members more specific answers:

    • If the questions relate to social law: please refer to Agoria's P&O services which will be able to answer directly and precisely to the questions that arise, considering the specificities of each sector.
    • If the questions are of an economic and/or financial nature: do not refer to P&O services but refer as needed.

The Walloon Government has decided that the Walloon financial institutes (SRIW, SOGEPA, SOWALFIN) will grant a general freeze on serviced loans until the end of March 2020. This freeze may be extended until the end of April 2020. This measure should make it possible to lighten the financial burdens of companies and free up cash in the short term and thus avoid a snowball phenomenon that would be disastrous for the economy.

In order to activate this measure, contact your account manager within the financial institute concerned.

  • The Walloon financial tools (SOWALFIN, SOGEPA and SRIW) are mobilized in order to respond to companies with cash flow difficulties, in the form of financial guarantees or loans, in consultation with the banking sector
  • At the level of?Sowalfin, the proposed measures consist of maintaining or increasing the available cash flow of SMEs via :
    • The granting of 50% guarantees on existing credit lines granted by banks without initial SOWALFIN guarantee, with a maximum commitment of EUR 500,000, in order to keep these means at the disposal of the impacted companies ;
    • The granting of 75% guarantees on increases in existing lines (Banks - Invests) ;
    • The granting of 75% guarantees on new short-term credit lines (Banks - Invests).

In addition, considering their current resources, the Sogepa group will mobilize an envelope of ?100 million to supplement the guarantees automatically granted by Solwafin (to healthy companies before the crisis): to reach guarantees for a maximum amount of ?2.5 million per beneficiary.

In order to benefit from an intervention of la?SOWALFIN, your company must respect some criteria?: (1) be an SME within the meaning of the definition adopted by the European Union ; (2) meet the independence criteria, (3) be located in Wallonia, (4) be active in an eligible sector (French) (a priori, the Agoria sectors are eligible), (5) not be in financial difficulty within the meaning of the definition adopted by the European Union, (6) your banking organization must be recognised/certified by Sowalfin (here is a list (French) of the concerned banks).? If you meet these conditions, start by going to your bank to build your file. Mention to your bank that you are seeking support from Sowalfin. It is then your bank that will contact Sowalfin.

  • At the level of?Sogepa,two types of measures have been adopted?:
    • Provide leverage to the banking sector(1) by providing a loan equivalent to the loans granted by banks to meet very short-term business needs. In concrete terms, SOGEPA's bank loans will put in the same stake as the banks that support companies. But also (2) by reinforcing public guarantees on loans by 75%
    • Urgently support the cash flow of companies with a loan of 200.000 EUR. In concrete terms, in order to meet the urgent cash flow needs of companies, SOGEPA will offer loans without private counterpart for a maximum amount of EUR 200,000, with a 1-year repayment grace period and a fixed interest rate of 2%.
    • In addition, within the framework of its current resources, the Sogepa group will mobilize a budget of ?100 million for :

    • Complementing the guarantees granted automatically by SOWALFIN (to healthy companies before the crisis): to reach guarantees of up to ?2.5 million per beneficiary
    • For firms in difficulty: 75% guarantee of up to ?2.5 million per beneficiary
    • As a reminder, Sogepa comes to the aid of companies in difficulty (bankruptcy, judicial reorganization, etc.) and is delegated by the Walloon Government. It is therefore necessary for the Government to authorize Sogepa to intervene in a specific project. Regardless of this step.

      If you wish to activate these mechanisms,? contact Sogepa directly. Three cases exist?:

    • If your company is already supported by Sogepa, please contact the investment manager in charge of your file
    • If your company wishes to request a bank guarantee from Sogepa, the request is sent by your bank, your bank will directly manage your request with Sogepa.
    • For all other requests (such as new applications for capital or loans), contact Sogepa directly or send them your request sur?contact@sriw.be
  • At the?SRIW, a package of measures has been adopted both on guarantees and on the granting of credits/equity participation.
  • With regard to the granting of guarantees, it is proposed, with the overall ceiling of EUR 1.500.000 per beneficiary, to grant a 75% guarantee automatically in the following cases:

    • Guarantee the existing short-term lines of credit granted by banks without the guarantee of the Walloon Region so the company affected by the Covid crisis is able to maintain these resources.
    • Guarantee the short-term credit line increases that would be granted to companies to help them get through this period of crisis. In addition, the granting of moratoria on medium-term loans may be considered as increases in short-term credit lines.

At the same time, the SRIW is adapting its notion of "companies in difficulty " to the new European definition following:

  • Shareholders' equity is reduced to less than half of the shared capital, more than a quarter of which has been lost over the last 12 months
  • The conditions for submission to collective insolvency proceedings are met, in particular when the company resorts to judicial reorganization proceedings (JRP)
  • Attendtion: a firm that has been in existence for less than three years is also considered to be in difficulty if it fulfils the two conditions set out above.

With regard to equity investments and loans, the Government has decided to set up a weekly call with the banks (head of corporate) on the monitoring of equity investments and possible measures to be taken on both sides. The Walloon Government will plead with the Federal Government to ensure that compensation and compensations are tax-free. However, nothing has yet been achieved on this specific aspect.

To submit your request, please contact the SRIW directly. The team of experts will first of all specify the necessary documents to start to study your file, and will eventually come back to you for further information.?Attention?: Projects supported by the SRIW include requests for more than 1 million euros. For projects below this amount, local investors should be contacted (list of Invests available here (French)).

Each financial tool in the region has a specific target audience. Depending on your type of business, your project and the type of assistance you are looking for, you will indeed have to turn to different tools and organizations.

To sum up, and in connection with the specific aid adopted by the Walloon Government in the context of supporting companies faced with the economic consequences of the Coronavirus, here is a short summary of the measures put in place by the tools financiers :

  • SOWALFIN: you are an SME, you are applying for a loan from a commercial bank to cover your cash flow problems and your bank asks you for a guarantee. You can take advantage of the support put in place by Sowalfin. In addition, in the specific context of the Coronavirus crisis, Sogepa may also supplement the guarantee offered by Sowalfin. To request this support, your bank will contact Sowalfin directly.
  • SOGEPA: If you are a company undergoing conversion (bankruptcy or judicial restructuring), you can apply for Sogepa's support both for a loan and a guarantee.
  • SIRW: If you are a large company and you wish to obtain a guarantee on short-term credit lines or on expanding the guarantee, you can apply for support from the SRIW.

In addition to the efforts already made to deal with the initial shock of the coronavirus crisis (temporary unemployment, deferred payment of personal income tax, withholding tax on earned income, VAT and social security contributions), the banking federation Febelfin and the federal government have reached an agreement on additional aid measures. On the one hand, the financial sector is committed to providing viable non-financial businesses and self-employed persons, as well as mortgage borrowers who are experiencing payment problems due to the coronavirus crisis, with a deferral of payments until September 30, 2020 without charge.

In addition, the federal government will activate a guarantee scheme for all new loans and credit lines of up to 12 months duration that banks grant to viable non-financial companies and self-employed persons. This will ensure that the financing of the economy is maintained.

The practical implementation of this decision should be able to start by the end of March. Companies are invited to contact their bank as soon as possible so that targeted solutions can be sought.

Further information on this can be found on the websites de Febelfin (French/Dutch) and the NBB .

Agoria has also created a task force to assist its members in finding adequate solutions to their liquidity problems. If you have any questions about this, you can send an e-mail to patrick.vanhoye@agoria.be.

In addition to these measures,  the Walloon Government has mobilized its financial tools (Sowalfin, Sogepa and SRIW) to grant loans and guarantees (see previous question for details) (see question "financial tools" for an explanation of the measures adopted).

  • Indeed, an envelope of 233 million has been released in order to offer aid to companies affected by the Coronavirus crisis.
  • Part of this envelope is granted in the form of flat-rate aid targeted at specific sectors. This means that enterprises included under the NACE codes identified by the Government will receive the same amount per enterprise, irrespective of the specific loss of income of the enterprise concerned.
  • In view of the criteria adopted by the Government, a priori companies in the Agoria sector should be excluded from this aid.
  • For companies from Agoria's sectors, the aid provided for by the financial instruments (Sowalfin, Sogepa and SRIW) should be requested.

For your information, here are the details of the " forfetary " scheme adopted by the government :

  • 5000 EUR per totally closed company or stopped as a result of the decisions adopted by the National Security Council and belonging to the following sectors:
    • Catering (NACE code 55) ;
    • Accommodation (NACE code 56) ;
    • Activities of travel agencies, tour operators, reservation services and related activities (NACE code 79) ;
    • Retail trade (NACE code 47 - excluding 47.20, 47.62, 47.73).
  • 2500 EUR for each enterprise who must change their closing days without being fully closed in the application of the decisions adopted by the National Security Council.
    • Personal services - hairdressers (NACE code 96.021).

The methodology put in place will be communicated in detail very soon but will be done via a platform that will be accessible on 27 March 2020. Payments will be made from April onwards.

The measures adopted by the Government are designed to cover all sectors. In the event that economic and financial problems are specific to a particular sector of activity, SOGEPA's Monitoring Unit will accompany these companies, if they would request it, regarding more specific problems related to their sectors.

  • The good news is that the Walloon Government has adopted an order of special powers relating to the temporary suspension of the time limits for enforcement and scheduled appeals, laid down in or adopted under, all Walloon legislation and regulations.
  • The scope of this decree covers both regional and local deadlines (if local deadlines are set through a regional legal/regulatory mechanism, as is the case, for example, for public enquiry deadlines in the context of granting an urban planning permit)
  • These deadlines are suspended from 18 March 2020 and for a period of 30 days, extendable twice for the same period.
  • The suspension of deadlines does not, however, prevent both regional authorities from continuing to take decisions even in situations where deadlines are suspended.

The Government has decided that local taxes affecting businesses and self-employed people affected by the coronavirus crisis will be temporarily "suspended" for the time of the forced closure imposed by the National Security Council. To cover the losses incurred by the municipalities, Wallonia will grant local authorities financial compensation equivalent to the amount of the exemptions granted (estimated :4 million€).

In order to support local entities, a circular was adopted on 6 April by the Minister of Local Government. This circular provides, inter alia, a non-exhaustive list of the taxation concerned.

The circular can be consulted via the following link: Walloon circular.

Concerning the water bill, for all the self-employed, SMEs and companies, the Walloon Government decided to grant, upon simple request,

  • of a bill payment deferral or postponement of payment ;
  • the revision of quarterly down payments to take into account the decrease in activity;
  • the extension of traditional due dates;
  • the acceleration of payments by the Public Water Companies to subcontractors and suppliers
  • the staggering of the payment deadlines for water taxes.

Nevertheless, this measure only applies to the Société Publique de Gestion de l'Eau (SPGE) and the Société Wallonne des Eaux (SWDE). However, the Government has invited all the water distributors to do the same.

The Walloon Government has not taken any decisions on electricity bills. However, given the situation, we encourage you to contact your electricity supplier to consider all possible options to alleviate this burden on your operations.

A circular is in the process of being validated by the Minister-Président :

  • At the awarding of the procurement
    • If the procurement is published, it is proposed to postpone publication by one month
    • If the procurement is ready but has not yet been published, it is proposed to postpone it
    • If the tenders are analysed, but the procurement has not been awarded, it is proposed to extend the validity of the tenders, provided that this is technically feasible (e.g. maintaining prices in a changing economic context)
    • If the procurement has been notified, but the order to start operations has not been given, it is proposed to postpone it
  • At the level of execution of the procurement
    • Some procurements can be executed normally (if the condition of social distance is respected)
    • Possibility to adjust deadlines (extension)
    • No application of damage clauses (financial penalties for delay), if this had been applied there will be reimbursement
    • Possibility of suspension or even termination of contracts if the subject matter of the contract is no longer relevant
  • At the level of payment, the SPW's intention is to continue making payments. No problem for the moment.
  • At the level of revival (exit from the crisis), a consultation with the sectors will be proposed in order not to flood the market.

For more details, the circular is available on the SPW's public procurement portal via this link.

Whether you can invoke the corona crisis as a force majeure event towards your trading partners, suppliers or customers must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. When making an assessment in that respect, you must take into account both the particular circumstances and the applicable legal rules.

In terms of legal rules, both the law and any agreements between the parties (e.g. in contracts or general terms and conditions) are important. In short, the law provides a basic system that the parties can adapt and extend. Therefore, force majeure can be invoked even though your contracts do not contain force majeure provisions.

  1. According to the law, you can only invoke force majeure if you can provide evidence that the following conditions are met (burden of proof is an important point):
    • unforeseeable circumstances (unforeseeable at the time of the conclusion of the contract, so pay attention when signing new agreements);
    • that occur beyond your control and will; and
    • that render the performance of the obligation impossible (more difficult, costly, etc.).
  2. At the moment, in most cases it is still possible to perform your contractual obligations. The objective of the current government measures (Ministerial Decree of 23 March 2020, available here in Dutch and in French) is to continue work as much as possible, but only insofar as the safety of employees is guaranteed by observing a number of safety measures (teleworking or social distancing of 1,5 meters). In Belgium, companies can remain open unless closure has been ordered expressly (e.g. for the hotel and catering industry) and provided that such safety measures are respected (for “essential companies” there are even exceptions to this rule).

    The consequences of force majeure depend on the obligation in question. If the force majeure situation is temporary and the execution of the obligation is hindered only temporarily (e.g. temporarily impossible to install an installation), the performance of the agreement will only be suspended. The parties must perform the agreement again or continue to perform it as soon as the force majeure situation is over. If the force majeure situation is permanent and the execution of the obligation is prevented definitively (or is later no longer useful), the agreement can be terminated, in principle with reimbursement etc. so the parties are in the same situation as if the agreement had never been concluded.

  3. The parties can make additional arrangements concerning force majeure and its consequences. For example, parties can list examples of force majeure situations (so that there can be no discussion in this respect) and identify specific circumstances as force majeure situations, even though strictly speaking they do not meet the legal conditions. Deviating agreements are also possible in terms of the consequences. For example, contracts often grant a termination right to the parties if a temporary force majeure situation persists for a long time (e.g. longer than a month).

A temporary suspension is not always possible. First of all, it is advisable to check the agreements with your supplier (e.g. the contracts or the general terms and conditions). In addition, this depends on which obligations the customer wishes to suspend, in particular the payment obligation or other obligations (e.g. exclusivity in favor of the supplier).

The postponement of the buyer's payment obligation is only possible if the transfer of ownership takes place at the moment of delivery. When assessing this, you must distinguish between the transfer of ownership (legal, the “ownership” of the goods) and the delivery of the goods (physical, the “possession” of the goods).

The basic rule is that the transfer of ownership takes place as soon as there is an agreement on the goods and the price (e.g. when the order is confirmed), so that the buyer already has to pay at that time. If the delivery is then prevented by force majeure, as a result of which the buyer cannot “take possession” of the goods physically, this does not alter the fact that the buyer still has to pay because he has already acquired the right to those goods (the “ownership”). It is up to the supplier to provide proof of the force majeure situation. To assess whether a force majeure situation exists, you will find more information under the question “Does the corona crisis constitute a force majeure situation? What are the consequences of force majeure? Does this also apply if my contracts do not contain force majeure provisions?”.

As an exception, parties can agree that the transfer of ownership is deferred to the delivery or even payment, when the goods are also physically transferred and paid for (so-called “retention of title”). If the supplier is then temporarily unable to deliver due to force majeure, the client is entitled to withhold payment.

The suspension of other obligations of the customer (e.g. exclusivity in favor of the supplier) is in principle possible.

In both cases we recommend to inform the supplier as soon as possible and in writing (to have proof), in order to avoid discussions. You can explicitly state that you consider the agreement to be suspended and indicate which obligations you will no longer fulfil (e.g. payment or exclusivity).

Finally, the customer has a duty to mitigate damage. Even if the supplier is liable and has to compensate your damage, you must make reasonable efforts to limit that damage as much as possible.

This is not always possible, and certainly not immediately. First of all, once again it is recommended to check the agreements with your supplier (e.g. the contracts or the general terms and conditions). In principle, late delivery is an error, although it is not always sufficient to terminate an agreement.

First of all, not every error justifies the termination of the contract, only the serious error or “material breach”. The assessment of which errors are serious and which are not is not easy, although contracts often point out whether or not a (limited) delay of the delivery constitutes a serious error and therefore whether or not it is sufficient as a ground for termination.

Secondly, late delivery may be due to force majeure, which in turn may prevent termination. It is up to the supplier to provide proof of the force majeure situation, so you can demand this proof. To assess whether a force majeure situation exists, you will find more information under the question “Does the corona crisis constitute a force majeure situation? What are the consequences of force majeure?  Does this also apply if my contracts do not contain force majeure provisions?”.

Thirdly, termination of the agreement is only possible if the force majeure situation is permanent and the execution of the agreement is prevented definitively (or is later no longer useful). If the force majeure situation is temporary and the execution of the obligation is only temporarily prevented (e.g. temporarily impossible to install an installation), the execution of the agreement will only be suspended. The parties must perform the agreement again or continue to perform it as soon as the force majeure situation is over. Contracts can deviate from this rule, e.g. if the force majeure situation persists for a long time (e.g. longer than a month).

Fourthly, it is not possible to terminate immediately, because a number of steps have to be taken. The law requires a prior notice of default to the party in default, with the possibility of rectifying the error within a reasonable period of time. In addition, contracts often provide for procedures to raise issues, so this too should be checked. The termination is only justified if those steps were taken and have remained without effect. Failure to do so is at your risk and may result in your liability.

Finally, the customer has a duty to mitigate damage. Even if the supplier is liable and has to compensate your damage, you must make reasonable efforts to limit that damage as much as possible.

In most cases this is possible, but not always. First of all, it is recommended to check the agreements with your service provider (e.g. the contracts or the general terms and conditions).

Secondly, the basic rule is that the customer can suspend the contract (and thus the payments) if the service provider is temporarily unable to provide services.

We recommend to inform the service provider as soon as possible and in writing (to have proof), in order to avoid discussions. You can explicitly state that you consider the agreement to be suspended and indicate which obligations you will no longer fulfil (e.g. payment and/or exclusivity).

