Following is a general summary of some of the more relatively distinctive aspects of Belgian employment law when it comes to probation periods, termination, leave and pension contributions.
Belgium is perhaps the only country in Europe where an employee’s entitlements and requirements such as termination, notice period, or pay in lieu of notice varies depending on whether the employee is a blue-collar or a white-collar worker. In 2011 the government released a plan to reduce the differences between the two, with planned milestones for January 1st 2012, and 2014. Furthermore in 2013 the Constitutional Court ruled that that the classification of “blue-collar” or “white-collar” (manual and non-manual worker) should disappear, strengthening the movement towards harmonisation.
Nonetheless these are all steps in a complex ongoing process. This is further compounded by factors such as notice periods for terminating white-collar (and presumably by now, or soon, for blue-collar) workers not being defined at law, and instead left to the employer to determine. Only if court action ensues would the amount of notice given be tested. Furthermore, the court ruling in 2103, this did not include harmonizing the calculation and the payment of annual leave, wage and salary payments, short-time work are still pending and will need to be settled by the Labour Council, a national body.
Thus it is not possible to give clear guidelines on specific requirements for employees. For these and many other reasons the following are only guidelines in the broadest sense, and professional legal services are recommended when employing in Belgium.
The official website for Belgian labour law information is the Federal Public Service Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue (FPS) Division, located at: http://www.werk.belgie.be/
However, while the website does have an English section, the English information available is much more limited than the other languages (French, German and Dutch).
There are several key areas to be aware of within Belgium’s employment regulatory framework, especially for companies that plan to initiate a full local office and human resources department. These challenges can be mitigated by use of a locally sourced payroll provider who is familiar with all of the Belgian laws and rules for both Belgian employees as well as foreign nationals.
When hiring an employee, if electing to establish a ‘trial’ period, it must be between 7 and 14 days for blue-collar workers. For white-collar workers, the period must be between 1 month and a maximum period of 6 or 12 months, depending on the level of salary.
No reason for dismissal is required for white collar employees in Belgium. The main requirement of termination is to provide sufficient notice, and notice of termination is valid only if given in writing and in the appropriate language (i.e., Dutch, French or German). The notice period starts running on the first day of the month following the month during which the notice takes effect.
However, what constitutes ‘sufficient notice’ for terminating employees is not defined at law, and left to the employer to determine. Furthermore as mentioned in the introduction to this section, there may be still be differences depending on whether it is a white-collar or blue collar worker.
As discussed, the precise amount of notice required needs to be determined by the employer, thus it is most likely required to seek legal or other professional advice when terminating an employee.
Employees are entitled to four weeks’ paid annual leave (20 days for those working five days a week and 24 days for those working six days a week). During their leave, employees receive their normal remuneration plus holiday pay equivalent to 92% of their monthly remuneration.
White-collar employees receive their holiday pay directly from their employer, while blue-collar employees receive it from a social security fund financed by their employer’s social security contributions.
Every pregnant woman is entitled to pre and post-natal leave. The duration of pre-natal leave is 6 weeks (8 weeks when multiple birth). Moreover from the 7th day before the expected date of childbirth the employee must cease all activity, and the employer may not under any circumstances keep the employee at work. The post-natal leave is 9 weeks (11 weeks when multiple birth). The father has the right to paternity leave of 10 days. The leave must be taken within 4 months after childbirth.
In the case of illness or accident, the execution of the employment contract is suspended, and the employee must not come to work. Employees are entitled to some pay during this period, however it is subject to a range of factors as discussed in the introduction, such as whether they are blue-collar or white-collar, and their seniority. In general however both white collar and blue-collar employees are usually entitled to their remuneration during the first month of illness.
Blue and white collar workers pay 13.07% of their gross salary, while employers pay between 32-38% of the gross salary, depending on the sector.
Companies entering Belgium can make a decision whether to use their own resources or to use a Global Employment Organization to handle employment and payroll responsibilities. A GEO solution is particularly beneficial when a company is looking to setup an office quickly with a manageable cost. The complexity of employment regulations in Belgium makes the use of a GEO advisable to ensure full compliance with employment laws, including the drafting of local employment contracts for workers.
The company that is expanding into Belgium contracts with the GEO to employ and payroll their staff on their behalf. The GEO then assumes the legal responsibility for these employees, sponsoring them on work permits if necessary, complying with local employment law and running their monthly payroll. This is especially useful to fulfill all of the specific withholding requirements for pensions and benefits, as well as documenting termination, probation periods and leave requests.