When, earlier this year, the coronavirus pandemic arrived in Europe, the Belgian government decided to apply a simplified furlough regime, the so-called 'COVID-19-related furlough'.
Coming into effect on 13 March 2020, the simplified scheme allowed employers to place employees on furlough more easily and reduced the administrative burden for the labour authorities.
Since then, the COVID-19-related furlough scheme has been extended multiple times, on the last occasion until 31 August 2020.
From 1 September 2020, employers who want to place employees in COVID-19-related furlough have to show that either:
- they fall under the scope of a sector of industry that has been hit particularly hard by the urgent measures taken by the Minister of Internal Affairs to fight the spread of the coronavirus. The relevant sectors of industry are determined in a decree by the Minister of Work; or
- at least 20 per cent of the total number of working days they have notified to the social security authorities were days of COVID-19-related furlough and/or furlough for economic reasons.
Employers who do not fall under one of the categories referred to above will, if possible, have to rely on the common furlough regimes of force majeure and economic reasons.
During a transition period between 1 September 2020 and 31 December 2020, however, some of the features of this furlough regime have been made somewhat more flexible. For example, for both blue- and white-collar workers, this regime can be used for extended periods compared to the common regime. Also, for white-collar workers, there is no requirement to be formally recognised as a company in difficulties by the labour authorities.
Employers should consider these updates in the coming months and check whether they meet the conditions for the extension of the COVID-19-related furlough.