Finally, the customer has a duty to mitigate damage. Even if the service provider is liable and has to compensate your damage, you must make reasonable efforts to limit that damage as much as possible.

This is not always possible, and certainly not immediately. Again, it is recommended to check the agreements with your service provider (e.g. the contracts or the general terms and conditions). In principle, the late provision of services is an error, although this does not always suffice to terminate an agreement.

First of all, not every error justifies the termination of the contract, only the serious error or “material breach”. The assessment of which errors are serious and which are not is not easy, although contracts often point out whether exceeding the execution deadlines constitutes a serious error and therefore whether or not it is sufficient as a ground for termination.

Secondly, late execution may be due to force majeure, which in turn may prevent termination. It is up to the service provider to provide proof of the force majeure situation, so you can demand this proof. To assess whether a force majeure situation exists, you will find more information under the question “Does the corona crisis constitute a force majeure situation? What are the consequences of force majeure?  Does this also apply if my contracts do not contain force majeure provisions?”.

Thirdly, termination of the agreement is only possible if the force majeure situation is permanent and the execution of the agreement is prevented definitively (or is later no longer useful). If the force majeure situation is temporary and the execution of the obligation is only temporarily prevented (e.g. temporarily impossible to install an installation), the execution of the agreement will only be suspended. The parties must perform the agreement again or continue to perform it as soon as the force majeure situation is over. Contracts can deviate from this rule, e.g. if the force majeure situation persists for a long time (e.g. longer than a month).

Fourthly, it is not possible to terminate immediately, because a number of steps have to be taken. The law requires a prior notice of default to the party in default, with the possibility of rectifying the error within a reasonable period of time. In addition, contracts often provide for procedures to raise issues, so this too should be checked. The termination is only justified if those steps were taken and have remained without effect. Failure to do so is at your risk and may result in your liability.

Finally, the customer has a duty to mitigate damage. Even if the service provider is liable and has to compensate your damage, you must make reasonable efforts to limit that damage as much as possible.

Once again a case-by-case assessment is necessary. Again, it is recommended to check the agreements with your customers (e.g. the contracts or the general terms and conditions).

The first question is whether there actually is a force majeure situation. At the moment, in most cases it is still possible to perform your contractual obligations. The objective of the current government measures (Ministerial Decree of 23 March 2020, available here in Dutch and in French) is to continue work as much as possible, but only insofar as the safety of employees is guaranteed by observing a number of safety measures (teleworking or social distancing of 1,5 meters). In Belgium, companies can remain open unless closure has been ordered expressly (e.g. for the hotel and catering industry) and provided that such safety measures are respected (for “essential companies” there are even exceptions to this rule).

More information about force majeure and its assessment can be found under the question “Does the corona crisis constitute a force majeure situation? What are the consequences of force majeure?  Does this also apply if my contracts do not contain force majeure provisions?”.

You can ask your customers to provide proof that the performance of the agreement is impossible due to the corona crisis. If they do not provide such proof, they cannot invoke force majeure.

The second question is whether the customer wants to temporarily suspend the performance of the agreement or rather wants to terminate the agreement. If the force majeure situation is temporary and the execution of the obligation is prevented only temporarily (e.g. temporarily impossible to install an installation), the performance of the agreement will be temporarily suspended. The parties must perform the agreement again as soon as the force majeure situation is over. If the force majeure is permanent and the execution of the obligation is definitively prevented (or is later no longer useful), the agreement can be terminated, in principle with reimbursement etc. so the parties are in the same situation as if the agreement had never been concluded.

It will be difficult to substantiate this argument. First of all, we recommend you to check the agreements with your suppliers and service providers (e.g. the contracts), because it is possible that they contain provisions that deal with this type of situation.

In principle, a decline of your activities is not a force majeure situation, even if that decline is now very sudden because of the corona crisis. This is a foreseeable circumstance that falls under the entrepreneurial risk. In addition, if you want to invoke a force majeure situation, you will have to provide proof that the conditions are met, which is not easy in this case. More information about force majeure and its assessment can be found under the question “Does the corona crisis constitute a force majeure situation? What are the consequences of force majeure? Does this also apply if my contracts do not contain force majeure provisions?”.

There are alternatives to remedy this situation. A first step is to contact your suppliers and service providers, to inform them and find a solution together. The fallback position is that you terminate your agreement with them or no longer renew it, which you can also use to convince your suppliers or service providers that a negotiated solution will also be beneficial to them.

You can issue a formal notice to your suppliers or transporters if timely delivery is compromised. Again, it is recommended to check the agreements with your suppliers. On the one hand, the contract can deal with this situation, justifying certain contractual errors, e.g. limited delays, or considering it a force majeure situation. On the other hand, the contract can also provide for arrangements regarding the formal notice. For example, grace periods may apply (notice of default only after a certain period of delay) or the contract can impose formal requirements (by registered letter, e-mail, language, addressees, etc.). In order to avoid discussions, you can also announce in the notice of default which steps you are considering if the supplier or transporter still fails to comply with the obligations. The contract can also contain provisions in this respect.

For new contracts, it is important to make reservations for the consequences of the corona crisis and the public measures taken to deal with it.

First of all, you can explicitly state that these circumstances are to be considered as a force majeure situation. Such a contractual extension of the notion of force majeure is important because, according to the legal system, force majeure applies only in case of “unforeseeable circumstances” which render the performance of the contract impossible. The corona crisis and the current measures are no longer unforeseeable, so that in principle they cannot be invoked as a force majeure situation.

A second option is to provide a termination right if a temporary force majeure situation persists for a long time (e.g. longer than a month). Temporary force majeure can still persist for a long time (e.g. if the government extends its measures), while often the customer cannot wait too long and wants to look for alternatives as quickly as possible. In order to avoid finding an alternative solution and having to respect the first agreement afterwards, it is best to provide for the right to terminate the first agreement.

Thirdly, contractual arrangements can also be made for any unforeseen costs or delays resulting from the corona crisis, in order to avoid discussions in this respect.

It is recommended to check this in your insurance policy and to contact your insurer or insurance broker. It is impossible to make general statements on this subject.

A distinction should be made between privacy and data protection in order to determine which rules apply:

Data protection (GDPR) does not apply when personal data are not processed in a file (in a certain structure so that it is easily retrievable : e.g. a certain folder or folder, alphabetically, chronologically, by name). This means that if one asks verbally whether someone has been present in an affected area and if no written/electronic note is taken of the answers anywhere, the GDPR does not apply.

However, the privacy of the person concerned can be affected by asking questions about their personal situation (the feeling of entering the personal bubble). Here, the informed consent of the data subject can be invoked, which will be implicitly given by answering the question. Consent will therefore not exist if the person concerned refuses to answer.

If the questions are processed in writing (automated or not), the GDPR will apply. In the case of questions to workers about their health (infected with Corona?) or about their time spent in a given period (travelling in northern Italy from 2-5 March), workers' personal data will therefore be processed.

The main principles to take into account are the following:

  • Legal basis is necessary for the processing
  • Transparency: providing sufficiently comprehensible and simple information (on purpose - why, how, with whom the information is shared) leads to trust.
  • Proportionality principle and the principle of minimum data processing: requesting only the information strictly necessary to achieve the objective.
  • Confidentiality: restrict access to the information and ensure that it will not be shared. The processing of medical personal data is strictly regulated in the Codex, Royal Decree of 28 April 2017 (Art I-4-83 and Art I-4-96).
  • Retention period of the personal data. For how long will the employer retain employee/visitor data as a result of the Corona virus. Inform the employees/visitors concerned about this retention period.

See also the website of the Data Protection Authority (in Dutch / French) on the processing of personal data in the context of Corona, which confirms Agoria's position.

No, the employer cannot oblige the employee to answer the question whether they were travelling privately in an affected region. The data protection authority confirmed in its FAQ (Dutch / French) that the employer cannot oblige the employee to answer questionnaires.

The GDPR requires that there is a legal basis for any processing of personal data, e.g. consent. In this context, the employer will only be able to obtain this information directly from the employee. The employee's consent will be included in whether or not the question is answered. In order to be valid, the consent must be released freely (among other conditions). Obtaining valid consent from the employee is not easy, as there is a subordinate relationship between employer and employee, which complicates the free consent. Moreover, the absence of consent must not lead to adverse consequences for the employee. Depending on the question, it will turn out whether or not the employee was able to provide the information voluntarily.

It will be important to convince the employee of the vital importance for other persons to obtain this information. The employer will have to communicate clearly and transparently to the employees in order to gain their confidence to share the information about their private trip. Below are some tips to convince employees:

  • Inform about vital importance : clarify what it is about and why you want to protect these interests.
  • Clarify that the information will be treated confidentially, for example by allowing only a few people access to that information.
  • Assure the employee concerned that his or her name will not be disclosed.
  • Clarify that it is not the intention to process health data, but only his possible presence in the affected region.
  • Do not ask for the exact location, but ask the YES/NO question whether the worker has been in an affected region (possibly list affected regions to avoid misunderstandings).
  • Inform the affected worker where he can get more information and how/where he can exercise his rights based on the GDPR.

No, in principle it is forbidden to process health data (e.g. the answer to the question: "Are you infected with the coronavirus?"). The data protection authority confirmed that the employer cannot oblige the employee to reply to questionnaires and points out in its FAQ (Dutch / French) the importance of the role of the occupational physician. The GDPR provides for a number of exceptions to this prohibition in principle, which should be interpreted strictly:

  • Explicit consent of the person concerned: However, obtaining a valid consent is not evident as there is a subordinate relationship between an employer and an employee. Moreover, failure to obtain consent must not lead to adverse consequences for the employee. Depending on the question, it will turn out whether or not the employee was able to provide the information voluntarily.
  • The processing is necessary for the performance of obligations and the exercise of specific rights of the controller or the data subject in the areas of labour law, social security law and social protection law. The processing of medical personal data is strictly regulated in the Codex (Articles I-4-83 and I-4-96).
  • The processing is necessary for the purposes of preventive or occupational medicine, the assessment of the employability of the worker, medical diagnosis, the provision of healthcare or social services or treatment, or the management of healthcare systems and services or social systems and services, under Union or national law, or pursuant to a contract with a healthcare professional and except for such data processed by or under the responsibility of a professional (e.g.: labour doctor).
  • The processing is necessary for reasons of public interest in the field of public health, such as protecting against serious cross-border threats to health or ensuring high standards of quality and safety of healthcare and medicinal products or medical devices, under Union or national law setting out appropriate and specific measures to protect the rights and freedoms of the data subject, in particular professional confidentiality.
  • In view of the additional conditions attached to the possible legal bases for processing personal data, it seems advisable to rely on the explicit consent of the worker concerned in so far as the information is actually provided voluntarily by the worker (and therefore cannot be adversely affected by a possible refusal).

    It will be important to convince the employee of the vital importance for other persons to obtain this information. The employer will need to communicate clearly and transparently (Dutch / French) to the employees in order to gain their confidence to share the information about their private journey with the employer. Below are some tips to convince employees:

    • Inform about vital importance: clarify what it is about and why you want to protect these interests.
    • The occupational physician should play his role in following up employees who are infected with or show symptoms of Coronavirus infection.
    • Clarify that the information will be treated confidentially, for example by allowing only a few people access to that information.
    • Assure the employee concerned that his name will not be disclosed.
    • Inform the employee concerned where he can get more information and how/where he can exercise his rights based on the GDPR.

Finding an alternative supply can be difficult and can have consequences. Of course, an alternative supplier must first be found who is able to deliver the quality of your raw material or the part that meets your specifications. This can be difficult to realize in the short term, depending on your specific situation. It is also important here to look at the consequences of your possible current contract with your current supplier. Can you cancel this? What are the conditions? It is best to look at the possible consequences under your existing legal framework or contract. In addition to the technical requirements for the alternative supply, it is of course important to also look at the possible financial consequences, such as price increases, possible delivery periods, quality challenges and possibly other elements. 

With each change of supplier there are also additional points of attention that need to be considered, including possible obligations under REACH, RoHS and/or the restrictions under the End of Life Vehicles Directive, as well as possible obligations under the various product directives that may apply to your product.

If you are importing substances from outside the European Union above 1 tonne/year, you must ensure that they are or will be registered for import under REACH. When importing articles from outside the European Union, you must check whether substances of very high concern are present above a level of 0.1% to meet your possible communication obligation. You also need to check whether you comply with possible authorisation or restriction obligations.

For components or materials contained in electrical and electronic equipment, you must check whether you comply with the restrictions on the use of certain materials within the RoHS Directive. This obligation also applies to vehicle components. In addition, you must analyse whether the parts through a new supplier have no impact on compliance with the possible product guidelines that apply to your product and/or no recertification is required.

Companies affected by the spread of the coronavirus can apply to the Federal Public Service (FPS) Finance for support measures. These support measures must provide financial breathing space and allow debtors to bridge their temporary financial difficulties.

Which companies can obtain them?

Natural or legal persons in possession of a company number (Crossroad Banks for Enterprises - CBE):

  • Irrespective of their sector of activity,
  • And actually affected by the spread of the coronavirus, and are able to demonstrate this (e.g. a drop in turnover, a significant drop in orders and/or reservations, consequences of a "chain reaction" with partner companies, etc.).

The aid measures cannot be granted to companies which, independently of the coronavirus, have structural payment difficulties.

What debts are covered?

  • withholding tax
  • VAT
  • personal income tax
  • corporate income tax
  • legal entity tax

What is the application deadline?

  • The application needs to be submitted by 30 June 2020 at the latest

What measures exist?

  • Repayment plan
  • Exemption from interest on arrears
  • Remission of fines for non-payment

What are the conditions?

  • Full compliance with the conditions for submitting declarations
  • Debts must not result from fraud

The aid measures will be abolished when:/p>

  • The authorised repayment plan has not been complied with, unless the debtor contacts the administration in good time.
  • The emergence of collective insolvency proceedings (bankruptcy, judicial reorganisation, etc.)

What are steps to undertake?

  • One application per debt, which applies to all measures
  • At the time of receipt of a notice of assessment or a payment message
  • Via the attached document
  • By e-mail or letter
  • A single point of contact for all the measures: the Regional Taxation Centre (RIC) competent for the postal code of your place of residence (natural person) or registered office (legal entity).

How to find the necessary information on the website of the FPS Finance:

1. Click here to open our office directory.

2. Fill out your postal code or municipality at " Filter Municipality ".

3. Click on " Search ". You will receive the details of the competent RIC (including address and e-mail) that will process your request.

You will receive a reply within thirty days of submitting your request.

Source: FPS Finance website

In addition to the measures for obtaining payment facilities already communicated by FPS Finance (see subtitle above), the federal government also provides for measures relating to the submission of tax returns / listings / statements, on the one hand, and the granting of various payment deadlines, on the other.

1) Deferment of the submission of the declarations in the SIP, RPB and GNI with deadline from 16 March to 30 April 2020

You will have additional time until Thursday 30 April 2020 midnight to file your corporate income tax return, legal entity tax return and non-resident company tax return. This additional time limit only applies to tax returns with a deadline of 16 March to 30 April 2020 inclusive.

Deze bijkomende termijn geldt alleen voor de aangiften met uiterste indieningdatum van 16 maart tot en met 30 april 2020.

2) Postponement of submission of VAT returns

PERIODIC DECLARATIONS

Declaration about Deadline extended to ...
February 2020 6 April 2020
March 2020 7 May 2020
April 2020 5 June 2020
1st quarter 2020 7 May 2020

Are you a starter or do you have a monthly refund licence and would you like to benefit from the monthly refund of your VAT credit? If so, you will be granted a deferment (Dutch/French) until 3 April 2020 for the February 2020 return, instead of only until the 24th of the month following the return period.

The submission of VAT returns for the month of March 2020 was postponed until 7 May 2020.

However, if you are entitled to a refund for a credit from the VAT return for the month of March 2020, you must submit your return no later than 3 May 2020. This refund can then be carried out within the normal period.

INTRACOMMUNITY DECLARATIONS

Return on ... Deadline extended to ...
February 2020 6 April 2020
March 2020 7 May 2020
April 2020 5 June 2020
1st quarter 2020 7 May 2020

ANNUAL CUSTOMER LIST

  • Deadline extended to 30 April 2020.
  • If you have ceased your activity: at the latest at the end of the 4th month following the cessation of your activity subject to VAT.

3) Accelerated VAT refund for the monthly declaration of February 2020

All monthly claimants (including non-starters and non-authorisation holders) will be eligible for an accelerated refund (no later than 30 April 2020) of their VAT credit when they apply for it in their regular VAT returns.

If they did not make this application in the return already submitted, they can still make this application on time until 3 April 2020 by improving their periodic VAT return of February 2020 in Intervat

4) Payment of VAT and withholding tax

You are automatically granted a two-month deferment of payment for VAT and withholding tax without having to pay any fines or interest.

This postponement applies to:

VAT

Payment over... Deadline extended to ...
Monthly declaration February 2020 20 May 2020
Monthly declaration March 20200 20 June 2020
Monthly declaration April 20200 20 July 2020
Quarterly declaration 1st quarter 2020 20 June 2020

BEDRIJFSVOORHEFFING

Payment over... Deadline extended to ...
Monthly declaration February 2020 13 May 2020
Monthly declaration March 2020 15 June 2020
Monthly declaration April 2020 15 July 2020
Quarterly declaration 1st quarter 2020 15 June 2020

In addition to this automatic deferral of payment, you can also apply for the payment of debts relating to withholding tax and VAT as well as the support measures previously announced. Through this application, additional payment terms, an exemption from interest on late payment and/or remission of fines for late payment can be granted.

See also: https://financien.belgium.be/nl/ondernemingen/steunmaatregelen-betreffende-het-coronavirus-covid-19.

5) Payment of personal and corporate income tax.

For the payment of both personal and corporate income tax, non-residents' tax and legal entities' tax, an additional period of 2 months will automatically be granted, on top of the normal payment period and without charging interest on arrears. This measure applies to the settlement of these taxes, assessment year 2019, established as from 12 March 2020.

