27 July 2020

As the coronavirus crisis continues, the legislator has decided to extend corona unemployment under specific conditions and to put in place a transitional regime of temporary economic unemployment until the end of 2020. In addition, a new stimulus measure has been introduced in the form of (para)fiscally beneficial consumption cheques, which employers can grant to their employees and which aim to support some of the most severely affected sectors.

Extension of exceptional temporary unemployment

Corona temporary unemployment regime based on force majeure

A Royal Decree of 15 July 2020 has extended the corona temporary unemployment regime based on force majeure for all employers until 31 August 2020.

For sectors and employers which are "particularly affected by the corona crisis", this regime is extended until 31 December 2020. The sectors concerned are still to be defined in a ministerial decree. Employers will be eligible if they had a temporary unemployment level (under both the force majeure and the economic unemployment regime) of 20% of the global number of days declared to the National Social Security Office (with certain exceptions) during the second quarter of 2020.

It is important to note that the assimilation of the corona unemployment days based on force majeure for the purpose of holidays and holiday pay has not been extended beyond 30 June 2020. This means that employees will not build up rights to holiday or holiday pay during days of corona unemployment based on force majeure as from 1 July 2020. The spokesperson of the Minister of Employment has confirmed that no extension of the assimilation is currently planned.

Transitional temporary economic unemployment regime

In addition, Royal Decree no. 46 dated 26 June 2020 introduces a transitional regime of temporary economic unemployment for employers who can no longer benefit from the enhanced and simplified regime of corona temporary unemployment (for force majeure) after 31 August 2020.

This transitional regime is based on the ordinary regime of temporary economic unemployment, which is different for blue-collar and white-collar workers. The maximum duration of the ordinary temporary economic unemployment scheme is extended:

  • For blue-collar workers: up to a maximum of eight 8 weeks (full suspension) or 18 weeks (partial suspension); a new period can start after one working week;
  • For white-collar workers: up to an absolute maximum of 24 weeks (full suspension) or 34 weeks (partial suspension).

The employer must meet the following conditions in order to make use of the transitional regime for white-collar workers:

  • Proof of a substantial decrease in revenue or production (10%) compared with the same quarter in 2019; and
  • Provision of two training days per month for a white-collar worker placed in the scheme.

This regime of temporary economic unemployment for white-collar workers must be implemented by a company collective bargaining agreement (CBA) or a company plan. However, no notification of the company plan to the Federal Public Service for Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue is required.

The transitional scheme of temporary economic unemployment will end on 31 December 2020.

Consumption cheques

Another Royal Decree dated 15 July 2020, already modified by an Act adopted in Parliament on 16 July 2020, allows employers to grant "consumption cheques" to their employees free of social security contributions and taxes as from its publication in the Belgian Official Gazette on 17 July 2020. The Act has not yet been published in the Belgian Official Gazette, but it will also enter into force with retroactive effect as of 17 July 2020.

The introduction of consumption cheques was already announced several weeks ago. By this means, the government aims to encourage consumption in the horeca, sport and culture sectors and in certain retail shops (that meet certain conditions), which have been particularly severely affected by the coronavirus crisis. It will now be possible for the joint committees and/or the employers to grant consumption cheques to their employees on which no social security contributions or taxes are payable.

The consumption cheque scheme must be introduced by a sectoral or company CBA. If it is not possible to conclude a company CBA because there is no trade union delegation or because a category of personnel does not usually fall within the scope of a CBA, the grant can take place on the basis of an individual agreement. As is the case for luncheon vouchers, a collective or individual agreement is a requirement in order to qualify for exemption from social security contributions and taxes. In the public sector, a consumption cheque scheme can also be introduced after negotiation in the competent negotiation committee.

In any event, consumption cheques must be granted before the end of 2020. They cannot replace an existing remuneration element or benefit.

Each consumption cheque can have a maximum value of EUR 10, and cheques to a maximum value of EUR 300 can be granted per employee. A cheque remains valid for 12 months after the reopening of the horeca sector (i.e. until 7 June 2021). A (paper or electronic) cheque is issued nominatim and must be used in the horeca, sport or culture sectors, or in small retail shops which have been forced to remain closed for more than one month and which provide goods or services to the consumer in his/her physical presence.

Conclusion

The government is taking measures attempting to reconcile multiple objectives: supporting companies particularly affected by the coronavirus crisis and allowing employers to grant an incentive to employees in these difficult times while supporting the most severely affected business sectors (horeca, sport, culture and small retail shops).