Reintegration: my rights and obligations as an employer?

A Royal Decree was issued in December 2016 to promote the reintegration of employees on long-term absence due to illness. What exactly does the legislation mean for you as an employer? Read on to find out your rights and obligations.

1. The right to start a reintegration process

As an employer, you can start a reintegration process for an employee on long-term absence: 

  • when the employee’s incapacity for work exceeds four months;
  • or when you receive a certificate of permanent incapacity from the treating physician.

Please note that you cannot initiate a reintegration process after an accident at work or if your employee suffers from an occupational disease.

2. The obligation to draw up a reintegration plan

The reintegration plan is a crucial part of a reintegration process. It is started following the reintegration assessment by the prevention advisor-occupational health physician, unless your employee is deemed to be permanently incapacitated and cannot perform any other work for you.

As an employer you are obliged to draw up a reintegration plan:

  • if an employee can resume the contractually agreed work in the long term and can perform adapted or other work in the meantime;
  • after the expiry of a period of 7 working days during which the employee can appeal against a decision of permanent incapacity to perform the agreed work and adapted or other work was recommended;
  • if the appeal lodged by the employee is rejected.

You should draw up the plan in consultation with the employee, the prevention advisor-occupational health physician and anyone who can contribute to the successful reintegration of the employee.

3. The obligation to inform your employee

Forward the drafted reintegration plan to your employee. After receiving the plan, he or she will have five working days to accept it. If the employee does not agree, the reintegration process ends.

4. The obligation to leave the employment contract intact until your employee’s return or to adjust it in consultation with him/her

If your employee resumes work in a lower function during the reintegration process, the existing wage conditions apply for that period. If you adjust it on your own accord, you affect the very essence of the employment contract, and de facto break it unilaterally.

However, you can negotiate with the employee new contractual conditions (workload, working hours schedule, salary, etc.) and add them as an annex to the contract. After completion of the process, you can of course draw up a new agreement with new conditions.

5. The right to cancel the employment contract in specific circumstances

You can invoke medical force majeure to dismiss your employee, but only when all of the following conditions are met:

  • the employee was declared permanently unfit to perform the agreed function by the prevention advisor-occupational health physician;
  • adapted or other work is not possible;
  • the appeal period of 7 working days during which the employee can challenge the decision of the prevention advisor-occupational health physician has expired.

6. The obligation to provide adapted work (or to justify why you are not doing it)

If the prevention advisor-occupational health physician is of the opinion that the employee cannot perform his/her current function, but is capable of performing adapted or other work, then you cannot just refuse this solution. However, adapted work often requires the necessary creativity, taking into account the employee’s range of tasks, competencies and training.

Always explain why adapted or other work is not possible in your organisation. If you fail to do this, your employee may instigate proceedings for unfair dismissal or discrimination on the basis of health status. In addition, you risk administrative fines from the FPS Labour Inspection Supervision Well-being at Work.

You can also read:

Do you have a targeted approach for employee reintegration?

Help employees on long-term sick leave go back to work sooner. Mensura can assist you with setting up a return-to-work policy and specific reintegration programmes, and with preventing fade-out by maintaining regular contact with your employees. Questions? Contact us on +32 2 549 71 00.