For the payment of debts relating to personal or corporate income tax, also those established before 12 March 2020, the announced support measures and additional payment periods, exemption of late payment interest and/or remission of fines for late payment, on request, are possible.

See also: https://financien.belgium.be/nl/ondernemingen/steunmaatregelen-betreffende-het-coronavirus-covid-19.

Companies that donate stocks of medical supplies to hospitals and health care institutions do not owe VAT on them. This has been decided by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Alexander De Croo. Normally, the taxpayer can only deduct VAT on a sale of goods, not on a donation. However, a donation of medical supplies to hospitals and health care institutions will now not make the VAT due.

In principle, for each donation made, a document must be drawn up in which the healthcare institution confirms that the goods in question were obtained free of charge and undertakes either to use the goods in question itself in the context of providing healthcare, or to make them available free of charge to another healthcare institution.

The document referred to above must be drawn up in duplicate, each party declaring that it has received his own and must be dated and signed by the parties concerned.

Three administrative tolerances apply in relation to this document (see circular).

If all the conditions relating to VAT are met, the goods donated will not qualify for the application of Article 26, CIR 92 (abnormal or gratuitous advantages granted). Moreover, the costs relating to the goods donated are, in principle, tax deductible within the meaning of Article 49 CIR 92. Consequently, those who temporarily incur additional costs, for example to produce medical supplies, will be able to contribute them as professional expenses.

In addition, it will still be possible to make cash donations to hospitals and care institutions through existing channels. Donations as from 40 euros (cumulative per calendar year) entitle the holder to a tax reduction.

This measure, taken in the context of the fight against the coronavirus, applies to donations in kind and donations of goods made from 01.03.2020 up to and including 30.06.2020.

More information can be found in this annex.

The legislation will be adapted so that days of temporary unemployment will be counted as working days for the purposes of annual leave. This will apply for the duration of the holidays as well as for the holiday allowance.

Another measure taken at EU level is Regulation (EU) No 2020/402 adopted on 15 March with the aim of ensuring the supply of personal protective equipment in the EU and stabilising the situation in the internal market. In the beginning of March, certain EU Member States imposed restrictions on the export of medical protective equipment such as mouth protection masks. These national measures were lifted with the entry into force of Regulation (EU) No 2020/402. The Regulation requires the submission of an authorisation to export certain personal protective equipment - as defined in Annex I of the Regulation.

Together with the FPS Finance and the FPS Economy, Agoria has sought a practical solution to unblock the transport of certain goods in connection with the export restrictions that apply to these personal protective equipment, such as face masks and other face protection. A number of customs codes relating to those devices are shared with unrelated products, such as thousands of car parts. Physical control by customs has led to significant delays and blockages and, consequently, excessive costs. Agoria sought a solution in the form of proof exempting AEO companies from inspection.

On 12 March, the European Central Bank (ECB) published a first package of measures to support the liquidity of the euro area financial system, and on 18 March, a €750 billion Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme for the assumption of sovereign or corporate debt over the next ten months to reduce the interest rate differential between euro area sovereign debt and thus provide market access for some of the most vulnerable countries.

On 20 March, the European Commission published new practical guidance to ensure that mobile workers in the EU, in particular those working in occupations crucial to the fight against the corona pandemic, can reach their workplaces. This category includes, but is not limited to, workers in the healthcare, food and other essential services such as childcare, elderly care and essential utilities personnel.

The Guidelines identify a number of groups of workers in key professions for whom the continuation of free movement within the EU is considered essential. Host Member States are invited to allow these groups of workers access to the territory and unhindered access to their workplace. This list includes, inter alia, the following workers:

  • Workers in medical devices industry;
  • Workers involved in the supply of goods, in particular for the supply chain of medicines, medical supplies, medical devices and personal protective equipment, including in their installation and maintenance;
  • Information and Communications Technology Professionals;
  • Information and Communications Technicians and other technicians for essential maintenance of the equipment;
  • Engineering professionals such as energy technicians, engineers and electrical engineering technicians;
  • Persons working on critical or otherwise essential infrastructures;
  • Science and engineering associate professionals (includes water plant technicians).

This European list of critical professions is thus more limited than the Belgian Government's list.

The Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) is an instrument to guide the economic and monetary Union. The Pact sets out the criteria to be respected by eurozone Member States, including criteria with regard to national budgetary policies (with the criterion setting the public deficit threshold at 3% of GDP). To ensure budgetary flexibility, the European Commission proposed on 20 March to activate the 'general escape clause of the Stability and Growth Pact', which allows Member States to deviate from their budgetary commitments in a general crisis caused by a severe economic recession affecting the eurozone or the EU as a whole. The proposal was adopted by the Council (Member States)

One of the possible consequences of the current economic shock is the increased potential risk for strategic industries, such as those related to healthcare. The resilience of these sectors and their ability to continue to meet the needs of EU citizens should be at the forefront of efforts both within the European Union and at Member State level. This is why on 25 March the European Commission published guidelines on the screening of foreign investment in the event of a public health crisis and the related economic vulnerability. The aim is to safeguard EU companies and key assets, particularly in the areas of health care, medical research, biotechnology and infrastructure essential for security and public order, without compromising the EU's overall openness to foreign investment. In this way, the EU is also putting pressure on the Member States, such as Belgium, to quickly set up a mechanism for the comprehensive screening (French/Dutch) of foreign direct investment.

The European Commission created a temporary framework for the Member States to make maximum use of the flexibility provided by the state aid rules to support the economy in the context of the COVID-19 epidemic (Communication of 19 March and Communication of 3 April). Member States will be able to set up schemes allowing them to grant direct subsidies, selective tax breaks and repayable advances of up to € 800,000 to enterprises to meet urgent liquidity needs, but also to grant state guarantees for loans taken out by enterprises (see our article: COVID-19 crisis: what State aid is allowed by Europe in Dutch / French).

Since then, the Commission has approved aid schemes in several Member States (Italy, Germany, Luxembourg, France, etc.).

On 23 March the Commission published practical advice to ensure the continuity of freight transport throughout the EU by means of 'green lanes'. Border crossings on these green lanes must be open to all freight vehicles, irrespective of the type of goods transported. Crossing the border, including any checks and health checks, should not take longer than 15 minutes.

All submiters of VAT monthly returns - including those who do not have a monthly refund authorisation and who are not considered to be a 'starter' either - will be able to benefit from an accelerated refund of the VAT credit on their current account (with effect from 31 March 2020) under the conditions set out below.

  • For all monthly declarants who wish to benefit from this accelerated refund (starters, licence holders 'monthly refund' and all others), the filing deadline for the February 2020 declaration will be brought forward to 3 April 2020.
  • This declaration must be submitted via Intervat.
  • The refund will only be made if the box 'Application for refund' is ticked
  • Up to and including 3 April 2020, the taxpayer can submit an improved declaration via Intervat in order to change this option.

The other basic conditions remain applicable, among others:

  • Minimum amount of 245 euros.
  • All declarations for the current calendar year must be submitted.
  • The administration knows your account number for VAT refunds.
  • There may be no objection to this refund (in the event of a garnishment or a transfer of debt).

Instead of a refund on 29 May 2020, or even no later than 30 June 2020, the refund will take place thanks to this measure no later than 30 April 2020.

This credit may, however, still be subject to a deduction or application to another outstanding debt and to a 'verification VAT credit'.

Attention! This submission deadline does not affect the possibility to submit the other monthly declarations of February 2020 (which do not show any credit or for which no refund is requested) on time until 6 April 2020.

Source: FPS Finance website

Assuralia, the Professional Association of Insurance Companies, has reported that the insurance sector will also make efforts to permanently protect natural persons, self-employed persons and companies.

The exceptional measures in support of the extra vulnerable people and companies can be summarised as follows:

  • Permanent protection of staff in the event of temporary unemployment
  • Relief on repayment of mortgage loans and fire and debt balance insurances
  • Flexibility in the event of payment difficulties
  • Taking into account the inactivity of companies - deferral of loans to companies

More information can be found via the links below:

In French:
https://www.assuralia.be/fr/21-coin-presse/communiques-de-presse/948-l-assurance-solidaire-avec-tout-le-pays-agir-avec-souplesse-pour-les-clients-en-detresse-et-maintenir-la-protection
https://www.fsma.be/fr/news/covid-19-mesures-prises-par-le-secteur-de-lassurance

In Dutch:
https://www.assuralia.be/nl/947 verzekeringen-voelen-volop-mee-met-heel-het-land-soepel-omgaan-met-klanten-in-nood-en-blijvend-bescherming-bieden
https://www.fsma.be/nl/news/covid-19-maatregelen-verzekeringssector

And the webinar organised by Agoria and Assuralia: https://www.agoria.be/nl/Webcast-Verzekeringen-in-tijden-van-coronacrisis-in-samenwerking-met-Assuralia

For further questions on this subject, please contact financialservices@agoria.be

The answer is, as for other employees : Yes.

To what extent should the 'Committee for Prevention and Protection at Work' be involved? Is the Committee's consent not only desirable but also necessary from a regulatory point of view ?

You will find the answer to these questions below.

Art. II.1-16 Codex informs : "The employer shall determine, after prior agreement of the Committee, the minimum workingtime of the prevention advisers in such a way that the tasks assigned to the internal fucntioning are, at all times, fully and effectively carried out. At the request of any interested party, the minimum duration of the benefits may be modified in accordance with the same procedure". This is an unofficial translation from the codex for heath at work

The key question then is: what exactly is this 'minimum workingtime' on which there must be a consensus within the Committee.

It seems plausible that what is meant here, as is the case with 'normal' employees, is the structural employment regulation - the minimum number of hours that the prevention adviser concerned will perform in regular, 'normal' circumstances to meet existing needs.

It is therefore not a minimum number of hours that the prevention adviser 'per se' has to perform: after all, the execution of the employment contract can be suspended for all kinds of reasons (e.g. illness, taking holidays, thematic leave, ... ). For these possible (non-structural) suspensions, the consent of the Committee does not have to be requested: this applies even more to the type of suspensions that only partially or not at all depend on the will of the parties, e.g. illness or situations of (temporary) force majeure.

The decisive criterion seems to be whether the ground for suspension invoked is of a lasting and structural nature than only of a (serious but) 'occasional' nature and whether the ground for suspension invoked is not (completely) dependent on one of the parties. Until further notice, the Corona crisis seems to me to be a ground for suspension of a second type (serious but not structural and with the nature of force majeure).

Is the consent of the committee therefore necessary ? No, consensus may be desirable but is not necessary in the last instance.

Is information and consultation of the Committee necessary ?

Yes, it is. The organisation of the content of the prevention service is the responsibility of the employer, but it is also the subject of information and consultation within the Prevention Committee. The measures taken by the company during the corona situation (including the activities of the prevention adviser in this respect) are also the subject of consultation within the same Committee.

In more general terms, maximum involvement of the Committee and thus support for the implementation of the measures taken is appropriate.

A similar reasoning can be applied to the environmental coordinator.

An FAQ was published on the website of Febelfin relating to payment deferrals for mortgage loans.

Many companies receive questions about this from their employees. Through this link you will get answers to the most frequently asked questions:

https://www.febelfin.be/fr/consommateurs/article/questions-et-reponses-report-de-paiement-credit-hypothecaire-des-particuliers

Website online available in dutch or french

If the employment contract is terminated during a period of temporary unemployment due to force majeure, the ordinary notice periods apply to both the employer and the employee.

The notice period is not suspended during a period of temporary unemployment due to force majeure, even if the notice is given by the employer. This applies regardless of whether the notice has already been given before or during the period of temporary unemployment.

See the FAQ of the NEO in Dutch or French

Source: VBO – FEB [Federation of Belgian Enterprises]

The accredited certification bodies follow the guidelines of the International Accreditation Federation for extraordinary events and circumstances. This may entail, inter alia, audits being conducted (partly) remotely or being postponed.

On this basis, the certification bodies determine:

  • The extent to and the form in which audits can take place;
  • Whether the validity certificates that expire can be renewed.

For questions about audits and the validity of certificates we therefore refer you to your certification body.

The certification body examines whether the certificate can be retained and has a policy and plan of action to that end. This plan sets out the working method(s) for assessing the current and future situation of the certified company and defines possible alternative short-term methods for auditing the company. Before deciding on an appropriate approach, the certification body collects the necessary information from the company.

If, on the basis of this information, it is estimated that the certificate can be retained (risk of compromising the VCA standard is low), the certification body must consider alternative short-term methods as and where necessary in order to audit the company. This may entail inter alia that relevant documentation (e.g. management meetings, corrective actions, results of internal audits, inspection and control reports, etc.) is requested in order to determine whether the certificate can be retained in the short term.

If no contact is possible with the company, the certification body follows the normal procedure for the suspension and withdrawal of the certificate.

The corona crisis hits many technology companies at the heart. In order to proactively assist you as a member of Agoria during the corona crisis, Agoria has put together a team of experts that will focus on the short term on:

  • Finding your way around the various financial and fiscal support measures
  • answering questions about financial topics
  • sharing best practices
  • analysing liquidity risks

This team is composed of, among others, the following experts:

Finance: Patrick Van Hoye (also point of contact) and Geert Jacobs

Tax: Tom De Wit and Bartel Van Dyck

You can reach these experts via our Financial Problems Desk (Dutch / French). Don't hesitate to contact us.

The Directorate General for Occupational Welfare Supervision has published a letter concerning the operation and services of the medical supervision departments of these external services during the COVID-19 crisis.

The Directorate General states the following:

  • Periodic health assessments and additional medical actions are suspended until the pandemic is under control in Belgium;
  • the occupational physician has no specific assignment in detecting sick employees who apparently or possibly have symptoms;
  • applications for the start of a reintegration process are currently not a priority
  • the following examinations should be carried out to the extent that they are requested:
    • prior health assessment;
    • examinations on resumption of work (possibly pre-recruitment visits);
    • spontaneous consultations;
    • maternity protection studies (adapted or other work, removal from work);
    • cancellation of a certificate of fitness to drive.

An employer may cancel scheduled VOV training leave days in the following cases:

An employee may temporarily suspend the VOV training leave days if there is a shortage of personnel due to the corona crisis and the work organization is at risk (= service emergency).

If the VOV training leave days can still be revoked, the employee can simply go to work and the VOV training leave days can be scheduled at a later date, if the training continues.

If the VOV training leave days can no longer be cancelled, then the training leave days can be taken as scheduled, for example, to study or to follow an on-line course. Please note that in total, no more VOV training leave hours can be taken than an employee is entitled to on the basis of the training in accordance with his quota of hours.

Separate provision for employees who work at 50% and for whom VOV training leave was provided: if an employee works at 50%, he may only take the VOV training leave days for the hours that coincide with the hours worked. An employer may choose to catch up the taken VOV training leave hours at another time.

The measures taken against the coronavirus could also lead to the closure of the judicial and administrative system.

With regard to legal proceedings, there are concerns that since the adoption of stricter measures on 18/03/2020 certain legal acts cannot be taken or cannot be taken in time.

The measure consists of a uniform and simple regime of time limits. All parties concerned can still take action up to one month after the end of the crisis period. Current time limits and deadlines will have to be adapted.

In order not to paralyse the judicial system, the following options are possible:

Cases may be taken into consideration by the judge without pleadings

The case will only be postponed if all parties oppose the written procedure (without pleadings)

In other cases, the judge will decide whether or not to take the case into consideration without oral arguments

Some courts will, as far as possible, let the pleadings take place by means of video-conference. The FPS Justice has provided software for this purpose. The courts are also looking for solutions themselves. The Enterprise Court of Brussels, for example, is looking for solutions to have the pleadings take place again in the Enterprise Court as soon as possible by using plexiglass, mouth masks, disinfecting gels, ...

A training provider has 4 options, namely: (1) he provides an opportunity to continue the lessons online (e.g. through distance learning, webinars, skype, electronic assignments to be carried out, etc.); (2) he plans the training course again once the suspension has been lifted; (3) he stops the training course; or (4) he combines the previous 3 options.

We discuss the first three options and their consequences briefly below:

1. The training provider continues the lessons through online replacement sessions.

In this case, the training provider may register the attendance for those hours for trainees who take Flemish training leave, provided that there is a minimum supervision or contact. The employee can take Flemish training leave for those hours of attendance – of course one day before the start and up to 2 days after the last training day.

2. The training provider plans lessons at a later time.

If the lessons are started again after the suspension, there is no problem for Flemish training leave and the training provider has to adjust the end date where necessary. The employer therefore does not have to submit a new application and the application for reimbursement does not have to be adjusted. The number of hours of Flemish training leave to which an employee is entitled in the event of suspension depends on the type of training:

Training with compulsory attendance: the employee is normally entitled to one hour of Flemish training leave per hour of training attended. If the lessons are suspended, the employee no longer takes part in the lesson and is therefore no longer entitled to Flemish training leave for those hours. If the employee does not take more hours than he was actually present for the lesson, there is no problem. If a final assessment is provided, the employee is entitled to Flemish training leave when taking part in the final assessment, unless the training was suspended (see point 3);

Training without compulsory attendance: the employee is normally entitled to Flemish training leave for the number of hours of training, if he takes part in the final assessment. There is no problem here if the lessons are suspended, but if the employee does not take part in the final assessment, he is not entitled to Flemish training leave, unless the training was discontinued (see point 3).

3. The training provider stops the training.

Training with compulsory attendance without final assessment: the training provider notes the discontinuance in the WSE (work and social economy) counter and certifies the hours of attendance until the discontinuance. The hours of attendance will be refunded to the employer.

Training with compulsory attendance and final assessment: the training provider notes the discontinuance in the WSE counter and enters "not applicable" in the final assessment. The employer may be refunded for the hours of attendance indicated by the training provider until discontinuance.

Training without compulsory attendance but with final assessment: the training provider notes the discontinuance in the WSE counter and enters "not participated" in the final assessment. Since the employee must be able to show to the department why he did not take part in the final assessment, he must keep the e-mail confirming the discontinuance sent by the training provider as proof. The hours of Flemish training leave recorded up to the discontinuance can be refunded to the employer.

