Exceptional weather conditions and occasional telework

Goodness, it is hot outside! Belgium is experiencing its first heavy heatwave of the year, and this can have its effects on labour conditions. Does this mean that employees are automatically entitled to work from home to cope with exceptional weather? And what can an employer do?

In case of dangerous weather or other threatening events, the Royal Meteorological Institute (“KMI”) can send out alerts to warn the population. This is done by means of colour codes per province, ranging from yellow to red. For instance, risk of slipperiness on the roads due to freezing rain, ice spots or heavy snowfall will lead to a “code orange”, which triggers the so-called “homework alarm”. This alarm sends out a notification to companies in the area, encouraging them to allow employees to work from home.

Of course, the risk of snowfall is rather low during summertime. However, also in summer weather conditions can get extreme. In this scenario, it may be envisaged to allow employees to work from home, to avoid the heat during the day.

Since 2007, Belgian labour law has adapted legislation concerning occasional telework, which can be admitted due to personal reasons or force majeure (e.g. when severe traffic disruption is expected because of bad weather conditions or strikes). Occasional telework is a form of organization and/or performance of work under an employment contract whereby work which could also be carried out at the employer’s premises, is incidentally carried out on an occasional basis outside the employer’s premises, using information technology. Of course, the nature of the work or specific activities performed by the teleworker must be compatible with telework.

An employee can always ask for occasional telework, but this remains subject to approval by the employer. However, the employer can, via a collective labour agreement or the work regulations, lay down a framework within which the occasional telework can be requested, approved and elaborated. For example, it can be agreed upon on a company level that the homework alarm from the KMI constitutes a valid reason to justify occasional telework.

In times where extreme weather or other unforeseen circumstances occur more than ever, it is highly recommended to make clear arrangements in this respect.

EY Law would be happy to assist your company in relation to this matter should you have any questions!