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Long-term sick employees? Avoid penalties

18 May 2022 Miet Vanhegen Employers

The further specific plans in dealing with the rising number of long-term sick people were approved during the Council of Ministers on 13 May 2022 For instance, in the next phase, the government intends to focus on empowering employers and incapacitated individuals, among others.

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Back to Work

Since the beginning of this year, a renewed "Back to Work Pathway" has been used. This pathway, organised by the health insurance funds, aims to support incapacitated persons as soon as possible in finding the appropriate guidance for their return to the labour market. This can be done through modified work, other work or training. This counselling is coordinated by a "return-to-work coordinator" after a referral from the consulting doctor or after a request from the persons themselves.

Empowerment of employer and employee

In a next stage, the federal government wants to focus on the accountability of all actors involved: employers, employees, doctors and health insurance funds are all addressed.

Empowering employers

A Programme Act of late 2021 already announced employees’ accountability. A legislative basis was thus introduced for an accountability contribution in the form of a quarterly employer contribution in the amount of 0.625% on contributory wages.

Sowho should pay this accountability contribution? Only employers with at least 50 employees, whose number of employees entering disability (illness longer than one year) is substantially higher than both the industry average and the overall average in the private sector. Only employees who have been working in the company for at least three years and are under the age of 55 will be considered for this exercise.

Why do these employers have to pay this accountability contribution? Anomalous disability inflows would be an indicator that there is both poor work organisation within the company, and inadequate efforts to reintegrate people with a condition.

Starting this autumn, employers will be notified through flashing light signals if their ratio is trending unfavourably. This allows them to take targeted actions to avoid an accountability contribution, such as by committing to reintegrating workers who are at risk of becoming disabled during the next few months.

The first accountability contributions are likely to be collected starting in 2023. This still requires executive Royal Decrees to establish the criteria of excess disability inflows and to make certain clarifications, among other things.

If you have any questions about what this measure means for you or if you would like support in setting up a sustainable reintegration policy or preventive measures, please contact us at bpo.hr@acerta.be

Worker empowerment

The responsibility is not placed solely on the employer. Disabled persons are also made aware of their responsibilities with regard to their reintegration. Those with long-term illnesses who repeatedly refuse to cooperate in their return to work will risk a financial penalty starting in 2023.

Those with long-term illnesses receive a questionnaire from the health insurance fund after 10 weeks to better assess their remaining work capacity. Those who repeatedly refuse to fill out the list will see their sickness benefits reduced by 2.5 percent.

Elimination of sick bill for absences of (less than) one day

As part of the 2022 budget agreement, the government also plans to eliminate the requirement for employees to provide a sickness certificate to their employer for absences of one day or less. This principle would apply to a maximum of three absences of one day per employee per year.

Neither collective bargaining agreements nor labour regulations will be able to deviate from this. However, the employee will have to inform the employer in advance of the absence, and communicate the address at which he or she is staying during the absence.

The employer's other means of control with respect to entitlement to the guaranteed wage, such as sending a control doctor, continue to apply.

The measure will not apply in the smaller SMEs and in the event of illness for more than one day. The measure has not yet been turned into a piece of legislation, so for now it remains unclear when the new measure will take effect.

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Written by Miet Vanhegen

Juridisch adviseur

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