We have received information from the tax authorities regarding the calculation of the travel exclusion rate for executives and specialists benefiting from the special tax regime for foreign executives (application of the Circular dated 08/08/1983),

This information shows that the tax administration will not deviate from the usually applicable rules. Consequently, foreign executives and specialists whose business trips have been cancelled will also not be entitled to introduce "travel exclusion" days within the meaning of the circular of 08/08/1983. In fact, only journeys actually made which meet the following 2 conditions are taken into account: physical presence abroad and the professional nature of the journeys must be demonstrated.

This means that foreign executives who will travel less than usual this year will see their Belgian tax increase. In this context, it is advisable to revise the calculation of the withholding tax on earned income for employees who have planned business trips abroad this year as soon as possible, in order to avoid excessive corrections to the withholding tax on earned income at the end of the year.

It should be noted that employees who enjoy the status of foreign executives and who retain their tax residence in a country other than Belgium (e.g. in their country of origin), where they perform telework, are in principle taxable in their country of residence on these telework days, and not in Belgium.

Contact International Employment Experts to help you!

International Employment Experts answers social and tax questions and issues related to international employment. For more information about our services and our rates, please contact us at international.employment@agoria.be

This aid will be "frozen" from 1 March to 31 May inclusive. In practice, the aid will be suspended during this period of temporary unemployment and will become effective again from 31 May so that the period of temporary unemployment is not counted in the initial period of aid, in order to maintain the employment of the workers benefiting from this aid. If work is re-established before 31 May, the suspension is automatically ended.

On the one hand, from 1 March to 30 June at the latest, the Government has validated the training hours provided through distance learning so that they can continue despite the closure of schools and training institutes. In concrete terms, this means that these hours are taken into account when determining the quota of paid educational leave granted to the employee.

In addition, the deadline for submitting your claims for the year 2018-2019 to FOREM is extended to 30 June instead of 30 March.

Also note that training hours that could not be provided between 1 March 2020 and 30 June 2020 will be taken into account to determine whether the training includes the minimum of 32 training hours per year.

The government has laid down various deferring conditions, including facilitating the conditions for suspending the contract, automatically renewing it and allowing the commitment to be postponed.

If the integration training agreement expires between 1 March 2020 and 31 May 2020, the obligatory conclusion of an employment contract by the trainee may be postponed until 1 June 2020 at the latest.

If, following the COVID-19 crisis, the integration training contract is suspended between 1 March and 31 May 2020, this suspension shall lead to an automatic extension of the initial duration of the integration training contract for a period equal to the periods of suspension.

In case of suspension of the implementation of the integration training agreement, the employer shall inform FOREM as soon as possible of the start and end date of the suspension.

The suspension of the implementation of the training and integration contract concerned shall end on 31 May 2020 at the latest.

The renewal is automatic and does not imply any modification of the suspended contract.

Between 1 March and 31 May 2020, either party may terminate the Integration Training Agreement by e-mail, subject to the other conditions applicable to the termination of the contract.

In addition, the Walloon Government has decided to support trainees in training by granting them financial compensation amounting to 70% of the amount of the bonus to which the trainee was entitled before the suspension or termination of his PFI contract. This measure is, at this stage, effective for a period of three months until the end of May.

The government has decided to freeze the obligations to maintain and increase the reference workforce between March and May.

The measures taken in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic affect a large number of businesses. For companies and self-employed persons facing liquidity problems as a result of the corona crisis, the government has decided to increase the percentages of the benefits of the advance payments of the third and fourth due dates, on 10 October and 20 December respectively. Thanks to this aid measure, the deferral of their advance payments is less disadvantageous.

In the table below you will find the adjusted percentages for the prepayments. As mentioned above, these are higher in the third and fourth quarters (unless there is a dividend payment):

Personal income tax CIT (no dividend payment) CIT (dividend payment)
VA1 3 % 9 % 9 %
VA2 2,5 % 7,5 % 7,5 %
VA3 2,25 % 6,75 % 6 %
VA4 1,75 % 5,25 % 4,5 %

The measure is intended for companies with liquidity problems. This does not therefore apply to companies that:

  • Are buying back own shares or reducing their capital
  • pay or attribute dividends between 12 March 2020 and 31 December 2020

The increased percentages also do not apply to natural persons who could receive more bonuses as a result of advance payments.

The percentages of the increases themselves remain unchanged, as do the dates of the advance payments.

Source: FPS Finance website

The firms which were adressed by the Secretariat of the Commission for the Recognition of Contractors in order to renew their approval file as part of the five-yearly review, will be given a postponement to complete their file until at least 1 June. This period is likely to be further extended.

The companies that have not yet been adressed to renew their file at this point will temporarily not be contacted by the Commission's secretariat. Of course, these companies can and should already prepare themselves and, if necessary, take the initiative to submit a file.

Agoria already advises to pick this up. Practical guidelines can be found in our article Recognition of contractors: temporary new guidelines for applications dated 24 March (French and Dutch only).

Take advantage of this exceptional situation to already prepare your dossier and/or collect work references. Agoria will of course remain at your disposal to advise you.

Finally, you should take into account that the recognition does not automatically expire after the expiry of the five-year period of validity. The recognitions, as they appear from the official online list of recognized contractors, remain valid until there is a final decision within the framework of the revision procedure.

Irrespective of the impact of the hygiene measures imposed as part of the fight against the coronavirus, can an undertaking which, prior to the introduction of the COVID-19 crisis measures, fully complied with the definition of an undertaking engaged in shift work continue to benefit from the exemption from payment of withholding tax for shift work?

In order to benefit from the exemption from payment of tax on earned income for shift work (article 275/5 ITC92), a company must comply with the definition of a company in which shift work is carried out in at least two shifts of at least two workers, who do the same work in terms of both content and size and who succeed each other during the course of the day without any interruption between successive shifts and without the overlap exceeding one quarter of their daily work.

Problem: A company which, prior to the introduction of COVID-19 crisis measures, fully met the definition of a company in which shift work is carried out, now wishes, in order to be able to respect the (temporary) COVID-19 hygiene measures imposed by the public authorities (in particular the social distancing measure) and thus to be able to continue its business activities, to introduce a temporary scheme whereby the employees of a shift must first leave the company building before the employees of the subsequent shift may enter it. This will result in a limited interruption of work between successive shifts (of approximately 30 min), with the result that, on the basis of a strict reading of the law, the company no longer meets the definition of a company in which shift work is carried out, within the meaning of article 275/5 ITC92, and would therefore no longer be able to benefit from the partial exemption from payment of withholding tax for shift work (article 275/5 ITC92).

Administrative tolerance dated 3/4/2020: If, prior to the introduction of the COVID-19 crisis measures, a company fully complied with the fiscal definition of a company in which shift work is carried out (in accordance with Article 275/5 ITC 92) and now, in order to be able to respect the COVID-19 hygiene measures temporarily imposed by the government and be able to continue its business activities the company wishes to introduce a temporary modified scheme aimed in particular at respecting 'social distancing', the administration accepts that during the period in which the government imposes these specific COVID-19 measures, the company will continue to apply the aid measure 'exemption from payment of withholding tax on earned income for shift work' during that modified scheme.

Employees applying for a mortgage deferral will have to submit a proof of temporary unemployment or full unemployment due to the corona crisis to their bank or credit instituation.

If you, as an employer, receive any questions about this proof, it is best to advise said employee:

  • To first contact hisher bank or instituation as there is currently no uniform approach within the banking sector regarding the method of applying for a mortgage deferral, and the evidence that must be submitted. Febelfin states in its FAQ on deferral of mortgage loans that the evidence can be, for example, a certificate of unemployment or a statement on the employee's honour that his/her income has fallen sharply. The measure is in fact for those who are no longer able to pay their mortgage loan due to the corona crisis.
  • Apply for a deferral to his/her bank or lender sufficiently in advance of the next due date.
  • If case of additional questions about potential repayment difficulties due to the corona crisis, please contact Febelfin's central contact point: corona@febelfin.be.

You can consult the charter with the concrete implementation of this corona measure via this link (Dutch / French).

In these times, the code word "social distancing" has become essential. But what about the functioning of the external services for prevention and protection at work? Can they still carry out their legal tasks?

The Directorate General for Occupational Welfare Supervision has published a letter relating to the operation and services of the medical supervision departments of these external services during the COVID-19 crisis.

The General Management informs the following:

  • Periodic health assessments and additional medical actions are suspended until the pandemic is under control in Belgium;
  • The occupational physician has no specific assignment in detecting sick employees who apparently or possibly have symptoms;
  • Requests for the start of a reintegration process are currently not a priority;

The following examinations must be carried out to the extent that they are requested:

  • Preliminary health assessment;
  • Resumption of work examinations (possibly visits prior to the resumption of work);
  • Spontaneous consultations;
  • Maternity protection studies (adapted or other work, removal from work);
  • Removal of driving ability certificate.

If you have any questions, please contact wouter.vandessel@agoria.be and geert.deprez@agoria.be.

On Friday 3 April 2020, the European Commission confirmed that it allows Member States to waive import duties and VAT on imports of medical goods to be used for auxiliary purposes. However, it is not a comprehensive measure: other goods that do not meet the conditions still have to pay import duties and VAT on imports.

The goods to be exempted from import duties and VAT must be intended for one of the following uses:

  1. free distribution by the authorities and organisations referred to in [3] to persons affected by or at risk of COVID-19 or involved in the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak;
  2. made available free of charge to persons affected by or at risk of COVID-19 or involved in combating the COVID-19 outbreak, while remaining the property of the bodies and organisations referred to in point [3].
  3. The goods shall be imported for free circulation by, or on behalf of, public authorities, including public bodies, administrations and other bodies governed by public law, or by, or on behalf of, organisations recognised by the competent authorities in the Member States.
  4. The decision was taken on the basis of a Regulation providing for exemption from import duties in emergency situations and a similar Directive having the same objective for VAT.

The measure takes effect retroactively from the end of January 2020 and remains in force for 6 months, until the end of July 2020.

Agoria will continue its efforts to obtain a suspension or deferment of import duties for other goods in order to support the restart of activity. With regard to VAT, a deferment has already been obtained. Furthermore, we are trying to obtain a different calculation of the customs value in order to nominally reduce other costs linked to the customs value.

The holiday regulations provides a framework for payment of the holiday by the employer in case of force majeure, if the holiday falls within a period of 14 days following the start of the suspension for reasons of force majeure.

Please note: for the FPS, in the event of an interim resumption of work (and therefore an interruption in unemployment), a new period of 14 days starts each time as from the first day of unemployment following this resumption of work. In other words, the FPS considers any "new" unemployment after one or more days of activity to be a new suspension on grounds of force majeure. In other words, any 'new' unemployment after one or more days of activity is considered by the FPS as a new suspension on grounds of force majeure. In other words, the public holiday will only be reimbursed by the NEO for employees who are temporarily unemployed continously for a long period (more than 14 days) for reasons of force majeure. For employees who do not meet these conditions, the public holiday will be paid by the employer. Contrary to the previous versions of the FAQ RVA, in the current version of the text the inclusion of one or more days of statutory annual leave is equated with an effective resumption of work.

In the event of an incapacity to work, the employer shall pay the public holiday if this public holiday falls within a period of 30 days following the commencement of the incapacity to work.

What happens if the suspension for incapacity to work and the suspension for temporary unemployment coincide? Does the 'force majeure' scheme (14 days) or the 'incapacity to work' scheme (30 days) apply?

In that case, the FPS and the NIHDI apply the 'chronological criterion' whereby the ground for suspension (temporary unemployment or incapacity to work) which was first started is decisive: if it concerns an employee who is incapacitated to work on the public holiday (e.g. Easter Monday), it is determined when this incapacity to work started: if it started before the period of temporary unemployment, then the scheme for incapacity to work applies (whereby the employer is obliged to pay for the public holiday if this public holiday falls within the period of 30 days after the start of the incapacity for work). If, on the other hand, the incapacity to work commenced within the period of temporary unemployment, the 'force majeure' scheme applies (whereby the employer is obliged to pay for the public holiday if it falls within the period of 14 days after the commencement of the temporary unemployment).

An employer can consider the coronavirus, and the imposed rules, as a force majeure situation, as stipulated in art. 26, 1° of the Labour Code of 16 March 1971 ("occurring or imminent accident"). This means that the employer may use the exception rules of this article for the organisation of work directly related to this force majeure.

This is, of course, always a matter which must be assessed individually (the ICU unit in a hospital may do more than, for example, a food company).

The exception must involve organisational measures that are actually necessary to deal with the direct consequences of the pandemic, or to meet the immediate requirements arising from it (e.g. the need to maintain social distance).

This does not mean that an employer can always invoke this exception. The above-mentioned art. 26, 1° labour law cannot be invoked for the indirect consequences of the imposed rules.

For this reason, an employer cannot, for example, organise permanent overtime in order to cope with the influx of work (e.g. a food company that lets its employees work 38 hours a week and now imposes additional shifts - with the same employees - during the weekend. Other legal provisions (with different conditions) can be invoked for this purpose.

Source: FAQ FPS Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue

Revision of the assignment

Public procurement legislation includes a possibility for contractors to invoke unforeseen circumstances. On the basis of Article 38/9 of the Royal Decree of 14 January 2013 laying down the general implementing rules for public procurements and specific provisions in this respect in the contract documents, the contractor may request a revision of the contract.

According to this article, an unforeseen circumstance is a circumstance that could not reasonably have been foreseen when the tender was submitted, which could not be avoided and the consequences of which could not be remedied, even though the contractor had taken all necessary steps to that end. Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic could in many cases be invoked as an unforeseeable circumstance in the context of this article.

In such a case, the contractor can always claim an extension of the term. For other (financial) forms of revision or termination, the contractor must also demonstrate that he has suffered a very significant disadvantage. This disadvantage must:

1. in the case of procurements for physical works and certain manual services, amount to at least 2.5 percent of the initial order amount. If the contract is awarded on the basis of price alone, on the basis of cost or on the basis of the best value for money, with the price criterion representing at least 50 % of the total weight of the award criteria, the threshold of very significant disadvantage shall in any event be reached as from the following amounts:

  • a) 175.000 euro for contracts with an initial contract value of more than 7.500.000 euro and less than or equal to 15.000.000 euro;
  • b) 225,000 for contracts with an initial contract value of more than 15,000,000 euros and less than or equal to 30,000,000 euros;
  • c) EUR 300,000 for contracts with an initial contract value of more than EUR 30,000,000;

2. in the case of supply and other service contracts, an amount equal to at least 15% of the initial contract value.

Notification

It is important that the contractor notifies the contracting authority in writing of the circumstances invoked within a period of 30 days after they have occurred, or after the date on which the contractor or contracting authority should reasonably have known them. In addition, the contractor must briefly indicate what influence these circumstances have or may have on the course and cost price of the contract.

Submission of request

The actual request for an extension of time, compensation, revision or termination of the contract must be submitted in accordance with the following rules. It must be duly justified, quantified and submitted in writing within the following time limits:

  1. 1. before expiry of the contractual periods for requesting an extension of the period, or cancellation of the contract;
  2. 2. no later than 90 days following the date of notification to the contractor of the minutes of provisional acceptance of the contract in order to obtain a revision (other than an extension or termination) or compensation;
  3. 3. in the case of facts or circumstances which occurred during the guarantee period, the 90-day period for obtaining a revision (other than an extension or termination) shall run from the expiry of the guarantee period.

The NSSO recently confirmed the possibility to add a supplement to the NEO payment for temporary unemployment without contributions being due, and reminded at the same time of a rule that has been in force for a long time, i.e. this supplement may not result in the employee receiving more net than when actually working.

This means that:

  • in addition to the NEO payment and any supplements such as the EUR 5.63 per day in the case of 'temporary unemployment due to force majeure', the supplements that may be granted by a livelihood fund must also be taken into account;
  • the employer must treat all employees of the same category equally: either by compensating up to a certain percentage of the net salary, or by paying each of them a lump sum, taking into account the fact that low-salary employees may also not receive more than when they had actually worked;
  • the average salary of the previous months should be taken into account when dealing with employees with variable pay;
  • only the salary on which NSSO contributions are due should be taken into account. The supplements may therefore not take into account benefits such as meal vouchers, etc;
  • net does not mean that one assumes the net monthly salary and the net amount of the supplements and the payment of the NEO. The fact is considered that different withholding taxes apply to the salary, the payments of the NEO and the supplements. It is therefore better to start from the respective gross taxable amounts.

The NSSO has indicated that it would be sympathetic to the fact that decisions had to be taken quickly and that, if the supplements granted before March would be too high, it would allow the employer to compensate this by reducing the supplements for the subsequent months, also because the final amounts of unemployment benefits will not be known immediately.

What if the employer does not make enough effort to apply the social distancing measures (or have them applied) in the company as a result of which co-workers or third parties suffer damage. For example, co-workers or third parties could become infected due to the employer's wrongdoing.

Generally speaking, the employer is expected to make sure that the work is being carried out in optimal conditions with regard to the safety and health of the employee. To this end, the employer must apply a number of prevention principles. The risk analysis is a crucial and essential factor in this respect. In addition, it is important to stress that the hierarchical line has been imposed legal duties (as an extension of the employer) and that elements such as reception, guidance, information and training of workers are concrete and important obligations.

If the employer makes a mistake that causes damage to his/her employee or third parties, he/she, like anyone, is liable for it. Of course the normal criteria apply: there is wrong behaviour (by the employer), damage (to the employees) and a causal link between fault and damage.

Translated to the Corona crisis: when the employee becomes ill or is infected, this does not mean that this illness or that contamination is due to the presence of the employee in the workplace. And even if the employee were infected or became ill as a result of being present in the workplace, it is obviously not a given that the attentive employer (i.e. the employer who adheres to social distancing standards) would have made a mistake. Good housekeeping obviously does not mean an absolute guarantee that employees will not become ill or infected, but does imply that the employer made the necessary efforts (preventive measures) to avoid this.

