Returning to the Workplace, Part 2 –- When Working from Home Comes at A Price (Belgium)
In this second part of our “Working from home” series, we look at the element that has so far attracted by far the most questions, which is around who pays the costs of working from home. It should come as no surprise that this topic has generated so many queries. Belgium has introduced a number of tax-friendly incentives around home working, some of them seemingly overlapping, so one would certainly be excused for not seeing the wood for the trees here. Employers are allowed to pay certain tax-free benefits and allowances, but which are they required to pay? To answer this question, let’s go back to basics, which in this case is National Collective Labour Agreement nr. 85 on working from home.
What is required
In terms of the actual obligations, CLA nr. 85 states that the employer is obliged to provide the homeworker with the equipment necessary to work from home, to install it, and to maintain it. Furthermore, the employer should exclusively bear the costs of connections and communications related to the homeworking. The CLA goes on to state that if employees use their own equipment, the expenses of installing computer programmes, the operating and maintenance outlay and the cost of depreciation of equipment related to homework are all the responsibility of the employer.
In this day and age, it is fair to say that most employees will not be able to work from home without a computer or laptop, an internet connection and possibly also a mobile phone (although Teams and Zoom have significantly reduced the need for our trusted little companion). The employer has the choice between either providing this equipment with internet connection to the employee at its expense, or contributing to the cost of the employee’s use of his own equipment. Where you choose the latter, you may pay up to 20 EUR per month for the internet connection and 25 EUR for the purchase of the computer, in each case exempt from social security contributions and withholding tax. The compensation for the professional use of a second computer screen and/or printer or scanner without a private computer is a maximum of 5 EUR per month per item, with a maximum limit of 10 EUR per month for a maximum of three years.
These amounts are maximum amounts — the employer may decide to pay a lower amount, the lower limit being the obligation to compensate the actual cost of connections as well as the operating and depreciation costs of the equipment. CLA nr. 85 states that the cost to be borne by the employer shall be calculated “in proportion to the days of homework or according to a distribution key agreed between the parties”. In other words, whatever parties agree should be reasonable in light of the number of days worked from home and it should be confirmed in the addendum to the employment contract we talked about in Part 1 of the series here. The employer Is not allowed to take into account any savings the employee may be making on commuting or the expensive cafes and coffee shops which previously saw him/her through the working day.
What is allowed
The above summarizes the actual obligations of the employer. But the tax and social security service allow employers to interpret their obligations more broadly and to pay a tax-free allowance to cover a wider set of costs related to the home office. This allowance covers all general office expenses that your employees incur when working from home and includes for example the following costs: the use of office space at home, printer and computer material, office supplies, utilities, maintenance, insurance, property tax, coffee, water, snacks (indeed, quite some employees must have discovered just how many cookies they were grabbing from the office jar when all of a sudden they had to stock that jar themselves …) .
The fixed expense allowance is tax free up to an amount of 129.48 EUR per month. Until September 2021, as part of the Covid measures, that allowance has been increased to 144.31 EUR. These amounts do not have to be reduced proportionally for part-time employees and they can continue to be paid during normal holiday periods.
Although again not required, the lump-sum office allowance may be combined with:
A reimbursement of the purchase price of computer equipment
A lump sum allowance for the use of:
A private internet connection; and
A private computer or a second computer screen and/or printer or scanner.
A provision of computer equipment
An item we haven’t touched upon yet is office equipment such as that ergonomically sensible but often disconcertingly expensive chair and the adjustable desk. But let us keep this topic for the next episode, shall we?