Teleworking recommendation lifted, but face mask obligation remains
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Teleworking recommendation lifted, but face mask obligation remains

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While the Consultative Committee last week announced that the recommendation to telework would be lifted from 1 September, what the return to the work floor would look like in practice remained unclear.

While it will no longer be mandatory to wear a face mask in publicly accessible areas of enterprises, public administrations and associations, the publication of the Ministerial Decree on Thursday clarified that the social distance and mask rules still apply in companies, associations and services themselves.

In practice, this means that the 1.5m social distance will remain the norm in the office, on the work floor and for people in contact professions, such as hairdressers, the cabinet of Home Affairs Minister Annelies Verlinden confirmed to De Standaard.

If keeping the necessary distance is not possible – which will be the case in many offices once the full workforce comes back – wearing a face mask is mandatory, her cabinet stressed.

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“This is a disappointment,” employers’ organisation Voka reacted to the clarification, adding that many companies that had hoped to scale up the workforce significantly will now have to pull the handbrake again.

Recent research by Mensura, which addresses the causes of worker absenteeism, showed that the persistent teleworking measures negatively impacted the mental health of many employees.

“This worries many companies,” spokesperson Eric Laureys told Het Nieuwsblad. “For example, it is disproportionate that there are hardly any distance rules at bars anymore, but they are still there in the company canteen.”

Employers are also frustrated about the fact that private parties and indoor events with up to 200 people escape any obligation, while a teambuilding event at the office requires a 1.5m distance, unless it takes place in the publicly accessible part of the company.

According to Voka, the logic is lost. “The best thing would be for companies to know anonymously how many people have been fully vaccinated. That allows for a better risk assessment.”

The cabinet of Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon stressed the need for common sense, and to respect “the spirit of the decree” in particular. “Limit risky situations, that is the motto.”