The employer is also civilly liable for any damage caused to a third party by any fault on the part of the employee. Who are these 'third parties'? These may be other employees of the company (colleagues), or persons foreign to the company. The civil liability of the employee, on the other hand, is limited to cases of wilful misconduct, gross negligence and minor habitual misconduct.

By the way: illness resulting from infection with the virus is not an accident, so it is also not an accident at work. Consequently, the work accident insurance cannot be invoked.

With regard to criminal law: as already mentioned above, the employer is responsible for the well-being of his/her employees and is therefore in this respect obliged to ensure safe and healthy working conditions. This is based on the Welfare Act of 4th August 1996, imposing heavy obligations on the employer in terms of prevention and risk analysis. This law is, of course, fully applicable during this period of pandemic, and must certainly be observed after this period when restarting activities.

Failure to comply with these obligations, or negligence, may give rise to criminal liability, as provided for in the Social Penal Code. The criminal fines for the employer can quickly run up to : EUR 8,000 (level 3) or up to EUR 48,000 (level 4), possibly multiplied by the number of employees involved in the infringement.

Level 4 applies when the health of employees is at risk, which is of course possible in this pandemic issue. The level 4 sanctions may even include imprisonment for 6 months to 3 years, as well as the closure of the undertaking.

Overtime, student and temporary work are not excluded, but there must be good grounds for combining it with temporary unemployment.

First of all, of course, it is not justified that overtime is organised for some employees whilet a colleague doing the same or similar work is temporarily unemployed.

An important exception is made in the case that this colleague has been made temporarily unemployed for reasons related to the employee's person.

Examples of such reasons are the various cases of temporary quarantine of the worker due to suspicion or detection of infection (of the worker himself, or of someone with whom the worker lives) or because the worker is a risk patient.

The same logic applies to temporary work and student work: the use of a student or a temporary worker may be permitted, even during a period of temporary unemployment, but not when a permanent worker doing the same (or similar) work is temporarily put out of work for reasons that have nothing to do with the person of that permanent worker.

Employers are wondering how they can optimally manage the use and distribution of leave days (in the broadest sense of the word) now that the use of leave has been disrupted in many organisations as a result of increased absences due to illness and/or the introduction of temporary unemployment.

Leave entitlements that have not yet been taken may hinder a restart or the continuity of activities in the second half of this calendar year.

Organisations' needs differ widely. Some benefit from a collective use of leave, others need a nicely staggered approach. Concertation and clear agreements at company level are therefore crucial.

What your options of control are, strongly depends also on the type of leave entitlement. Indeed, there are important differences between statutory holidays, extra-legal holidays, reduction working hours days (RWH days) and rest for overtime.

Generally speaking, there must be an agreement about the timing of use and there must also be an agreement to change previously made agreements.

Below, we will review the most common leave entitlements.

Statutory holidays

For statutory holidays, the law explicitly stipulates that an agreement is required about the moment these can be taken. This agreement can be

  • obtained collectively (= for collective holidays that aren't determined at the joint committee's level) in the works council (in the absence of a works council, in agreement with the trade union delegation, in the absence of a trade union delegation in agreement with all employees). The legislation does not state an absolute deadline by which collective annual leave must be determined. As soon as the dates of the annual collective leave have been set, they do have to be mentioned in a notice attached to the labour regulations and the employees and the social inspectorate must receive a copy of this notice, and/or
  • done individually by mutual agreement with the employee for his/her individual leave days.

It is mandatory to take the statutory leave before the end of the year, which is a joint responsibility of employer and employee.

Specifically, this means:

For collective holidays:

  • Collective holidays already set in principle remain on the said dates, unless new agreements are made at the level at which they were determined (works council/trade union delegation/employees). The new dates must then be appended to the employment regulations and a copy must be sent to the employees and the inspectorate.
  • If collective holidays had not yet been planned this year, you can still do so, provided that the legal procedure be respected.

For individual holidays:

  • The individually determined vacation days that have already been requested by the employee and have been formally approved by the employer, have been set by mutual agreement. The employee cannot unilaterally revoke these. However, the employee and the employer can mutually agree to cancel the pre-approved holidays and take them at a later point in time.
  • The employer cannot unilaterally enforce that statutory leave that has not yet been approved, be taken. With the agreement of the employee, individual leave can of course be scheduled.

At a company level, planning rules (e.g. minimum occupancy per department, priority rules, ...) can also be agreed in order to find a balance between the right to leave and the continuity of business activities. These planning rules are ideally agreed upon in the works council (in the absence of one, with the trade union delegation) in the spring.

Extra-legal holidays

For extra-legal holidays, such as seniority days, there are no legal rules.

This means that there is no obstacle to carry these over to next year/ to subsequent years or to pay out the remaining balance at the end of the year, provided that this does not conflict with agreements previously made at a company level.

RWH days

For RWH days, the legislation does not explicitly provide that an agreement must exist between the employer and the employee as to their usage, which does not mean, however, that this can be imposed unilaterally by the employer. The RWH days must in any event be taken before the end of the related reference period (= usually the calendar year) because the average working hours must be respected within the reference period.

If, at a company level, there are agreements with respect to the use of RWH days (e.g. in the employment regulations), these must be respected. Possibly, they can be renegotiated in order to achieve, for this year, a (different) spread of the use of RWH days.

Rest for overtime

The working time legislation includes some specific rules on the use of rest for overtime (reference period, internal boundary, ...). These must of course be respected.

The legislation does not explicitly stipulate, however, that an agreement must exist between the employer and the employee about the exact timing of the use of the rest for overtime within these legal boundaries, but here too, in practice, it is difficult for an employer to unilaterally impose such a thing. If, at a company level, agreements have already been made, these can now possibly be renegotiated. If no agreements exist yet, you can try to make agreements about the (partial or other) use during the crisis months of rest for overtime for previously worked overtime, so that they do not all have to be caught up in the fall.

Contrary to temporary unemployment due to economic reasons, an employee who is put on temporarily unemployment due to force majeure Corona does not first have to take his/her acquired rest for overtime before he/she can be put on temporarily unemployment.

Some practical tips

  • Make an inventory of the various leave entitlements in your company and the existing legal rules and possible company agreements as to their use.
  • As an employer, determine the order of the use of the leave entitlements. Firstly, take into account the days of statutory annual leave (respecting the legal rules with regard to rest for overtime and the reference period for the RWH days).
  • Consider what, from the perspective of your company, you would like to propose and who you need to discuss this with.
  • Apply the same mechanism to all your employees, whether they work from home, are still present at the company, or are (already) temporarily unemployed.
  • Communicate clearly to the employees.

Resolutely: yes, a foreign (sub)contractor can still send his employees to perform a service in Belgium, BUT...

Unfortunately, there is no unequivocal answer to this increasingly frequently asked question. The answer actually depends on a number of different elements, which have to be considered on a case-by-case basis:

  • The corona measures in the employees' country of origin
  • The corona measures in each country that the employees have to travel through in order to come to Belgium
  • The corona measures in Belgium: i.e. it must relate to an activity that cannot be done remotely and where the Belgian rules re social distancing are respected.

In this article, we will touch upon some special issues related to the current corona situation. Remember that all normal aspects of international employment must also be in order (prior notification obligation (such as Limosa), social security document, work permits, salary, etc.).

Each country has its own corona measures

There is one certainty: every country affected by the coronavirus uses some form of 'stay at home' lockdown and social distancing. Restaurants, bars and schools have generally been forced to close. Each country has its own authority to impose corona measures. In some countries there are differences by region. In Germany, for example, the various Länder are responsible, although a number of rules apply all across Germany. There are different forms of lockdown, different distances to be observed with social distancing (between 1 and 2 meters) and possible use of PPE (mouth caps etc). Each country has its own definition of what constitutes essential industries and non-essential industries. There is quite some confusion about terminology, certainly with banning "non-essential" journeys. Each country autonomously determines whether or not to close its borders: to be allowed to travel into or out of a country. Each country autonomously decides whether or not you are allowed to leave your home in order go to work. Going to work is then considered an essential journey. In other words, if you may leave your home and travel to your workplace. In some countries, an employer's certificate is required as proof that you are leaving your home for professional reasons. And each country can change, strengthen or clarify all theabovementioned measures. therefore, it is extremely important to check, double check and cross check whether or not any measures have changed.

Traveling to the European Union

Currently, it is almost impossible to travel to Belgium from outside the EU.

  • International air traffic is severely disrupted
  • In principle, these employees must have a visa, but currently no Schengen visas are issued.
  • Even Belgians who want to return to Belgium from (far) abroad are stuck. They may have to spend 14 days in (home) quarantine after they do arrive in Belgium.

Traveling within the European Union

The European Commission has published a Communication with some important principles.

  • Inter-European transportation of goods must be possible
  • Workers must continue to be able to cross the border to go to work: both cross-border workers and posted workers.
    • "Frontier worker: worker who lives in one EU country and habitually works in another EU country. It is not necessary to live/work within a certain number of kilometres from the border.
    • "Posted worker": worker who is temporarily sent by his employer, who is based in another country, to Belgium to work. Upon completion of work, the employee returns to his normal country of work.
  • In its Communication, the European Commission states in point 7 that "Member States should allow frontier and posted workers to continue crossing their borders to their workplace if work in the sector concerned is still allowed in the host Member State".

It is important to check the latest state of aplay in the original country of residence, in country of work, and any transit countries. Be aware of the fact that rules may change: if the employee stays on site for a few days or weeks, new documents may be required for the return journey.

In principle, there is no quarantine of 14 days for employees travelling to Belgium with their own means of transportation from a country within the Schengen zone.

At road checks, the employee must be able to show that he undertakes a journey for professional reasons.

You have to checkthe following:

  • can the employees of the other country go to work themselves (i.e.: professional trips are allowed)?
  • Is a specific additional employer document required for that country?
  • What kind of border controls are in place?
  • What documents are needed to be allowed to cross the border in the countries travelled through?
  • Are there specific social distancing rules for transport organised by the employer?

Other than the documents imposed by each country, we recommend you to provide your employees with additional documents, showing where the employee will work and what he/she will be doing. For example, a document or an e-mail drafted by the host company requesting the work to be carried out, with the address of where the work will be carried out. You can also consider a purchase order or commercial contract (you can blur the numbers and amounts if you wish); a schedule showing that the employee has to be at the premises of a client; ...

It is also advisable to draw the foreign employer's attention to his/her responsibility as an employer to provide adequate housing for his/her employees in Belgium, with respectof the Belgian rules of social distancing.

International Employment Experts answers social and tax questions and issues related to international employment. For more information about our services and our rates, please contact us at international.employment@agoria.be

The NSSO specifies in its interim instructions how periods of temporary unemployment due to force majeure must be declared in the quarterly declarations.

A distinction must be made between:

The quarterly declaration for the first quarter of 2020:

  • for temporary unemployment due to force majeure - Corona: performance code 70,
  • for temporary unemployment due to economic reasons (not related to Corona): performance code 71.

The quarterly declaration for the second quarter of 2020:

  • for temporary unemployment due to force majeure - Corona: new performance code 77,
  • for temporary unemployment due to economic reasons (not related to Corona): performance code 71.

It is important that the employer, in his DmfA declaration, uses the temporary unemployment code for his employees that corresponds with the type of temporary unemployment in which his employee finds himself/herself. At the moment, a 'special contribution economic unemployment' is due for employees who exceed a specific number of days of economic unemployment (performance code 71) during a reference period.

Source: interim instructions NEO

Within Agoria, many experts are available to answer your questions and to find/develop with you adequate answers/actions.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of contact persons available to accompany you:

  • For all questions relating to exports, customs duties or international trade in the broadest sense, please contact: Kevin Verbelen, 02 706 83 91, kevin.verbelen@agoria.be
  • For all questions relating to international work, please contact: Hilde Thys, 02 706 78 94, hilde.thys@agoria.be
  • For all other questions related to European matters, please contact: Laurent Hellebaut, 02 706 80 01, laurent.hellebaut@agoria.be

For regional export support measures you can find more information on the website of:

Hub.brussels for Bruxelles : https://hub.brussels/fr/motivation/exporter/

Awex for Wallonia : http://www.awex-export.be/fr/les-entreprises-wallonnes-et-le-covid19

FIT fpr Flanders ; https://www.flandersinvestmentandtrade.com/export/internationaal/dossiers/coronavirus

In the attached document, you will find an overview of the main tax and budgetary measures taken on 14th April 2020.

If your statutes provide for the possibility of holding 'virtual' general assemblies, these provisions can be invoked for the practical organisation of the general assembly.  

If this possibility was not (yet) included in the statutes, there is flexibility now which allows for the general assembly to be held by tele- or video-conference. It is also authorized to offer electronic means of communication to the participants of each general assembly, even without statutory authorisation. 

These rules are applicable between 1 March and 30 June 2020 after extension by Royal Decree. Initially this was 3 May. The end date of 30 June can be adjusted in view of the extension of the measures against the Corona virus.  

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, all legal entities for which preparations for the ordinary general assembly had often just started are faced with insurmountable practical difficulties to effectively hold these meetings in accordance with the usual rules, without violating the mandatory rules imposed to combat the virus. 

Some flexibility was required and, as a result, the regulator has put forward a number of options offering the necessary flexibility. This arrangement is optional for all companies and associations.  

Option 1 : Proceed with physical meeting

The organisation can proceed with the meeting, but in circumstances that are, on the one hand, compatible with the measures taken in response to the COVID-19 crisis and, on the other hand, allow the shareholders and members to execute their voting rights and give them the opportunity to ask questions. 

In concrete terms, the administrative body gets the authority to decide that the shareholders or the members can only participate remotely, whether or not in combination with proxy voting, in which case solely a person appointed by the administrative body can act as proxy holder (for all shareholders) (see option 2). 

Option 2 : Remote general assembly: vote + proxy

The administrative body may (even without statutory authorisation) impose on the general assembly's participants to execute their rights exclusively:

1.By voting remotely prior to the general assembly (for the Ltd company: art. 7:146 Companies and Associations Code), and 

2.By granting a power of attorney prior to the general assembly in accordance with the Companies and Associations Code. 

When an entity uses this option, it may prohibit any physical presence of shareholders when it cannot guarantee the adherence to measures of social distancing and others to combat COVID-19. 

In this case, it may be imposed that only written questions be submitted in accordance with the Companies and Associations Code and subject to compliance with certain terms. The administrative body will answer the questions in writing prior to the vote, or verbally if it so chooses. 

Even though the statutes don't stipulate as such, there is now a flexibility allowing the general assembly to be held by tele- or video-conference. It is also authorized to offer electronic means of communication to the participants of each general assembly, even without statutory authorisation.

Option 3: postpone the general assembly 

The administrative body may postpone the general assembly and the approval of the financial statements.  

This is also permitted if the meeting has already been called, provided that the shareholders and members were correctly informed as such (via the website, by e-mail, by post). 

The general assembly may be postponed up to 10 weeks after the date stipulated in the statutes.

These rules are applicable between 1 March and 30 June 2020 after extension by Royal Decree. Initially this was 3 May. The end date of 30 June can be adjusted in view of the extension of the measures against the Corona virus.  

The administrative body may under all circumstances unanimously decide in writing. The administrative body can also deliberate and decide (where appropriate by majority) by means of an electronic communication (telephone or video conference) that allows discussion. 

Relative to decisions that must be taken before a notary public, such as, for example, the authorised capital, it is again sufficient for one member of the administrative body or a person appointed by the administrative body to physically meet with the notary public; the other members can participate via electronic communication. 

These rules are applicable between 1 March and 30 June 2020 after extension by Royal Decree. Initially this was 3 May. The end date of 30 June can be adjusted in view of the extension of the measures against the Corona virus.

The physical appearance before the notary public with a view to signing the deed can be done: 

By a single member of the administrative body, authorised to do so, or any other person given proxy to do so, and/or by a proxy holder 

These rules are applicable between 1 March and 30 June 2020 after extension by Royal Decree. Initially this was 3 May. The end date of 30 June can be adjusted in view of the extension of the measures against the Corona virus.  

The general meetings of co-owners cannot continue as long as the sanitary measures (such as social distancing) apply. Written meetings are not workable as many vulnerable elderly are co-owners and many syndics are not (technically) prepared for them. 

The general meetings will have to take place within 5 months following the end of the crisis period. 

The mandates of the syndic and the members of the board of co-owners are extended until the next general meeting. The contract with the syndic is automatically extended by operation of law.

These rules are applicable between 10th March and 3rd May 2020. The expiration date of 3rd May can be adapted in view of the extension of the measures against the Corona virus. 

Our French sister federation has confirmed us on Friday, April 17, that the borders are closed to employees who want to provide services in France.

Following a French government instruction of 15 April, posted workers (except from freight carriers) are not allowed to come to France at least until 11 May 2020 (when lockdown should partly come to an end).

Foreigners are not allowed to enter the French national territory, with the exception of :

  • European citizens as well as British, Icelandic, Liechtenstein, Norwegian, Andorran, Monegasque, Swiss, Holy See and San Marino nationals who reside in France or who transit through France to return to their place of residence,
  • Foreign nationals residing in France,
  • Frontier workers,
  • Foreign health professionals for the purpose of controlling the spread of Covid-19,
  • as well as carriers of goods.

It is therefore apparently not possible to send Belgian employees to clients in France in order to provide services.

This goes completely against the instructions and communications of the European Commission.

We advise you to carefully check if you can fall within the exceptions, and to contact your French customers.

We are already investigating whether exceptions are possible, for example for suppliers of machinery in the food industry (essential sectors, even in France). We will keep you informed about any changes.

In order to make it possible to use working students to help alleviate the increased workload as a result of the corona crisis in industries such as food, the government has decided to disregard the hours a student works during the 2nd quarter of 2020 in the quota of 475 hours per year.

This applies to all students regardless of the industry in which they are employed. This means that for students who can be employed under a student contract, even if their quota has already been used up in the first quarter or would have been entirely reserved for planned performance in the third and fourth quarter, the solidarity contribution can still be applied for all the hours worked in the 2nd quarter of 2020 instead of the normal contributions.

