Since 31 December 2020, anyone returning to Belgium after a stay of at least 48 hours in a red zone must quarantine. Some of your employees may therefore not be able to resume work if they have taken advantage of the Christmas period to take a few days' holiday abroad.
The Minister for Employment has also recently confirmed that the employee, who is quarantined as a result of returning from a holiday in a red zone, will not be able to receive a temporary unemployment benefit due to force majeure "COVID-19".
A red, orange and green world
The Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs (https://diplomatie.belgium.be/en) updates the list of countries/regions in the red, orange or green zones on a daily basis.
What do these colour codes actually mean?
- travel is strictly discouraged by the Belgian authorities; or
- the authorities in this country prohibit non-essential travel from Belgium.
- the Belgian authorities are urging increased caution; or
- travel is possible, but the authorities in this country require travellers from Belgium to undergo a COVID test and/or quarantine -> light orange.
Travel is possible. Hygiene measures and physical distancing rules remain applicable.
It should be noted that the majority of European countries are currently classified as a red zone…
What should your employees returning from abroad do?
On their return to Belgium after a stay abroad and regardless of the colour of the area assigned to the country of destination, your employees must complete the Passenger Locator Form within 48 hours before his or her arrival in Belgium, in the following two situations:
- if they return to Belgium by plane or boat,
- in any case, if they have stayed abroad for more than 48 hours.
They must also complete a self-assessment questionnaire on the conditions of their travel and/or stay abroad.
If, following examination of the Passenger Locator Form and of the self-assessment questionnaire, any of your employees are considered to be a “high-risk contact” (which should generally be the case if they are returning from a red zone), they must get a test and comply with a seven-day quarantine.
Since 31 December 2020, anyone who returns after a stay of at least 48 hours in a red zone is considered a "high-risk contact". These persons must be tested on the 1st and 7th day of their return to Belgium and they are also subject to a quarantine period, which will only be lifted in the event of a negative test result on the 7th day.
However, there are strict exceptions to the mandatory quarantine following a return from a red zone, in particular for:
- people holding critical positions in essential sectors: work may be authorised at the workplace on the basis of a certificate from the employer (see "Exception to the mandatory quarantine rules: definition of a critical position in essential sectors");
- residents who have been abroad for professional reasons: the assessment of the "Passenger Location Form" now takes into account employer-certified business travel.
What if one of your employees has to quarantine himself/herself?
The quarantined employee must immediately inform you of this. If you so request, he must also present you with a quarantine certificate.
However, if it is possible for your quarantined employee to perform his work by, for example, using teleworking, he will continue to receive his usual wages payable by you.
On the other hand, if your employee is unable to perform his work due to his quarantine, two cases must be distinguished:
- your employee does not return from a red zone: his contract will, in principle, be suspended due to force majeure. He may therefore claim temporary unemployment benefits for “COVID-19” force majeure, paid by the ONEM/RVA (National Employment Office).In this respect, the ONEM/RVA specifies that temporary unemployment benefits will only be granted if your employee is able to produce a quarantine certificate from his doctor.
- your employee returns from a red zone: he will not, in principle, be entitled to a temporary unemployment benefit due to force majeure "COVID-19", paid by the ONEm/RVA. The Minister for Employment and the NEO have recently confirmed this rule, which has already been applied previously. In this case, if the employee cannot perform his employment contract (for example, because teleworking is not possible) or use leave days or compensatory rest days to cover the quarantine period, the performance of his contract will be suspended in the form of authorised absence without compensation payable by you.
Sources: FPS Foreign Affairs; Ministerial Order of 28 October 2020 on emergency measures to limit the spread of coronavirus COVID-19, Belgian Official Gazette 28 October 2020; https://www.info-coronavirus.be/en/quarantine-isolation/ ; ONEM FAQ ; https://www.belgium.be.