70% of long-term sick declared unfit to work by employers


Changes to laws regarding long-term absence from work are leading employers to pronounce employees unfit to return to their old jobs

‘They’d rather be rid of them’

According to figures gathered by the ACV union, more than 70% of people who have been absent from work for several months or more due to illness are being pronounced unfit to return to their previous jobs by their employers.

These employees, who have been declared unable to work and have received benefits, are being assessed by their company’s doctors as permanently unable to return to the same job.

ACV brought the situation to the attention of politicians this week, following the reform of laws governing long-term disability benefits. Since 1 January, employers have the right to pronounce the employee unfit to return to their previous job. Employers did not previously have that right.

Employers are then required to either adapt the employee’s previous job or offer the employee another job in the company, but the employee can refuse this if they choose. In this case, the employer has the right to dismiss the employee as “unable to work for medical reasons”, without severance pay.

ACV has warned the government that allowing employers to assess whether an employee is fit to return to the same job opens the door to labour abuses and legal conflicts. “Those who have been absent for a long period are showing up at their employers willingly,” said Herman Fonck of ACV. “But the employers would just rather be rid of them.”

Every year, 200,000 people in Belgium leave work for two months or more due to illness. Reasons vary – from broken legs to cancer treatment to burnout – and most of them return to work. Employees with more long-term problems – such as chronic back pain or depression – are most at risk of being declared unfit to return to the same job.