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How does the conflict between Ukraine and Russia affect Belgian companies?

01 March 2022 Ellen Van Grunderbeek Employers

Find an answer to the frequently asked questions

The conflict between Ukraine and Russia is raging. There is a real chance that your labour organisation is feeling the effects of the conflict or the actions taken by the international community in response to it.

We offer you an initial overview of the questions you may face as an employer. We rely on currently known information and legal options.

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What if your business operations depend on trade flows and/or goods from the conflict zone, and there is insufficient work for your employees?

In principle, the conflict is a force majeure situation, because it is a sudden and unforeseeable event - of a temporary nature - that occurs beyond the control of you and your employee, and which makes the execution of the employment contract temporarily impossible. The execution of the employment contract can then be suspended due to force majeure. In principle, your employees receive temporary unemployment benefits from the NEO.

It remains to be seen whether the government will take initiatives on the application of temporary unemployment in this particular situation.

What if you employ employees who are from the conflict zone?

In Belgium, 1 in 179 foreign workers and 1 in 270 foreign self-employed workers is from Ukraine. They work mainly in the construction industry.

When non-EU nationals come to work in Belgium as migrant workers, they basically have a fixed-term work permit to work in Belgium. Upon expiration, they must then return to their home country. That return is not desirable at the moment - because of the conflict situation. The government is working out a solution for this that should allow the work permit to be extended in this situation.

These workers with work permits may also be eligible for subsidiary protection. That is, employment remains possible subject to respecting a waiting period.

Can you employ refugees from the conflict zone?

Those fleeing the armed conflict and being received in Belgium can apply for recognition as refugees or subsidiary protected persons in Belgium - depending on the situation. It was announced that Ukrainian refugees would automatically receive subsidiary protection.

Based on that status, there is no need to go through an asylum procedure and - after a waiting period of 4 months - regular employment is possible based on this special situation of residence in Belgium.

What about employees who want to go and help out in the conflict area?

Employees who indicate their intention to leave for the conflict area to assist family members on the ground, for example, have several options for managing their absence:

  • Vacation days, by mutual agreement with the employer;
  • Unpaid leave by mutual agreement with the employer. In this case, put the agreements in writing with your employee.
  • Leave for compelling reason. Compelling reason means any unforeseeable event unrelated to work that requires the urgent and necessary intervention of the employee, and this insofar as the execution of the employment contract makes such intervention impossible. As an employer, by mutual agreement with your employer, you may consider his intervention in the conflict area to be a compelling reason;
What if your employee on the ground cannot leave the conflict area because he has been called up for military service?

Since 1 January 2014, military service is no longer a reason to suspend the employment contract. In removing this form of interruption of the employment contract, no account was taken of the fact that there may be foreign workers who may be called up for military service. Employees who are called up can ask for their employment contract to be suspended because of this service, but they cannot enforce it. Nor does the former protection from dismissal because of conscription apply to them. An employer may, but must not, accede to the request to suspend the employment contract.

What if you can't pay your employee's wages (on time) due to sanctions in international payments?

The payment of wages is an essential element of the employment contract, so you will always have to fulfil this obligation. After all, non-payment of wages is a criminal offence.

Currently, payment transactions are still possible, with a possible delay due to additional transaction screening. By the way, you can't just switch to hand to hand payment unless there is a sectoral collective agreement or there is an implicit agreement/usage that would allow it. In that case, too, put this temporary agreement in writing. 

Any other questions? Please refer to our FAQ on the consequences of the conflict situation in the Ukraine

Acerta's HR experts are closely monitoring the measures and initiatives, and will keep this page of frequently asked questions up to date.

Consult our Ukraine FAQ

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Written by Ellen Van Grunderbeek

Legal advisor at Acerta

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