Belgium: Paid Time Off Takes Pain Out Of Employee Vaccinations
In order to ensure that as many people as possible are vaccinated, the trade unions and the employers’ organisations in the National Labour Council have agreed that employees will be allowed to take the necessary time off to be vaccinated.
If enough vaccines are available, at-risk patients will be vaccinated from April onwards and the general population from June onwards. These vaccinations will be carried out in special vaccination centres. Every citizen will receive a designated time slot and it is likely that the time slot that many employees get will fall during working hours.
As it is feared that some may skip the vaccination if it means they have to use a vacation day or lose paid working time, all employees will be given the necessary time off to get themselves vaccinated without loss of pay. Giving employers the right to ask employees to re-schedule the appointment at a less disruptive time was not considered an option, probably because this would be too much a hindrance to the overall progress of the national vaccination program.
To ensure that the employee actually uses the time off to get vaccinated and as a condition of being paid for that time, they will have to share details of their time slot with their employer, as well as the vaccination invitation and confirmation of the appointment. Companies are asked to treat this information “carefully”, as it is to be considered health data (sensitive data in the sense of the GDPR), though the reason for the time off will necessarily have to be provided to shift leaders and other managers whose teams may be one down for the duration, and presumably to payroll and related functions.
The employee can only stay away for the time needed to go to the vaccination centre, get the jab and return to work. It is therefore not a matter of a whole or necessarily even a half day off, but may vary depending on the specific circumstances of the employee (where they live and work, where the centre is located, how they will travel there, etc.). If they suffer a bad reaction to the injection then it becomes an issue governed instead by the employer’s normal sick pay rules.
If the smooth operation of the company is jeopardised because too many people are out being vaccinated at once, a solution must be found within the company. Easy to say, perhaps, but the disruption is likely to be short-lived and the arrangement struck by the social partners is obviously a compromise: the employer pays for the time off and may experience some hindrance in the organization of the work, but these drawbacks are considered not to outweigh the benefits of a rapid vaccination campaign, which should be the fastest way to reduce sickness absence levels among its staff and at the macro level, to re-launch the whole Belgian economy.
The Federal Government still has to give the go-ahead, but that is usually a formality if the unions and employers’ organisations deliver a unanimous opinion.