What are the employer’s obligations in terms of psychosocial risks?


Kenny Decruyenaere

Lawyer – Senior Associate Clays & Engels

Since the coronavirus pandemic in our country, psychosocial risks are more than ever a “hot topic” in the workplace. Impossible for an employer to neglect them.

In previous years, this aspect of welfare legislation had already come up regularly, due to the growing number of workers who were “dropping out” due to a psychosocial condition specific (e.g. burnout). Covid-19 and the related compulsory teleworking have further increased the numbers.

The Welfare Act describes psychosocial risks as the likelihood that one or more worker(s) will suffer psychological damage which can also be accompanied by physical damageas a result of exposure to components of work organization, work content, working conditions, living conditions at work and interpersonal relations at work, on which the employer has an impact and which include objectively a danger.

A very long definition, but with a clear objective: to cover all (with all the nuances) of potential psychosocial risks. At the time of the adoption of the old “harassment law”, the predecessor of the present legislation, the focus was almost exclusively on behavior that exceeded the limits: harassment, violence and unwanted behavior with a sexual connotation at work. With the adapted definition, the legislator wished, at the time of the last legislative amendment of 2014, significantly broaden the scope and also include, in particular, stress and burnout.

What are the main obligations of the employer?

1. Risk analysis

In the same way as for other areas relating to well-being (in particular occupational safety, ergonomics, etc.), the employer must put in place the necessary measures to prevent psychosocial risks, as well as to prevent damage resulting from these risks or, at the very least, to limit them. In order to be able to prevent risks, the employer must identify, by means of a risk analysis, to which risks workers are exposed during the performance of their work. In practice, this involves the organisation, by the employer, of a survey of its workers concerning the psychosocial aspects they encounter during the performance of their work.

The development of intervention procedures is probably the main preventive measure that an employer must take.

2. Preventive measures

Depending on the results of this risk analysis, the employer takes the necessary preventive measures to prevent the identified risks, as well as to avoid/limit potential damage. An employer must take, at a minimum, the following measures:

  • Designate a prevention adviser psychosocial aspects (CPAP) and, if necessary, a support person;
  • Develop a prevention policy that focuses on psychosocial well-being (including internal intervention procedures);
  • Inform and train workers.

3. Internal intervention procedures

In addition to the CPAP designation, the development of intervention procedures probably represents the main preventive measure that an employer must take.

These procedures must ensure that a worker, who considers himself to be harmed by a psychosocial risk at work, is given the opportunity to raise this issue. Workers can therefore make a request for intervention when they consider themselves to be victims of psychosocial risks. The worker has the choice of using informal or formal intervention. It is also necessary to make the distinction between the situations which concern rather the collective and those which relate to an individual situation. The procedures must be resumed, with the contact details of the trusted person and/or the CPAP, in the employer’s work rules.

Employers who fail to comply with psychosocial risk obligations risk either a criminal or an administrative sanction. The minimum fine for the heaviest sanction is 24,000 euros. Employers would therefore be well advised to pay due attention to psychosocial risks at work.

Kenny Decruyenaere
Lawyer – Senior Associate Clays & Engels


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