The normal declaration rules continue to apply, i.e. a Dimona declaration 'STU' before the employment starts and afterwards a DmfA declaration of the hours worked. A Dimona declaration with indication of hours thus remains mandatory, but 'reservation' to ensure that the student still has sufficient hours available that are eligible for the solidarity contribution is as such not necessary for the 2nd quarter of 2020 since all hours a student performs in the second quarter are eligible for the solidarity contribution.

The online counter allowing for the remaining number of hours in the quota to be consulted, will be adapted by the end of the month April. The measure is currently not yet visible in the Student@work application, so certificates for employment for the next quarters have not yet been adapted.

The regional institutions authorized to grant child support are examining how their regulation can be adapted in order to prevent that students who are employed in this way in the second quarter would lose their child support. As soon as more information on this topic is available, it will be communicated via the www.studentatwork.be website.

This also applies to the concept of dependant in the tax regulations, for which an adaptation to the regulations may be foreseen.

Source: interim instructions NSSO

How can we revive our economy smoothly, safely, but surely? A generic guide to good practice provides companies with guidance on how to prepare themselves in the best possible way.

The practical guide, drawn up by the High Council for Prevention and Protection at Work, is meant to facilitate the revival of the economy and is primarily intended for those businesses that want to prepare for a relaunch. Companies that are already at work will be able to continue to work s they keep an eye on safety, health and hygiene regulations. 

The guide brings together concrete and feasible prevention measures that support employers and provide protection for workers. Protection at work, during journeys to and from the workplace (e.g. collective transport) or during work-related activities. Think of the use of refectories, changing rooms and other social facilities. Or contacts with customers, suppliers and subcontractors.

The first edition of the Generic Guide 'Safe at Work' appeared on 24 April. A second, updated edition was published on 6 May. You can download it here. The guide is also available in Dutch, French and German

Many Agoria member companies operate internationally. Although the banks are supported by the Belgian and European authorities, some members had already noticed that the situation was deteriorating in terms of credit financing. Agoria has been actively looking for additional solutions in recent weeks. These have now been found, including in the form of the Credendo Bridge Guarantee.

Bridging credit

Credendo is the Belgian public lender. In addition to the usual instruments offered by Credendo, it has now also started to provide a "Credendo Bridge Guarantee". A Credendo bridge loan has the following characteristics:

  • the guarantee is issued in favour of a bank;
  • the guarantee, with a maximum term of one year, was developed to cover bridging loans granted to Belgian companies operating internationally;
  • the guarantee covers 80% of the bank's risk with an upper limit of EUR 10 million per company;
  • firms which were already in difficulty before the crisis or which have access to other support measures cannot benefit from the strengthened financial guarantee.

The banks are familiar with Credendo's financial guarantee product. This guarantee makes it easier for firms to obtain a loan, the credit limits can be higher and the bank that granted the loan benefits from additional capacity and comfort. The 'Credendo Bridge Guarantee' can therefore come into effect shortly after its approval by the European Commission. The practical application modalities will be used in the first place for SMEs.

This instrument is tailor-made for SMEs. If 30% of the company's turnover is derived from exports (outside Belgium), one can already qualify for this bridging loan.

Three weeks ago, at the instigation of Agoria, the Flemish government announced an aid package of €250 million for start-ups and SMEs in the form of subordinated loans. A glimpse was offered today into the incentives, which will be channelled through the Vlaamse Investeringsmaatschappij PMV [Flemish Investment Company].

Viable businesses are eligible to apply for subordinated loans of at least €25,000 and at most €2 million over a period of three years. The amounts can still be increased if there are additional guarantees from other financiers.

Start-ups and scale-ups can repay the loan in full on the maturity date. If they think that is not feasible, they can also opt for a convertible loan, whereby PMV enters in the capital, with a 25% discount on the share price of the capital round/ exit. SMEs with recurring cash flows are granted an exemption from repayments for the first 24 months.

The subordinated loans are introduced at an interest rate of 5% for start-ups and scale-ups, and of 4.5% percent for SMEs and the self-employed. PMV wants to reduce these rates further by applying to a European guarantee fund, but has not yet decided to do so.

The loans are specifically aimed at start-ups and scale-ups which did not have a recurrent positive cash flow in the last 3 years and are developing or already marketing innovative products and/or services, and at SMEs and self-employed persons who did have recurrent positive cash flows before the Coronavirus crisis and were therefore eligible for traditional bank financing.

The financial injections have to be applied for before 15 November 2020, although this is not possible at the moment, because PMV has not received approval from Europe yet. The target date for this approval is the beginning of May.

The aim is to limit the lead time between the application (subject to an underpinned information package) and the provision of the Coronavirus loan to 1 month maximum.

More details can be found on the PMV website.

Interested companies can pre-register and will be informed as soon as the loan can be applied for.

During the coronavirus crisis, a number of measures were either taken on the government's own initiative or at the request of business federations, including Agoria, which continues to closely monitor:

  • the evolution of the situation;
  • the measures that will safeguard the interests of companies without jeopardizing the continuity of the social security system, which is currently under great pressure.

We would like to list below the relaxation measures taken within the NSSO and which are in force during this 2nd quarter of 2020. There are 3 main measures:

  • firstly, the deferral of payment of social security contributions to 15/12;
  • secondly, the existence of a more flexible settlement plan;
  • finally, the absence of sanctions for insufficient payment of provisions following the disorganization linked to temporary unemployment;

It should be stressed that the first 2 measures listed may be activated successively.

1. Deferral of payment

1.1. Automatic deferral for companies that are compulsorily close down

Companies that are compulsorily closed down automatically benefit from a deferral on the payment of contributions for the first and second quarters of 2020.

The NSSO has set up a "Payment Deferral Check" application enabling the companies concerned to obtain confirmation that they may benefit from this measure (https://www.reportpaiementsonss.be/covid).

1.2. Deferral after prior sworn statement for companies completely closed down on their own initiative (for health or other reasons)

The companies completely closed down which are eligible to benefit from the deferral of payment to 15/12 on the basis of a sworn statement include:

  • Companies entirely closed down on their own initiative – health measures
  • Companies entirely closed down on their own initiative – other reasons

The concept of being "entirely closed down" means that production and sales have ceased. This does not preclude a limited number of workers being active within the company to carry out necessary security, administrative, maintenance and other operations.

Those companies may benefit from the deferral measures for:

  • corrections to the outstanding contributions;
  • monthly instalments of current amicable payment plans;
  • the third provision of the first quarter (to be paid on 05/04/2020);
  • the balance of the first quarter (to be paid on 30/04/2020);
  • the annual holiday debit notice sent to employers from 01/04/2020 and to be paid by 30/04/2020;
  • the provisions of the second quarter (to be paid on 05/05/2020, 05/06/2020 and 05/07/2020);
  • the balance of the second quarter (to be paid on 31/7/2020).

1.3. Deferral after prior sworn statement for companies that have not closed down entirely but whose economic activity is significantly reduced (decrease in turnover or payroll of at least 65%)

Among those companies that may also benefit from deferred payment on the basis of a sworn statement are those that have either incurred:

  • a decrease in turnover of at least 65% for the second quarter
  • a decrease in payroll of at least 65% for the second quarter

Those company may benefit from the deferral measures for:

  • the balance of the first quarter of 2020;
  • the balance of the second quarter of 2020;
  • the annual holidays debit notice for manual workers relating to the 2019 holiday year;
  • the provisions for the second quarter of 2020;
  • adjustments to contributions falling due;
  • monthly instalments falling due of current payment plans.

Several thousand companies already make use of this specific deferral. Agoria has defended and will continue to defend these companies before the government to encourage the latter to show reasonable flexibility towards companies that find themselves in a case of force majeure with regard to the corona virus and which, as a result, cannot possibly estimate the evolution of their turnover in the coming weeks in the event of a favourable evolution of the situation. In this context, we encourage companies to prepare a file, to be presented in the event of an inspection, showing that they had indicators showing a 65% decrease at the time of submitting the application. The NSSO has already had the opportunity to express its understanding for such a case.

2. Settlement plans

On 6 March 2020, the Government decided to extend and simplify the amicable payment arrangements from 12 to 24 monthly instalments as a result of the difficulties linked to covid-19.

This measure is valid only for the 1st and 2nd quarters of 2020 as well as for the annual holidays contribution for the 2019 financial year.

  • For employers who cannot (or do not want to) benefit from the deferral to 15/12.
  • For employers who benefited from the deferral to 15/12 but are ultimately unable to make the payment on 15/12/2020.

In the context of the Corona crisis, the NSSO shall therefore accept the applications requesting for the payment of those quarters to be spread out over a period of up to 24 months for those companies that wish to do so.

An amicable payment plan (prior to legal proceedings) may be granted without the application of sanctions (surcharges and interest) provided that such payment arrangements are strictly complied with. In the event of the company's failure to comply with the payment plan, the NSSO shall charge the surcharges and payments.

Many applications for settlement plans have already been submitted following the government statement of 6 March. Where those applications were also likely to meet the conditions for deferral to 15/12, the NSSO informed the employer of its ability to choose between the deferral or an amicable payment plan.

3. Suspension of the sanctions relating to the provisions for 2020/Q1 and Q2

The ONSS shall not apply a lump-sum compensation for failure to comply with the provisions on the payment of provisions for the 1st and 2nd quarters of 2020.

4. Impact of the deferral of NSSO payments on various certificates, deductions on invoices, advertising of receivables, etc.

The amounts for which payment has been deferred to 15 December 2020 shall not be listed in certificates and advertisements of receivables.

The amounts relating to the provisions due for the first two quarters of 2020 and the amounts deferred shall be neutralized in the analyses of deductions on invoices. Therefore, the employer concerned shall be listed as a debtor for this reason.

Because of the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, the risk of non-payment by customers has become so worrying that credit insurers would have to lower their credit limits on the customers (debtors) of their policyholders according to the procedures foreseen in normal times. Consequently, there is a risk of a lack of credit insurance for trade receivables on the private market. The State's reinsurance programme aims to cover this risk for insured companies established in Belgium and their trade transactions with buyers (debtors) established both in Belgium and abroad.

Under this agreement, the credit insurers undertake to keep the credit limits that were effectively used during the 12 months prior to 1 March 2020 intact as far as possible until the end of 2020. In this way, trade relations and trade flows can be maintained.

In exchange for this commitment, Credendo - Export Credit Agency, acting on behalf of the State, will undertake to reinsure the risks underwritten by the aforementioned credit insurers established in Belgium. The reinsurance programme foresees that a significant part of the indemnities will still be borne by the insurers. The distribution will evolve according to the number of claims. In addition, the programme provides for a progressive distribution of premiums between the insurer and Credendo. This distribution also depends on the number of claims.

The draft agreement was concluded under the suspensive condition that the European Commission approves it, but since similar initiatives have been launched in other EU member states, we do not expect any objections.

You can still apply the contractual sanctions against the defaulting party:

  • Right of lien
  • The right not to fulfil your obligations if your contracting party has failed to fulfil its obligations (do not forget to serve notice to your contracting party indicating that the agreement will no longer be performed because of non-payment)
  • Set-off (offsetting of debts).

Agreements concluded before 18 March 2020 cannot be dissolved unilaterally or in court for non-payment of a debt that has become due.

If a company has consequently concluded an agreement after 18 March, i.e. during the crisis period, it will not be able to invoke this suspensive measure.

This measure does not apply to employment contracts.

These measures to protect enterprises in difficulty as a result of the COVID-19 crisis shall apply until 17 June 2020. This period may be extended.

The defaulting party cannot be declared bankrupt on the writ of summons of another company.

The public prosecutor or the administrator appointed by the business court can do so, however. The debtor is no longer required to file for bankruptcy during the crisis, but can still do so.

These measures to protect enterprises in difficulty as a result of the COVID-19 crisis shall apply until 17 June 2020. This period may be extended.

Royal Decree no. 15 on temporary suspension of enforcement and other measures for the benefit of companies during the COVID-19 crisis lists some suspensive measures to avoid further problems for companies which are in difficulty because of the COVID-19 crisis.

These suspensive measures (no possibility of seizure or writ of summons in bankruptcy) do not however absolve the customer from the obligation to pay debts that are due.

These measures to protect enterprises in difficulty as a result of the COVID-19 crisis shall apply until 17 June 2020. This period may be extended.

No garnishment (e.g. the company can no longer sell the goods that have been the subject of garnishment), nor attachment (e.g. the judicial officer seizes office equipment with a view to sale) can be carried out. Nor can other enforcement measures be applied or continued on the company's assets. This applies for all debts of the company, including those contained in a reorganization plan. This does not apply to the attachment of immoveable property.

These measures to protect enterprises in difficulty as a result of the COVID-19 crisis shall apply until 17 June 2020. This period may be extended.

The FPS WASO has developed a checklist that it uses for Covid-19 inspections: Dutch: https://werk.belgie.be/nl/nieuws/generieke-gids-nieuwe-versie-checklist-en-affiche
French: https://emploi.belgique.be/fr/actualites/guide-generique-nouvelle-version-checklist-et-affiche-pour-le-lieu-de-travail

Agoria wants to help companies to complete the checklist and has therefore written a specific explanation of the different questions on the checklist. You can consult this explanation here. (Dutch / French)

It is not intended that the checklist completed by the company will be submitted to Supervision of Welfare at Work. It is up to the Inspectorate itself to complete the checklist, either on site or by telephone.

If violations or remarks are found during an inspection visit, always ask for the inspector's reasoning.

Please inform us afterwards about possible violations or remarks, together with the reasoning. This will give us an insight into the inspection's approach.

In order to have a good overview of the export support measures of the European Union as well as of the Regions, please visit the website of FIT for more information. Through the network of the Regional Export Agency, you can also obtain information on local crisis measures that may have an impact on your trade. Agoria works with FIT and coordinates on a regular basis in order to provide an optimal service.

In order to have a good overview of the export support measures of the European Union as well as of the Regions, please visit the website of Awex for more information. Through the network of the Regional Export Agency, you can also obtain information on local crisis measures that may have an impact on your trade. Agoria works with Awex and coordinates on a regular basis in order to provide an optimal service.

Because of the Corona crisis, about thirty countries in the world have found themselves in a financially more difficult situation. This has increased the risks. Via the website of the Belgian public credit insurer Credendo you can check the country sheets. Increased risks in countries have consequences for the interests and interventions of the credit insurers.

www.credendo.com

In principle, you can only obtain payment from the party with whom you have a contractual relationship and can only invoke the contractual sanctions (right of retention, non-performance for non-payment and set-off/compensation) against the contracting party. As a rule, therefore, it is not possible to request payment from the customers of that contracting party.

In certain cases (see below), the law provides for a so-called "direct claim". It is possible that you (party A), as a creditor who does not obtain payment from your debtor (party B), can apply directly to the debtor of B (i.e. party C) for payment.

In other words, you (party A) can, in your own name, exercise the right of claim of your debtor (party B) against his (sub)debtor (party C) so that the underdebtor pays you directly.

The direct claim can only be applied in the cases of application listed below.

Cases provided for by law

Direct claim in the case of the erection of buildings or other works during (sub)contracting (art. 1798 of the Civil Code).

Direct claim in the case of the erection of buildings or other works during (sub)contracting (art. 1798 of the Civil Code).

Here is an example to clarify this:

  1. A main contractor (party C) calls upon a contractor (party B) to install a kitchen. For this purpose parties B and C enter into a building contract.
  2. The contractor (party B) concludes a second agreement with the subcontractor (party A) to install the kitchen floor.
  3. The contractor (lot B) cannot pay the subcontractor/floor (lot A).
  4. The subcontractor/floor (lot A) may make a claim directly against the main contractor/lot C to obtain payment of his invoice, even if these parties have not entered into a contract with each other. The subcontractor/floor (party A) must clearly and unequivocally demonstrate its claim for direct payment from the main contractor on the basis of art. 1798 of the Civil Code.
  5. The main contractor (party C) does not have to pay the contractor (party B).

Similar direct claims are possible:

  • within the framework of the mandate (e.g. transport contracts) on the basis of article 1994 of the Civil Code.
  • in insurance law.

Conditions

  • the claim/invoice corresponds to the agreement and is certain and due
  • There is an agreement between the main contractor and the contractor
  • the amount of the claim/invoice cannot exceed the agreed price between the main contractor and the contractor

Advantage

The direct claim has the advantage that the funds do not first reach the assets of the defaulter. This would allow other parties to seize these funds. You escape the insolvency risk of your customer.

The subsidy database (www.subsidiedatabank.be) reports a number of changes in the context of Corona. Advice on risk analysis and prevention at work can now be supported through the SME portfolio. Various subordinated loans will soon be possible.

The various changes concern

  • Compensation premium for loss of turnover of at least 60%, can be applied for from the beginning of May
  • Extension of the bridging right for self-employed persons (extension to self-employed persons in secondary occupation and extension before May 2020)
  • Temporary unemployment due to force majeure (extension of the measure)
  • Deferral of payments and guarantee scheme for business loans (corona crisis)
  • Freezing the bankruptcy proceedings
  • Microcredits from microStart
  • Corona support measures by towns and municipalities
  • Corona loan (3-year subordinated loan) - expected in early May
  • Fiscal measures: deferment of advance payments and declarations
  • Allowance for working from home (corona): index adjustment
  • SME portfolio: advice on risk analysis and prevention at work
  • Guarantee arrangement above 1.5 million
  • European funding possibilities (enlargement)
  • PMV long-term loans (extension)
  • Exemption from corporate contribution
  • Structural reduction of employer's contribution
  • EIC accelerator pilot (SME instrument)

The Brussels government has adopted directives to help overcome problems in public procurement in times of corona. Much of this information is updated on a regular basis so it is advisable to follow it closely. They can be found under this link.

The following recommendations have also been sent to its contracting authorities. French/Dutch

The "ricochet loan" is a loan of up to €45,000 at a very favourable rate. This loan will be available for companies that need cash to pass this milestone. This loan will benefit from a capital franchise of 6 months maximum. This loan cannot be cumulated with the two compensation mechanisms.

