Sign our petition to stop the obligatory return to the office (and FAQs)

*update 27.10.2021 the Belgian national authorities: from Friday 29.10.2021: ‘Teleworking is strongly recommended for all staff members of companies, associations and service providers, unless this is not possible due to the nature of the business or service.’

We at Generation 2004 believe that it is premature to push on with Phase 3 of the Tentative plan for gradual return to the office before the worries and issues voiced by staff are addressed. While we fully understand and support the need for many to go back to the office, we request that this be made voluntary and that the Commission postpone the obligation to return.

Please read and sign our petition in support our note to Mr Hahn.

We note these concerns:

And now onto the FAQs

We have already sent a list of queries (both yours and ours) to HR. We will update our list here with their responses. If you don’t find your question here, please send it to us and we’ll add it!

[1] Are we really going back to the office?

Yes, Phase 3 starts Monday 20.09.2021 for most of us, but in certain circumstances there is a transition period of 2 weeks (see point 17), or colleagues can be exempted for other reasons (see point 10).

Also, (do we have to say it?) if you have symptoms or are quarantining then please stay at home!

[2] How on Earth did I miss this? When/where was this announced?

Commissioner Hahn on going back to the office “All of us in principle will be at the office at least one day a week” (Au Quotidien, MyIntracomm, 01.09.2021)

‘Provided that the epidemiological situation does not significantly deteriorate, as of the 20th of September all of us in principle will be at the office at least one day a week. For the rest of the week, presence in the office will be voluntary, with the exception of critical staff or those that cannot telework. A maximum 50% limit will apply at all times within a DG, so as to ensure the  necessary physical distancing.’ (Transcript)

[3] Er…but we’re still in a global pandemic!

Trigger for Phase 3 : ‘All staff offered at least a first dose of vaccine’ (Tentative plan for gradual return to the office, My Intracomm)

[4] Has that really happened? How do you know?

‘The vaccination rate in the Commission is extremely high, according to our estimates above 90%.’ (Commissioner Hahn)

‘…we have estimated that more than 90% of staff in Brussels have been vaccinated. Early results of our most recent pulse survey back this up: preliminary results show that among those who have replied so far, only 4% of colleagues have not been vaccinated, all places of employment considered.’ (Coronavirus: Communication to Commission staff – Update 41, 15.09.2021)

The 10.09.2021 ‘Pulse Survey: Vaccination’ was collecting voluntary information on who among us are vaccinated, and vaccinations outside Brussels are managed by national authorities: we have asked HR to explain how they can be sure that the Phase 3 trigger point has been reached on all Commission sites.

[5] Covid certificate required for external staff, what happens when we visit external sites for meetings? Who checks the certificates?

We’ve asked HR how this is to work and we’ll add the responses when we have them.

[6] So what does Phase 3 involve?

One day a week in the office, up to a maximum of 50% presence in the buildings. You can do more if you want to, but not less (unless you have specific circumstances see points 1, 7, 9, 10 and 18).

[7] But I work part-time, do I just calculate 20% of my time?

We’ve asked HR this and we’ll add the responses when we have them.

[8] Can we do 2 x 0.5 days instead of one full day?

The new sysper facility allows this, yes.

[9] Can we do 2 days one week and 0 days the following week?

Structural teleworking allows this (p.4, Telework FAQs), but this is not mentioned in the 20.09.2021 guidelines. We’ve asked HR this and we’ll add the responses when we have them.

[10] Do we all have to go back?/What if I refuse to go back?

If you are in quarantine or have symptoms then you stay at home as per 20.09.2021 guidelines (p.5 4.2.a). If you have specific circumstance which you believe should allow you to be treated as a special case, please get in touch with the medical service and/or your line manager. There is a (non-exhaustive?) list of exceptional circumstances in the 20.09.2021 guidelines (p.4 4.1.b) e.g. those who are pregnant, immunosuppressed, have a significant mobility impairment (physical or visual), have children under 13 whose school or nursery is closed due to Covid or who are in quarantine. We have asked HR to expand this list e.g. to include colleagues living with someone who is immunosuppressed (see also point 18).

We have asked HR what happens if colleagues do not return as requested, we will update this list with their response.

[11] Will we have to wear masks?

For Luxembourg and Brussels in general yes, unless seated (See Article 2 Specific Health and Safety Rules for the Commission Sites of Brussels and Luxembourg). We’ve asked HR for guidance for other sites.

[12] What happens in shared offices/open spaces?

Physical distancing is specified for Luxembourg (2m) and Brussels (1.5m) (See Article 2 Specific Health and Safety Rules for the Commission Sites of Brussels and Luxembourg). We’ve asked HR for guidance for other sites.

This building FAQ covers dynamic collaborative space cleaning frequency and requests.

[13] Air quality/circulation

The Committee for prevention and protection at work in Brussels (CPPT-BXL) and Luxembourg Committee “Health and Safety and embellishment of workplaces” (CSHT) have queried this with OIB/OIL and received confirmation that this is in place. Again, we’ve asked HR for guidance for other sites.

[14] Are the canteens open?

Here’s a dynamic list of Luxembourg and Brussels buildings showing canteens and cafeterias and which are open and a timetable for some buildings. MyIntracomm doesn’t offer this information on other sites.

[15] Will I have to bring my laptop with me?

Those with a corporate laptop, yes.

Please note some laptops were provided without a kensington-style lock to anchor the laptop to furniture.  You can request one via My IT Support:

REQUEST TYPE [choose] Install NON-STANDARD peripherals for a user
Misc. (specify) [write] ‘laptop locking cable’

Justification*: [write] ‘No locking cable was provided with laptop and I will need one for the return to the office’.

[16] Is this final?

If the situation changes, then the rules will also change.

‘Provided that the epidemiological situation does not significantly deteriorate…’ (Transcript)

‘Stop clause (roll back to previous phase): Host Member State imposes new restrictions; No improvement or re-increase in numbers of cases and hospitalisations; Cluster of cases in EC premises. (Tentative plan for gradual return to the office, My Intracomm)

[17] Is there a transition period?

The 20.09.2021 guidelines allow for an initial 2-week adjustment period where required (p. 7 4.4.b.) If this is you, get in touch with your line manager.

[18] Underage dependent children in another country are in principle an accepted reason to envisage telework outside the place of employment, right?

The 20.09.2021 guidelines (p.6 4.4.b) state that this is true only when the line manager agrees, it is compatible with the interests of the service and where there is a mandatory quarantine/national ban on non-essential travel.

[19] Can I be 100% in the office?

Yes, this option is always available. Please declare this via the new sysper facility or get in touch with your line manager so that the 50% ceiling for the building is complied with.

[20] Is no one else worried about this?

To date there are almost 600 comments beneath Commissioner Hahn’s speech (Au Quotidien, MyIntracomm) expressing staff concerns.

For any other questions do not hesitate to get in touch or leave a comment below.

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(*)  Here is the eTranslation tool.

‘…demande expresse aux entreprises et administrations sises sur le territoire bruxellois de maintenir le télétravail comme norme’ (Centre de Crise National, 17.09.2021)

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