Employers furious about Belgium's abolition of one-day sick notes

Employers furious about Belgium's abolition of one-day sick notes
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Belgium's decision to get rid of the sick notes for a one-day absence, effectively making it possible for employees to take a sick day without a doctor's note, is absolutely not a good idea, says employers' organisation VBO.

To make sure that employees do not cut corners, the Federal Government decided that the scheme will not apply to those who are absent for longer than one day, or for one day more than three times a year.

But VBO's Managing Director Pieter Timmermans is furious about the new measures, saying that this sends the message that someone can be absent for three days a year without informing their employer.

"I find this an incomprehensible decision," he told VRT. "This is a measure that stands on its own and is inspired by what used to exist in the government."

These what he calls 'off days' should simply be transferred to the private sector. "The measure will not affect absenteeism whatsoever," said Timmermans. "On the contrary, employees who are on the job will be punished for those who cut corners."

Additionally, he dismisses the examples from abroad that show that absenteeism due to illness fell, once the one-day sick note was abolished, saying that he "would like to see that here," but also said that the measure will likely have a positive effect on those companies "where things are going well."

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Employers' organisation Voka is of a similar opinion, with Managing Director Hans Maertens being concerned about the measure. "A lot of companies will not agree to this. They fear a kind of abuse of the regulation, whereby employees can have a kind of recovery day, a day off, three times a year," he said. "Perhaps some are really ill, but others will abuse it anyway."

Meanwhile, Danny Van Assche of employers’ organisation Unizo, was more positive, but only because SMEs are exempt from the measure.

"That does provide some relief," Van Assche said, referring to his earlier fears of the so-called 'Monday morning sickless' where people will pretend to be sick to prolong the weekend a little bit.

"[The government] cannot decide something like for everyone. There will always be some who cut corners. We think it is up to the company itself to deal with that," he said.

"A company with a good atmosphere and where everyone trusts each other can then decide for itself what to do," Van Assche added.

For professor of occupational medicine Lode Godderis (KU Leuven), it is a good thing that a start is being made on abolishing sick notes.

"What I do regret is that it has been limited to one day. I would have preferred three or even five days, when it would be better for people to report sick directly to their superiors, as in Norway," he said.

Godderis added that most conditions for which people need a sick note pass spontaneously after three days. "So that seemed more logical to me."

"My main concern is that the conversation between employee and supervisor is made possible, because that is a basis for trust and to ensure a return to work," he added.

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