Belgium is the first country in the world having recognised Covid-19 as an occupational disease in the health sector, as well as in other services considered essential during the pandemic. It is however a temporary recognition for the period between 18 March and 17 May 2020. The essential services include public and private sector employees who could not telework and could not respect the 1.5 meters distance of security with colleagues and customers due to the nature of their work. After the Ministry of Social Affairs consulted Belgian social partners through the Governing Body of the Federal Agency for Occupational Risk (FEDRIS), a ministerial decision was taken and officialised into a royal order on 26 June 2020. The order recognises Covid-19 as an occupational disease also for “crucial sectors and essential services”. The list of essential services in question (private and public) is the one annexed to the ministerial order of 23 March 2020 on “urgent measures to avoid the transmission of Covid-19”. It includes the food retail sector (supermarkets, grocery stores, etc.), elderly support services, the childcare sector, police, civil protection, justice and defence sectors, cleaning services, waste management, undertakers and postal services.
Following this new legislation, any employee “diagnosed by a laboratory test, and clearly having a higher risk of being contaminated by the virus, may claim compensation for occupational disease” to the Federal Agency for Occupational Risk (FEDRIS) if the illness was contracted between the 18 March and 17 May 2020 and only for diagnosis declared between 20 March and 31 May 2020.
The occupational disease is recognised under a system of list.
- A daily allowance payment equal to 90% of the average daily earnings for the temporary incapacity to work, provided that this incapacity lasts at least 15 days.
- A reimbursement of the personal contribution to the costs of health care related to Covid19, regardless of the duration of the (temporary) incapacity for work.
In the event of permanent damage, compensation for permanent incapacity may also be granted. In case of death from Covid-19, certain relatives may also claim compensation.
On the employers’ side, the social security contribution for occupational diseases is fixed at a certain level for the sector and no increase of this contribution was foreseen so far. FEDRIS Governing Body, in its tripartite composition, will probably analyse data in the near future and follow-up on the revision of the budget if needed.
The employer remains responsible for the consultation cost of the doctor, who informs FEDRIS of the disease. If the occupational disease is declared, then the employer is entitled to a reimbursement equal to the “guaranteed salary”, that is the salary already paid by the employer for the first month of illness and it is equal to 75% of the net salary.
The Federation of Belgian Enterprises (VBO-FEB) appreciated the way the consultation was organised for this issue and actively participated during FEDRIS Governing Body. VBO-FEB CEO Pieter Timmermans, considered this legislative change as acceptable, for the unprecedented period in which we live.