It is in fact a "mixed" product allowing a small business that approaches a bank to obtain a credit to combine :

  • A guarantee from SOWALFIN of maximum 75% on the planned bank loan of maximum €30,000
  • A SOWALFIN subordinated loan of maximum €15,000 at 0% interest.

Let's take a concrete example: a self-employed person who wishes to obtain a loan of €15,000 will therefore obtain €10,000 from the bank and €5,000 from SOWALFIN at 0% interest (for this part of the loan). In addition, SOWALFIN will guarantee 75% of the €10,000 loaned by the bank.

All the Innoviris project calls continue and the services remain accessible. Below is an overview of the changes in the procedures and annual calendar:

  • The deadlines of several calls have been postponed to a later date. You can find the calls and their new submission dates here.
  • When reporting the projects, it will be possible to indicate whether there have been any delays or other problems in the implementation of the project due to the Coronavirus. This will be taken into account in the evaluation of the projects.
  • Follow-up committees of ongoing files will be held digitally if they are already planned. When evaluating new dossiers, preference is given in the first instance to a written evaluation on the basis of the dossier, possibly with a digital meeting.
  • A moratorium is applied to the time limits for the repayment of recoverable advances.
  • All communication, including reporting, is as digital as possible. Various mailboxes are available for this purpose, which can be found here.

"Social distancing' refers to a series of infection control or monitoring actions or measures intended to stop or slow down the spread of an infectious disease. The aim is to reduce the likelihood of contact between infected persons and others, thus minimising the spread of the disease. 

This approach is effective in the case of infections that spread via droplets (coughing, sneezing, leaking), direct physical contact, indirect contact via infected objects or surfaces and via air. As this is the case for the coronavirus, social distancing is the appropriate approach.

Since the MD of 30 April, the situation is as follows.

  1. Non essential companies:
    1. Teleworking is recommended for all staff whose position lends itself to it.
    2. If teleworking is not used, companies will take the necessary measures to ensure maximum compliance with the rules of social distancing, in particular maintaining a distance of 1.5 metres between each person. If this distance cannot be maintained, additional measures are necessary. These measures can be found in the generic guide. You will find the link here: Dutch / French / English / German
    3. The social distance rule also applies to transport organised by the employer.
    4. Companies shall take appropriate preventive measures in good time to ensure the application of the rules or, if this is not possible, to provide at least an equivalent level of protection.
    5. The social inspectors of theGeneral Directorate Control of Welfare at Work of the Federal Public Service Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue are responsible for informing and guiding employers and employees and, in accordance with the Social Penal Code1 , for monitoring compliance with the obligations in force in companies with regard to teleworking and the preventive measures taken.
  2. Essential companies:
    1. Essential companies must also continue to apply social distancing as far as possible and guarantee maximum protection for workers.
    2. It can be said that both non-essential and essential enterprises must pursue a commitment of effort.

What is an Effort Commitment?

The company makes every effort to respect the rules, but may not be sanctioned or closed down if the objective is not achieved.

You can find a number of examples and tips that can help you with the application of the 'social distancing': see the generic guide in Dutch / French / English / German.

Conclusion: DISTANCE HOLDING is the code word..

Note: by applying 'social distancing' it may be that certain employees have to work alone. The regulations regarding segregated employment remain applicable. You can consult our commentary text. 

In the critical sectors and essential services, the maximum number of hours of voluntary overtime per calendar year will be increased to 220 hours for the period from 1 April 2020 to 30 June 2020. 120 of these voluntary overtime hours will be subject to a favourable regime and may only be used in the second quarter of 2020.

These 120 voluntary overtime hours performed during the second quarter of 2020 shall not be recovered and shall not count towards compliance with the internal overtime limit. Moreover, no additional overtime pay is due for these additional overtime hours. In addition, they would be exempt from social security and tax contributions, but this is still awaiting final legal texts.

The formalities for performing voluntary overtime will not be changed. It is sufficient for the employee to give his express prior written consent to perform voluntary overtime (for a renewable period of six months). It is advisable to check the employee's agreement again if the voluntary hours are worked within the framework of the new quota of hours without overtime pay. Voluntary overtime is always performed at the employer's request.

The other rules on working time are not changed either and remain valid. For example, working hours may never exceed 11 hours a day or 50 hours a week, and the working time limits set at European level must be respected (including a maximum of 48 hours a week on average over a reference period of 4 months). Existing rules on employment on Sundays and public holidays and on night work will continue to be applicable.

The crucial sectors and essential services are those defined in the Ministerial Order containing urgent measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus, including producers, suppliers, contractors and subcontractors of goods, works and services that are essential for the performance of the activity of these companies and these services. The last list was annexed to the Ministerial Order of 17 April.

Source: Special Authorisation Decree No 14 of 27 April 2020 implementing Article 5, § 1, 5°, of the Act of 27 March 2020 authorising the King to take measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 (II) to safeguard the smooth organisation of work in critical sectors ( BS 28 April, second edition).

By way of derogation from the general rules on the conclusion of successive fixed-term employment contracts (contained in the Law of 3 July 1978 on employment contracts), the conclusion of successive fixed-term employment contracts of at least 7 days in the critical sectors and essential services does not lead to the conclusion of an employment contract of indefinite duration during the period from 1 April to 30 June 2020.

The critical sectors and essential services are those defined in the Ministerial Order containing urgent measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus, including producers, suppliers, contractors and subcontractors of goods, works and services that are essential for the performance of the activity of these companies and these services. The latest list was annexed to the Ministerial Order of 17 April.

Source: Special Authorisation Decree No 14 of 27 April 2020 implementing Article 5, § 1, 5°, of the Law of 27 March 2020 authorising the King to take measures in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 (II) to safeguard the smooth organisation of work in the critical sectors ( BS 28 April, second edition).

Contrary to the ordinary rules on the posting of workers (Law of 24 July 1987 on temporary work, temporary agency work and the posting of workers for the benefit of users), an employer may, in addition to its ordinary activity(ies), during the period from 1 April to 30 June 2020, post its permanent workers to a user belonging to the critical sectors and essential services.

The following rules shall apply:

Only permanent employees who are already employed by the employer before 10 April 2020 are eligible.

The conditions and duration of the posting must be laid down in a written document signed by the employer, the user and the employee. However, the written consent of the employee is not required if the tacit consent is a custom in the industry where the employee is employed.

This document must be drawn up before the start of the posting.

The employment contract binding the employee to his employer remains valid during the period of the employee's posting; however, the user becomes jointly and severally liable for the payment of the social security contributions, wages, allowances and benefits arising therefrom. Under no circumstances may such wages, allowances and benefits be lower than those received by employees performing the same functions in the user's company.

During the period in which the employee is placed at the user's disposal, the user is responsible for the application of the provisions of the legislation on the regulation and protection of labour applicable at the place of work (referred to in article 19 of the law of 24 July 1987 on temporary work, temporary employment and the posting of employees for the benefit of users).

The crucial sectors and essential services are those defined in the Ministerial Order containing urgent measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus, including producers, suppliers, contractors and subcontractors of goods, works and services that are essential for the performance of the activity of these companies and these services. The last list was annexed to the Ministerial Order of 17 April.

Source: Special Powers Decree No 14 of 27 April 2020 implementing Article 5, § 1, 5°, of the Law of 27 March 2020 authorising the King to take measures in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 (II) to safeguard the smooth organisation of work in the critical sectors ( BS 28 April, second edition).

An employee can take temporary employment with another employer in a vital sector during his current time credit or thematic leave (complete suspension or reduction of benefits, with the exception of corona parental leave). This measure applies from 1 April to 31 May 2020 (extendable until 30 June 2020 with RD).

Vital sectors are understood to mean the companies belonging to the following joint committees:

Joint Committee for Agriculture (No 144), in so far as the employee is employed exclusively on the employer's own grounds

Joint Committee on Horticulture (No 145), with the exception of the sector of planting and maintenance of parks and gardens

Joint Committee on Forestry (No 146)

Joint Committee on Temporary Agency Work and approved companies providing community work or services (No 322), provided that the temporary agency worker is employed by a user in one of the sectors listed above.

The employment contract with the other employer shall be in written form and shall contain an end date no later than 31 May 2020.

During that employment, the employee is entitled to 75% of the gross interruption benefit at the expense of the NEO. The benefit will be calculated pro rata for the incomplete months.

The temporary suspension and the temporary employment with another employer in a vital sector must be notified in writing to the NEO using the notification form (Dutch / French) available at www.rva.be.

The NEO will send a letter to the employee to confirm that he has taken note of the notification of suspension or employment with an employer in a vital sector.

For more information, consult the info sheet T3 on www.rva.be.

The Brussels government has decided by means of an authorization decree to suspend all time limits for expiry and appeal laid down in Brussels legislation and regulations and public enquiries. Time limits for expiry and appeal are periods that normally cannot be extended. In concrete terms this means inter alia time limits in soil legislation, urban planning permits, periodic inspections and monitoring, energy obligations and environmental permits.

The suspension is valid as of 16 March 2020 for a period of at least 30 days (renewable twice) and applies to all ongoing proceedings and new dossiers submitted. This suspension will run until the quarantine measures are lifted, and the duration thereof may be reviewed or extended if the situation so requires.

Which time limits are suspended in concrete terms?

  • Soil: documents or applications for a premium, soil certificate, exemptions, exploratory soil investigation, detailed study, treatment of orphan pollution, risk study, risk management project or remediation project. The time limits for identifying and treating contaminated sites are suspended.
  • Periodic inspections and monitoring: the time limits for carrying out periodic inspections and monitoring laid down in an environmental permit (particular conditions) or in a decree (general or sectoral conditions) are suspended. For example, the time limit for sending documents following asbestos work is suspended. The same applies for periodic inspections for maintenance of heating and air conditioning units.
  • Cross-border transport of waste: The term of validity of authorizations for cross-border transfers of waste for which a permit is granted after prior notification remains valid and is not suspended.
  • Energy premiums: The submission deadline for new premium dossiers as well as additional documents is extended by two months. The application must be submitted exclusively by e-mail (primes-premies@environnement.brussels) or via the secure online platform IRISbox. Documents sent by post will not be processed at this time.
  • Environmental permits
    • Certain phases in the examination of an environmental permit require meetings between stakeholders (the permit applicant, local residents or other authorities). In concrete terms, these include meetings relating to public enquiries, meetings of guidance committees and consultation committees or applications that require a visit from a governmental authority or other body. Pursuant to the principle of social distancing, these time limits are suspended for the duration of the quarantine measures.
    • Extensions of environmental permits which expire as of 16 March 2021 had to be applied for at the latest 1 year before the expiry date of the basic environmental permit (i.e. after the start of the quarantine measures). These applications for extension can now be submitted once the suspension measures have been lifted. The validity of the basic environmental permit will be extended until the final decision on the extension has been taken.
  • Urban planning permits: the time limits for issuing an urban planning permit are suspended. This concerns both the examination of the application, time limits within which the applicant has to complete his dossier, and the suspension of all investigative measures (public enquiry, consultation committee, opinion of authorities). Note that it is still possible to submit an application or a permit to the municipal or regional governmental authority. These can be submitted by registered post or electronically.

For more information, please go to the websites of Brussel Leefmilieu (Dutch / French) and Urban.brussels (Dutch / French

The Royal Decree introducing corona parental leave was published in the Moniteur belge on 14 May.

Forms and duration of corona parental leave

The coronavirus parental leave takes the form of a 1/2 or 1/5 reduction of the normal working hours of a full-time job.

The coronavirus parental leave can be taken during the entire period of the measure (from 1 May to 30 June 2020, extendable by Royal Decree):

  1. In one continuous period; or
  2. In one or more one-month periods, consecutive or otherwise; or
  3. In one or more one-week periods, consecutive or otherwise; or
  4. In a combination of (2) or (3).

The coronavirus parental leave will not be taken into account for calculating the maximum duration of ordinary parental leave. It is consequently additional leave.

Conditions of coronavirus parental leave

  1. The coronavirus parental leave can only be taken with the employer's consent.
  2. The employee must be bound by an employment contract with the employer for at least one month.
  3. The employee must have at least one child who is not yet 12 on the start date of the coronavirus parental leave. Employees who have been appointed as foster parents by the court or a service recognized by the Community of a child who has not yet reached the age of 12 are also eligible.

    The age limit of the (foster) child is set at 21 if said (foster) child is disabled. There is no age limit even if a child or an adult with a disability is cared for by his or her parents, if he or she is receiving hospital or non-hospital services or treatment organized or recognized by the Communities.

  4. A 1/5 coronavirus parental leave can be taken only by a full-time worker. For part-time coronavirus parental leave, the worker must be employed for at least three-quarters of a full-time job at the time the coronary parental leave starts.

Possible conversion/suspension of current ordinary parental leave

There are 2 possibilities to put the regular parental leave 'on hold' in order to get coronavirus parental leave instead.

In both cases, the counting of the normal parental leave is temporarily stopped. The balance can therefore be taken in full afterwards if the employee meets all the conditions.

1. Suspension of normal parental leave

The employee can ask the employer to suspend his or her regular parental leave in order to change the employment break.

Example 1: the employee now has 1/5 of the parental leave until 31.12.2020. He or she can ask the employer to suspend it to take 1/2 of the coronavirus parental leave from 15.05.2020 to 14.06.2020.

Example 2: The employee now has 1/10 parental leave until 31.07.2020. He can ask the employer to suspend it to take 1/5 of the coronavirus parental leave from 01.05.2020 to 30.06.2020.

2. Conversion of normal parental leave

The employee can ask the employer to convert the normal parental leave into coronavirus parental leave. The difference with suspension is that he or she retains the same interruption.

Example 1: The employee now has 1/2 of the parental leave until 31.08.2020. He or she can ask the employer to convert it into 1/2 of the coronavirus parental leave from 15.05.2020 to 14.06.2020.

Example 2: The employee now has 1/5 of the parental leave until 30.10.2020. He or she can ask the employer to convert it into a 1/5 of the coronavirus parental leave from 01.05.2020 to 30.06.2020.

Possible suspension of an ongoing thematic leave/time credit

Regardless of the form (full, half-time, 1/5 or 1/10) of time credit or thematic leave, the employee may ask the employer to suspend his or her current period in order to apply for coronavirus parental leave.

The employee can suspend his or her time credit or thematic leave in order to change the employment break or the employee can apply for coronavirus parental leave in the same employment break as his or her previous part-time break or 1/5 reduction.

The period that was suspended to take a coronavirus parental leave can be taken again later if the employee meets all the conditions.

Interruption benefit payable by the NEO

The employee who takes a coronavirus parental leave receives an interruption benefit from the NEO equal to the benefit in case of parental leave, increased by 25%.

Application procedure for the coronavirus parental leave

An employee who wishes to make use of the right to coronavirus parental leave must submit an application to his employer:

At least three working days in advance

In writing (registered letter or submission of a written document, a copy of which is signed for receipt by the employer, or by electronic means subject to acknowledgement of receipt of the message by the employer)

Whereby the document states the start and end dates of parental leave and the form (1/2 or 1/5).

The employer consents to or refuses to grant the employee's leave. Said consent or refusal is to be notified in writing by electronic means with acknowledgement of receipt of said notification within three business days maximum as of the application (and in any event before the start of the coronavirus parental leave at the latest).

The same period applies to applications for the conversion of the normal parental leave into coronavirus parental leave or for the suspension of the normal parental leave.

The above periods may be shortened by mutual agreement.

In the event of agreement, the schedule of hours and part-time work must be set out in writing in an addendum to the employment contract concluded for the duration of the coronary parental leave.

The interruption benefit must be applied for from the NEO at the latest two months after the start of the coronavirus parental leave. The conversion and suspension of the coronavirus parental leave/time credit/thematic leave will also have to be notified in writing to the NEO. The forms will be published today on the NEO website.

Duration of the coronavirus parental leave

The measure applies from 1 May to 30 June, and is renewable by Royal Decree:

For more information, please go to the NEO website:

Information sheet T9 coronavirus parental leave https://www.rva.be/nl/documentatie/infoblad/t9-0

Coronavirus parental leave FAQ https://www.rva.be/sites/default/files/coronavirus/FAQ_CPC_NL_20200514.pdf .

Source: Royal Decree no. 23 of 13 May 2020 implementing Article 5, § 1, 5°, of the Act of 27 March 2020 authorizing the King to take measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 (II) on the coronavirus parental leave (Belgian Official Gazette, 14 May 2020)

From the week of 4 May, doctors will use two new models of medical certificates during the period of the COVID-19 crisis: one model for incapacity for work and one model for patients in quarantine. The models are the same for all patients and for all consultations (with physical or telephone contact).

Depending on the situation, the doctor will provide the following certificate:

  • a certificate of incapacity for work if the employee cannot work due to incapacity for work due to illness or accident;
  • a certificate of quarantine if the employee is able to work but is not allowed to move and therefore not allowed to come to his workplace:
    • because of contact with an infected person;
    • because of a medical risk situation (e.g. immunosupression);
    • or because he himself would be infected although he has no symptoms.

Depending on the nature of the consultation (physical or telephone contact), the certificates must either be given to the patient by the doctor himself, or sent to him by post or electronically. In the latter case, the certificates do not have to be signed by the doctor, but they must contain an identification of the doctor (surname, first name, RIZIV number).

Workers who are incapacitated for work (certificate of incapacity for work) receive ordinary sickness allowances after the period of guaranteed pay.

Employees who are requested to be placed in quarantine (certificate of quarantine) will continue to receive their wages, as far as teleworking is possible. If this is not possible, these workers will receive temporary unemployment benefits.

The European Commission has approved the Flemish support package of €250 million for start-ups, scale-ups and SMEs. Brought about at the behest of Agoria, this provides subordinated loans for these companies through Participatie Maatschappij Vlaanderen (PMV) [Participation Company Flanders].

Viable enterprises affected by the Coronavirus outbreak are entitled to subordinated loans of up to €800,000 over three years. Negotiations are still ongoing with the Commission to raise the maximum amount. The loans must cover the financing needs fully for at least 12 months, possibly in combination with investments guaranteed by other parties.

