The New Way of Working, legislation on workplace accidents is also evolving.
In recent decades, our way of working has evolved to being more independent of time and location. For example, we no longer need to be in the office all the time, and can structure our working hours differently using new IT tools. Teleworking and homeworking have become more widespread in many companies.
The legislation on workplace accidents has clearly defined several concepts relating to teleworking of late. Since 27 January 2019, occasional teleworking has been equated with structural teleworking. Structural, regular working outside the normal workplace or business location must be recorded in the employment contract, which already creates some legal framework. If exceptional or occasional teleworking occurs due to force majeure (e.g. a train drivers’ strike) or for personal reasons (e.g. the plumber coming to do repairs at home), the employer need only be informed by e-mail, text message, or telephone. In these cases, the Belgian Workplace Accident Act (AOW) now applies indisputably. Specifically, the same principles apply as if you were working at the business location: an accident during and because of performing the employment contract that causes an injury. In other words, a ‘kitchen accident’ during your lunch break at home, while commuting to or from a shared work environment or co-working place, or on an afternoon trip to the local sandwich shop.
However, chores such as ironing, mowing the lawn, loading the washing machine, and so on have nothing to do with ‘performing the employment contract’ and therefore are not insured. After all, these domestic chores cannot be done at the business location either.
A second new concept involves ‘lower status jobs’ or people who do paid work as part of a study or training programme. The search for rare talent in the tight labour market has resulted in numerous traineeship, apprenticeship and work experience contracts in recent years. However, many of these workers are not subject to the AOW even though they face the same risks as their co-workers. As of 1 January 2020, these ‘lower status jobs’ will be integrated into the AOW. The employer must file a DIMONA notification for the trainee (i.e. a system under which all employers must immediately register a new employee electronically with the National Office for Social Security) and specify their work duties, even if there is no obligation to pay social security contributions. Study or training programmes established outside any legal framework remain outside the scope of the AOW. An ‘ordinary’ accident policy can be taken out for this purpose as an extension of the compulsory cover (group accident policy under general law). Payments within the AOW will also be fixed.
The question now is whether these lower status jobs should also be added to the group insurance. This seems a bridge too far to us because, first, it is not in keeping with the spirit of the Belgian Supplementary Pensions Act (WAP) and, second, an exception may legally be made for these special contracts under the Belgian Anti-Discrimination Act of 2 June 2002. Accruing a supplementary pension is a long-term commitment and the financial consequences of the risk of disability and death for a student are simply less significant in financial terms. Avoiding discrimination among different lower status jobs can be an additional argument to take out an accident policy in any case (even if there is no obligation).
So, what should you do as an employer? For the time being, it is up to the insurers to adapt their policy conditions to the new legal provisions. Usually, there is already a compulsory workplace accidents policy in place and all your employees are automatically insured according to ‘the insurance unit’ principle.
If your organisation only has such ‘lower status job’ employees, a new workplace accidents policy must be taken out as from 1 January 2020. Lastly, it is up to each insurer to determine how they will flesh out the ‘general law’ accident cover for lower status jobs, both in terms of policy and premium conditions. To be continued.