After the lockdown, the gradual restart: what you need to know

Posted on Tuesday 12 May 2020- 11am

 The gradual restart of the economy was announced during a long-awaited press conference of the National Security Council on Friday 24 April 2020. All industry and B2B companies have been able to restart (or continue) their activities since 4 May 2020, provided that the necessary health measures are respected. Shops and B2C companies may reopen since 11 May 2020 and under strict conditions. For bars and restaurants, a restart will not happen until 8 June 2020 at the earliest. What does this all mean and what must you do as an employer?

 

What was the situation before 4 May 2020?

As a general rule, three ‘categories’ of companies could then be distinguished.

  • Companies executing ‘risk activities’
    Certain companies executing ‘risk activities’ were forced to close down.
    These included:
    • All shops and trading companies (with some exceptions, such as food stores, pharmacies, newspaper stores, petrol stations, etc.).
      Hotels were allowed to remain open with the exception of their restaurant/bar.
    • All companies and organisations belonging to the cultural, festive, recreational, sports and catering sectors (‘horeca’). The delivery of meals and meals to take-away were, however, allowed.

  • Essential companies and crucial sectors
    The government established a list of ‘essential sectors and companies’ that was attached to the Ministerial Decree of 23 March 2020, as subsequently amended.
    Within these companies/sectors, teleworking and/or social distancing had only to be respected ‘for as far as possible’. If this was not possible, then these companies would not be penalised.
  • Non-essential companies
    In non-essential companies, on the other hand, homeworking was compulsory for all functions for which this was possible, and social distancing measures (1.5 metres distance between two people) needed to be respected for any other functions. Companies that were unable to comply with these measures were obliged to close down.

    As a consequence, many non-essential companies remained (partially) closed, either because they could not guarantee the social distancing (e.g. in production companies), or - if they could and therefore were, in principle, allowed to continue their activities - because they themselves took this decision to (partially) close down, for example because they saw a (drastic) drop in their turnover/orders.

 

What has changed or will change following the Security Council’s exit strategy?

  • All companies in industry and B2B: restart (or continuation of) their activities since 4 May 2020

    On the basis of a new Royal Decree of 30 April 2020 on the first phase of the exit strategy, all non-essential companies (industry and B2B) could restart (or continue) their activities as from 4 May, even if they cannot guarantee the social distancing of 1.5 metres between two people.

    Telework is now ‘recommended’ and no longer compulsory.

    When having employees working at the company premises, social distancing still remains the norm and must be applied as far as possible. However, if this would not (always) be possible, then other prevention measures providing at least an equivalent level of protection must be taken, such as :

    • Organisational measures: the spreading of working hours and breaks, flexible hours, working in shifts, etc.
    • Collective protective equipment: placing partitions, tensioning ribbons, applying markings on the ground
    • Personal protective equipment: mouth masks, but also protective clothing such as an apron, gloves, etc.

    Explicit reference is made to a ‘generic guide’ on the prevention of spreading Covid-19 at work (in Dutch, French and English), which was drawn up by the Supreme Council for Prevention and Protection at Work, in collaboration with the Employment Ministry and which  provides a general framework with concrete prevention measures. This ‘generic guide’ can be completed at the sector level in sector guides or sector protocols describing how the companies in that specific sector can safely resume or continue their work.

    The prevention measures must be determined at the company level taking into account the social dialogue. The employer must consult with the consultative bodies in the company, such as the Health and Safety Committee (‘CPPW’), or the employees themselves (if there are no consultative bodies) about which preventive measures are needed, based on the generic and/or sector guide and/or any other prevention measures providing at least an equivalent level of protection and taking into account the specificities of the company. In addition, a risk analysis and an action plan must be drawn up together with the internal and/or external prevention service.

    The employer must inform the workers in due time about the prevention measures in force and provide them with appropriate training. Also, third parties must be informed about the applicable prevention measures.

    Employers, employees and third parties are obliged to comply with the prevention measures in force in the company.


    For essential companies/activities (those listed in an annex to a Ministerial Decree of 23 March, as amended), nothing changes. Homeworking and social distancing must only be respected “for as far as possible”. Employers belonging to critical sectors and essential services who had not interrupted their activities and who had already taken the necessary safety measures themselves could use the generic guide as a source of inspiration.

  • Shops and B2C services: opening their doors again since 11 May 2020

    From 11 May 2020, all shops and B2C services may reopen and restart their activities at the same time, regardless of size or sector; however, there is the exception of so-called ‘contact professions’ such as hairdressers, barber shops, beauticians, pedicure shops, etc.

    A Ministerial Decree of 8 May 2020 has set out the conditions under which shops and B2C companies may reopen:
    • As with non-essential companies, both shops and B2C companies must respect social distancing. However, if this is not (always) possible, then other prevention measures providing at least an equivalent level of protection must be taken.

      Reference is also made to the ‘generic guide’ and/or any sector guides and/or any other prevention measures that offer the same level of protection. The prevention measures must be determined at the company level taking into account the social dialogue as is the case for non-essential companies.
    • In addition, these companies may only receive customers if the following conditions are complied with:
      • 1 customer per 10 square metres is admitted for a maximum period of 30 minutes or ‘as long as usual’ in the case of an appointment;
      • if the floor area accessible to customers is less than 20 square metres, then it is allowed to receive 2 customers, provided that a distance of 1.5 metres between two persons is guaranteed;
      • the company/shop provides for the necessary hand hygiene gel for personnel and customers;
      • shopping alone is compulsory (but an adult may accompany a minor living under the same roof or a person in need of support).

    • Shopping centres must take the following measures:
      • 1 customer per 10 square metres is admitted for a period that is no longer than necessary and usual;
      • the shopping centre makes the necessary hand hygiene gel available at the entrance and exit;
      • the shopping centre facilitates the keeping of a distance of 1.5 metres by means of markings on the ground and/or signs;
      • shopping alone is compulsory (but an adult may accompany a minor living under the same roof or a person in need of support).

All companies and organisations belonging to the cultural, festive, recreational, tourist, sports and catering sectors are and will remain closed, with the exception of:

    • hotels and aparthotels, although their restaurants, meeting rooms and recreational facilities will remain closed;
    • the necessary infrastructure for carrying out outdoor physical activities that do not involve physical contact (but not the changing rooms, showers and cafeterias).
  • Bars and restaurants: not reopening until 8 June 2020 at the earliest

    For the catering industry, as well as cinemas and other companies within the entertainment sector, everyone must waiting until at least 8 June. This phase and the concrete approach for this restart are still being looked into.
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