Corona teleworking: a legal framework at long last

COVID-19
10 February 2021

At the end of January 2021, the social partners entered into a collective bargaining agreement within the National Labour Council regarding corona teleworking (CBA no. 149). Does your company have to implement this CBA? And, if so, what are the terms and conditions for corona teleworking?

Corona teleworking: CBA no. 149?

As of 2 November 2020, teleworking is mandatory for all companies except when the function of the employee or the continuity of the company makes this impossible (see our earlier analysis).

On 26 January 2021, the social partners in the National Labour Council entered into a new agreement – Collective Bargaining Agreement no. 149 – providing for a legal framework for corona teleworking.

The legal frameworks for structural teleworking (CBA no. 85) and occasional teleworking (Act of 5 March 2017 on agile and workable work) remain unchanged.

Does your company have to implement CBA no. 149?

CBA no. 149 is a supplementary collective bargaining agreement. Therefore, the CBA may not be applicable to your company. CBA no. 149 focuses on companies that had not implemented any teleworking arrangements by 1 January 2021.

We have summarised the analysis as to whether CBA no. 149 is applicable in a chart.

CBA no. 149 does not, however, prevent companies from introducing a teleworking arrangement of indefinite duration, e.g. for structural teleworking.

What are the terms and conditions for corona teleworking?

The CBA provides that agreements covering all teleworkers must be made concerning the following subjects:

  • the equipment and support necessary for teleworking,
  • reimbursement of costs when the teleworker uses his/her own equipment (including use, maintenance and depreciation),
  • connection costs,
  • the work schedule(s), if necessary,
  • arrangements for monitoring of results and/or assessment criteria, and
  • the accessibility and unavailability of the teleworker (thus, a right to disconnection).

The CBA pays considerable attention to well-being at work, including a multidisciplinary risk analysis taking into account the psychosocial and health aspects, information to employees or employees’ representatives regarding the company's well-being policy concerning teleworking, measures to prevent isolation (possibly limited return to the office and a specific mention of "vulnerable workers").

Furthermore, the CBA contains obligations about equal treatment of teleworkers and office workers, collective labour rights, data protection, contact with the workers' representatives and obligations to provide information to the workers.

How do you implement corona teleworking in your company?

You can implement corona teleworking at your choice through a company collective bargaining agreement, by amending the work regulations, by individual agreement with the teleworkers, or through a teleworking policy, in compliance with the rules on social dialogue. Thus, it is not mandatory to enter into an individual agreement with each teleworker.

Not too little, but very late

Nearly one year after the beginning of corona teleworking, there is now finally a legal framework for corona teleworking. The CBA aims at legal certainty concerning the rights and obligations of the employers and the teleworkers in the absence of existing agreements. This CBA significantly enhances the employer's obligations towards teleworkers. It is also interesting to note that the CBA introduces some new concepts into Belgian employment law, such as the "right to disconnection" and "vulnerable workers".

For all employers, CBA no. 149 is a source of inspiration for reviewing and updating existing agreements. It can be expected that the legal framework for structural and occasional teleworking will be evaluated and updated in the light of CBA no. 149.