The Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis is affecting businesses in various ways. For example, companies will be forced to close down or face a major decline in work and turnover. Such a financial shock can be partly absorbed by the system of temporary unemployment. Belgium has several systems of temporary unemployment, which are supervised by the National Employment Office (RVA/ONEM). Initially, there are two relevant systems: temporary unemployment due to force majeure and temporary unemployment due to economic reasons. However, the government has decided to open up the temporary unemployment procedure due to force majeure to all situations related to the coronavirus, without actually referring to a situation of force majeure. This is because the procedure for economic reasons is often much more cumbersome. If the temporary unemployment is not due to the coronavirus, the employer can still invoke the system of temporary unemployment for economic reasons.
In case of force majeure, a company does not have to be closed down completely. In practice, this means that some employees of the same company may be temporarily unemployed and others may not. Workers can also alternate days of unemployment and working days.
The force majeure procedure is open to blue-collar and white-collar workers (from the private sector, the public sector and the non-profit sector); temporary agency workers throughout the duration of their temporary contract (renewable where appropriate); staff working in educational establishments; and apprentices with vocational training (mainly apprentices with a vocational training contract in the French Community and with a vocational training contract in the Flemish Community). However, civil servants and students are not covered.
The employer is no longer required to register for the system of temporary unemployment, but must always submit an electronic declaration (“ASR Scenario 5”) for the temporarily unemployed to the social security portal, as soon as possible. In this electronic declaration, the employer must state “force majeure” and “coronavirus” as reasons for the temporary unemployment. On the basis of this declaration, the payment institutions (trade unions) and the National Employment Service can determine the level of benefits for the temporarily unemployed. The sooner this declaration is submitted, the sooner the employees will receive their benefits.
By way of exception, the employer does not have to provide a monthly control form (“C3.2A”) to each temporarily unemployed person for the months March, April, May and June 2020. During these four months, the temporarily unemployed will be exempt from the obligation to hold a C3.2A card.
In case of temporary unemployment due to force majeure, the worker is exempt from the waiting period. Therefore, the worker does not have to prove the number of working days before he/she is entitled to benefits. The employee normally receives 65% of his average capped salary (capped at EUR 2,754.76 per month). Until 30 June 2020, the amount of the benefit will be temporarily increased to 70% of the average capped salary. A withholding tax on professional income of 26.75% will be deducted from the benefit. On top of this, the government will add a supplement of EUR 5.63 per day to the unemployment benefit at the expense of the National Employment Agency.
Van Olmen & Wynant attorneys are available to assist you with these and other workplace issues. For more information, visit https://www.vow.be/
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