"Meeting the immediate liquidity needs of start-ups, scale-ups and SMEs, will enable these companies to continue their activities in difficult circumstances," said Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, pointing out that the aid package is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary European Framework for State Aid.

The subordinated loans are specifically geared to start-ups and scale-ups that did not have a recurring positive cash flow in the last 3 years but are developing or already marketing innovative products and/or services, as well as SMEs and self-employed individuals that had recurring positive cash flows before the Coronavirus crisis and were therefore eligible for conventional bank financing.

The financial injections must be applied for before 15 November 2020. The aim is to limit the lead time between the application (subject to a substantiated information package) and the availability of the Coronavirus loan up to a maximum of 1 month.

More details about applying for a subordinated loan are posted on the PMV website.

https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_805

A very important element is the maximum application of the social distancing rules. What if the 1.5m distance rule cannot be complied with however? Wearing a mouth mask may then be necessary as an additional measure. The generic guide sets this out as follows:

In situations where the 1.5m cannot be complied with and after the organizational measures and collective protective equipment have been exhausted, wearing mouth masks may be necessary as an additional measure, in conjunction with other preventive measures and with respect for the prevention hierarchy. Moreover, to be effective, these masks must be worn and taken off correctly.

If the risk analysis shows that your employees have to wear mouth masks, these FAQs will help you to implement this measure in a correct and practical way.

If the risk analysis shows that your employees have to wear mouth masks, this FAQ will help you to implement this in a correct and practical way.

The following questions will be answered:

  • How do I find a reliable supplier?
  • What should I pay attention to when buying mouth masks?
  • How can I check the quality of a mask or PPE?
  • What about imported masks?
  • What about reusable masks?
  • What information and training should I give to employees?

The answers to these questions can be found here.

The possibility of investing in an SME as a friend or family member through a win-win loan has been extended. Friends and family will henceforth be able to lend up to 75,000 euros to SMEs and can determine the term of the loan themselves between 5 and 10 years. For their part, SMEs can have up to 300,000 euros in win-win loans. In this way, the Flemish government ensures that companies can have extra capital at their disposal in these difficult times.

Since 2006, friends and family have been able to grant win-win loans to small and medium-sized enterprises. In exchange, a private individual receives an annual benefit of 2.5% on the outstanding capital through their tax return. In this way, the entrepreneur can acquire additional capital via a subordinated loan. A record amount of win-win loans were taken out in 2019. 2,630 such loans were granted for €62.5 million. Since the start in 2006, almost half a billion in capital has already been mobilized via the win-win loan.

A number of current conditions for the win-win loan are less attractive, certainly in times of crisis. The total amount to be raised is sometimes too low and the term is often too long or just too short.

That is why the win-win loan is now being adjusted:

  1. Greater flexibility for the term: instead of a term of 8 years, it will be possible to vary the term between 5 and 10 years.
  2. The maximum amounts have been adjusted: the maximum of €50,000 euros per lender is increased to €75,000; the maximum of €200,000 per company is increased to €300,000.
  3. Loans maturing in 2020 can be extended voluntarily for 2 years. In this way, companies can stagger the repayment more widely or postpone it. The tax benefit of 2.5% will be extended to the total term of 10 years maximum.
  4. Small shareholders (with a maximum of 5% of the shares) will also be allowed to grant a win-win loan.

The interest rate is still the legal interest rate as a maximum and at least half that rate (1.75% for 2020).

Flemish guarantee

If the borrower is unable to repay in the event of bankruptcy, for instance, 40% government guarantee is temporarily available now instead of 30%. This applies to all agreements concluded up to and including 31 December 2021 for the entire term. The government guarantee after will be 30%.

More information via PMV/z ou Vlaio.

The Febelfin banking federation and the federal government have concluded an agreement that provides for a moratorium on payments as well as a guarantee scheme for families, the self-employed and businesses.

The deferral scheme implies that the banks undertake to grant viable non-financial businesses and the self-employed, as well as mortgage borrowers with payment problems as a result of the corona crisis, deferral of payment until 30 September 2020 without charge.

The guarantee scheme involves the federal government activating a guarantee scheme for all new loans and credit lines with a maximum duration of 12 months, that banks will provide to viable non-financial businesses and the self-employed. The intention is to keep pumping money into the economy.

You will find an explanation of these two schemes here (Dutch / French).

Belgium and the Netherlands have already concluded a double taxation agreement in the past. As a general rule, an employee's employment income is taxed where he works. There are exceptions to this.

As a result of the COVID-19 measures imposed, many frontier workers are obliged to work from home. This is a case of force majeure which, of course, is not regulated in the Double Taxation Convention.

Belgium and the Netherlands therefore entered into an agreement on 30 April 2020 whereby frontier workers can continue to be taxable in the State of employment where they habitually carry out their professional activity. The home working days as a result of the COVID-19 measures are therefore assimilated to foreign working days by a legal fiction.

Examples:

  • An employee is a Belgian National Resident and usually works 100% of his time in the Netherlands for a Dutch employer. This employee is normally taxable in the Netherlands. Due to the legal fiction, the teleworking days in Belgium during the COVID-19 measures are regarded as working days in the Netherlands. As a result, this work remains taxable in the Netherlands and the Dutch employer can continue to withhold Dutch payroll tax on these home working days.
  • An employee is a Dutch national resident and works 60% in the Netherlands and 40% in Belgium for a Belgian employer (salary split). Because of the COVID-19 measures he has to work 100% from home, in the Netherlands. Because of this legal fiction, the Belgian employer can continue to withhold Belgian withholding tax on the work he would normally do in Belgium (40%). The payroll can continue to be processed as if he were working 40% in Belgium. On the remaining 60% of his work, he continues to pay Dutch payroll tax.

However, this legal fiction does not apply to the following working days:

  • The working days frontier workers would have worked anyway from home or in a third country, apart from the COVID-19 measures.
  • The working days which frontier workers normally spend in their state of residence on the basis of their employment contract.

Frontier workers using this legal fiction must always keep evidence documents. For example, a written confirmation from the employer which part of the homeworking days was spent working from home exclusively because of the measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is certainly advisable to keep a calendar here. Both the employer and the employee should keep it up to date at all times.

The Netherlands and Belgium also made agreements to allow rules that apply in normal situations to remain in place as far as possible:

  • cross-border workers who stay at home without working but still receive their wages: the same work pattern will be applied as if the employee had worked (ratio of days worked in the state of work/total number of days worked). The normal work pattern will automatically apply to these inactivity days at home by COVID-19.
  • Dutch frontier workers who receive temporary unemployment benefit from the NEO from Belgium without the end of their employment contract. These unemployment benefits are taxable in Belgium.

This convention is applicable from 11 March 2020 until 31 May 2020 and may be renewed if the competent authorities consider it necessary.

You can consult the full text of this agreement here.

International Employment Experts answers social and tax questions and issues related to international employment. For more information about our services and our rates, please contact us at international.employment@agoria.be

Almost all countries have reintroduced border controls in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus. Belgium has closed its borders to non-essential movements. Subject to compliance with the rules in Belgium (physical distancing, Generic Guide, etc.), travel for work is permitted in Belgium, including for foreign workers who have to work in Belgium. Whether Belgian workers can also work in other countries depends on the rules in that country. You may have already experienced it: each country has its own rules.

The European Commission calls for a coordinated approach to also allow non-essential travel - for holidays and to visit family and friends.

It is important that the European Commission clearly underlines in its Communication that professional travel between member states should be allowed. Border workers, posted workers and transit (travelling through one country to work in another) should already be able to work within Europe without any problems.

The opening of borders should be gradual and based on three criteria.

Gradual:

The first step is to allow travel within the home Member State. The next step is to allow travel between Member States that have achieved a similar result on corona-virus control.

The criteria:

  • The epidemiological situation in a country: there will be a map on which companies can also check the COVID-19 situation in a country or region.
  • Containment measures: measures relating to physical distancing and other measures must be strictly observed. Member States are invited to collect the local rules and information clearly on one national website.
  • Economic and social considerations: supply chains and movement of services do not stop at a border. Lifting current restrictions on international movement in key areas of health, social and economic activity should continue to be a priority until free circulation is fully restored.

You will find the link to the Communication of the European Commission here.

International Employment Experts answers social and tax questions and issues related to international employment. For more information about our services and our rates, please contact us at international.employment@agoria.be

There are three possibilities and within these three possibilities it is important to know whether or not there was an obligation to be present and whether or not there is an obligation to participate at a final assessment:

  • the training is suspended by the training provider
    • if the lessons are restarted after the suspension, there is no problem for VOV and the training provider must adjust the end date - if necessary. Consequently, the employer does not have to submit a new application, nor does the application for reimbursement have to be adjusted. The number of hours VOV to which an employee is entitled in the event of suspension depends on the type of training:
      • with mandatory attendance: the employee is normally entitled to 1 hour of VOV per class hour attended. If the lessons are suspended, the employee no longer participates in the lesson and is therefore no longer entitled to VOV for those hours. If the employee does not take more hours than he was actually present in the lesson, there is no problem. if a final assessment is foreseen, the employee is entitled to VOV when participating in the final assessment, unless the training was discontinued (see last bullet)
      • without mandatory attendance: the employee is normally entitled to VOV if he participates in the final assessment and this for the number of hours of the training. There is no problem here, if the lessons are suspended, but not participating in the final assessment does not entitle the employee to VOV, unless the training was stopped (see last bullet)
  • The training is continued by the training provider with the use of digital forms of learning such as e-learning, webinar, ...
    • in this case, the training provider may register attendance for those hours for the trainees who take VOV, assuming there is minimum follow-up, supervision or contact. for those hours of attendance, the employee may take VOV, of course one day before the start until 2 days after the last training day.
    • in all cases, it remains important to know whether or not there is a mandatory final assessment, because if the employee does not intend to participate in the final assessment, the employee is not entitled to VOV. This means that all allocated hours of VOV must be converted / reclaimed by the employer.
  • the training is stopped by the training provider
    • training with mandatory attendance without a final assessment: the training provider notes the cessation in the WSE desk and certifies the hours present until the cessation. The hours present will be refunded to the employer.
    • training with compulsory attendance and final assessment: the training provider records the cessation in the WSE desk and notes 'not applicable' in the final assessment. The employer may be reimbursed for the hours of attendance indicated by the training provider until the cessation, taking into account the fact that no more hours were taken than the employee was entitled to.
    • training without mandatory attendance, but with final assessment: the training provider notes the cessation in the WSE office and notes 'not participated' in the final assessment. Since the employee must be able to demonstrate to the department why he did not participate in the final assessment, the employee must keep the confirmation e-mail of cessation provided by the training provider as proof. The recorded hours VOV up to and including the cessation can be refunded to the employer provided that no more hours were recorded than the employee was entitled to.

The European Commission has approved the subordinated Corona loans for start-ups, scale-ups, SMEs and the self-employed up to EUR 2 million under certain conditions. Flemish Minister of Economy Hilde Crevits, together with the ParticipatieMaatschappij Vlaanderen (PMV), has insisted on raising the maximum amount. If a private investor also intervenes, loans of up to 3.5 million euros are allowed.

For many companies, the impact of the corona crisis will continue to be felt in the coming months. In order to provide those companies with the necessary financial buffers in the longer term, there is the subordinated loan.

As of 5 May 2020, start-ups, scale-ups, SMEs and the self-employed could apply for a loan of up to 800,000 euros. Because this upper limit is too low for some companies, further negotiations were held with the European Commission to allow higher loans. There are a number of conditions linked to this.

1) Interest rate:

Start-ups and scale-ups: combined interest rate

A combined interest rate is used for loans above EUR 800,000. The increase in the loan amount is accompanied by a split into slices, each with a separate interest rate:

  • Up to 800,000 euros: 3-year convertible subordinated loan at 5%.
  • Above 800,000 euros: 3-year subordinated loan with a minimum interest rate of 6%.

SMEs and the self-employed: fixed interest rate

4.5% for the full amount up to EUR 2 million

2) Maximum amount

Up to the largest of the following amounts:

  • 100% of the labour cost
  • 12.5% of turnover

Up to a maximum of EUR 2 million if PMV is the only financier.

The amount can be increased to 3.5 million euros if an additional investor or financier acts. For the rest, the terms of the loan remain in force up to 800,000 euros. Companies that have already applied for a loan of 800,000 euros can increase the amount of the application.

"In crisis situations, it is not only important to act quickly, but above all to ensure that all segments of our companies are served," says PMV General Manager Michel Casselman. "This is why we are delighted that, for example, scale-ups and more mature SMEs will also be able to borrow larger amounts. It is precisely this group of companies that is putting a lot of people to work and will provide the innovative acceleration that will be needed in the long term to keep Flanders on the international map".

More information about the subordinated loans can be found here.

When the employer is obliged to replace an employee who leaves for RCC/SWT, the employer must recruit the replacement within a period beginning on the first day of the fourth month before the beginning of RCC/SWT and ending on the first day of the third month after the beginning of RCC/SWT.

If the replacement period is at least partially in the period from 01/03/2020 to 30/06/2020, it is extended by four months.

Due to the fight against the COVID-19 virus, companies were unable to participate in a number of activities and events abroad for which they had made reservations as part of their internationalisation project. If these costs are not reimbursed to the enterprise, it can apply for a grant from the Region under certain conditions. The maximum amount of this grant is €2,500.

Hereby the link to a website with information: https://blog.forumforthefuture.be/nl/article/premie-covid-19-ter-ondersteuning-van-internationalisering/8033?lng=nl

Due to the impact of the Corona crisis on companies, the Flemish government has decided to extend the operation of the workability vouchers (werkbaarheidscheques ). This is what is changing:

Subsidies for which actions?

  • Workability scan (qualitative or quantitative)
  • Purchase of guidance in carrying out a measurement/scan
    • Reporting results workability
    • Preparation of a workability plan with priorities and possible measures or actions
    • Monitoring and follow-up of the impact of changes

Carrying out or implementing actions and measures to increase workability cannot be subsidised with the workability vouchers. There is now one exception to this rule:

Improvement actions (advice, guidance and training) for

  • Workstation adaptations due to corona (e.g. 1.5m; protective material, etc.)
  • Competence enhancement; necessary to be able to work in the work context changed by corona.
  • Working on the psychological well-being of employees; as influenced by corona

For these corona-related actions, training efforts and coaching can therefore be subsidized.

What can't be subsidized?

Purchase or installation of protective equipment

What does?

  • Advice, guidance or training on the use of protective equipment in the work situation
  • Advice, guidance or training on feeling safe at work, dealing with fear
  • Advice, guidance or training on change in uncertainty; teleworking

Practical

  • For large companies and SMEs in profit and social profit
  • Maximum € 10,000 per company number
    • Up to 60% subsidisable (minimum 40% own contribution)
  • For projects of maximum 6 months with start date before 31/12/2020
  • Please note that this measure falls under the application of the European de minimis rules. As a result, the de minimis aid to companies may not exceed EUR 200 000 over three years.

During the lockdown by COVID-19, several buildings were closed and many companies had to stop their activities. In several cases, companies that were able to continue their activities were temporarily denied access to their showers, partly because the social distancing could not be insured. This means that a lot of water has remained standing still in the pipelines. Ideal conditions for the legionella bacteria to develop. That is why it is important to be very alert for legionella when restarting installations (e.g. showers, cooling towers,...).

The most important measures when restarting are thorough cleaning of the piping, shower knobs, sprinklers,... especially when they have not been used for a long period of time. When flushing, it is important to do so at a temperature of more than 60°C (= thermal disinfection).

More info can be found here:

Dutch: https://www.zorg-en-gezondheid.be/legionella (guidelines for cooling towers after a period of inactivity)

French: http://environnement.sante.wallonie.be/home/au-quotidien/environnement-interieur/legionellose.html

For socio-legal questions:

GVSC

Geert Verschraegen

Senior Expert People & Organisation

geert.verschraegen@agoria.be

+32 9 244 98 05

BSNS

Bart Snels

Expert People & Organisation

bart.snels@agoria.be

+32 3 280 45 03

For questions about international employment:

HTHS

Hilde Thys

Senior Expert International Employment

Hilde.Thys@agoria.be

+32 2 706 78 94

For questions about health

GDPR

Geert De Prez

Senior Expert Wellbeing & Prevention

Geert.Deprez@agoria.be

+32 2 706 78 98

WVDS

Wouter Vandessel

Expert Wellbeing & Prevention

wouter.vandessel@agoria.be

+32 2 706 79 98

For legal questions

GVSC

Bert Spreuwers

Company Lawyer

bert.spreuwers@agoria.be

+32 2 706 79 45

KVBL

Kevin Verbelen

Company Lawyer

kevin.verbelen@agoria.be

+32 2 706 83 91

For questions about the economic impact:

GVSC

Frank Vandermarliere

Manager Studies Center

frank.vandermarliere@agoria.be

+32 2 706 79 16

For questions about the fiscal impact:

TDEI

Tom De Wit

Lead Expert Tax Affairs

tom.dewit@agoria.be

+32 2 706 84 02

PVHA

Patrick Vanhoye

Senior Accountant

patrick.vanhoye@agoria.be

+32 2 706 78 08

For questions about International Business:

KVBL

Kevin Verbelen

Company Lawyer – Expert International Trade Legal & Tax

kevin.verbelen@agoria.be

+32 2 706 83 91

For questions about start-ups and scale-ups:

Frederik Tibau

Project Lead Scale-Up Programs

frederik.tibau@agoria.be

+32 2 706 78 62

For questions about formation and education:

GHUF

Goedele Hufkens

Expert Training and Competence Policy

goedele.hufkens@agoria.be

+32 3 280 45 04

For questions:

PDMN

Peter Demuynck

Algemeen Directeur Agoria Vlaanderen

peter.demuynck@agoria.be

+32 2 706 79 38

For questions:

DDMT

Dominique Demonte

Algemeen directeur Agoria Wallonië

dominique.demonte@agoria.be

+32 2 706 84 15

For questions:

RKNN

Rene Konings

Chief Brussels Region

rene.konings@agoria.be

+32 2 706 80 55

Does your company already have a plan of action regarding the coronavirus COVID-19? Download our checklist here.