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Employment Law in Belgium

Belgium is made up of three regions: Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels-Capital. There are also four “language areas”: Dutch-speaking (Flanders), French-speaking (Wallonia), Dutch-French bilingual (Brussels-Capital) and German-speaking (a small area around Eupen), which determine the official language to be used in documents such as employment contracts. Employment legislation is primarily a national matter, though the regions have competence in some areas, such as educational leave, training and the employment of non-EEA nationals.

Belgium does not have a consolidated employment law code, but numerous individual statutes. The most important referred to in this topic are the laws (often amended since their initial adoption) on:

  • employment contracts of 3 July 1978 (as well as contracts and dismissal, this covers matters such as various forms of leave)

  • labour of 16 March 1971 (covering topics such as working time, rest and maternity rights)

  • feasible and user-friendly work of 5 March 2017 (covering issues including working time, training and leave)

  • combating certain forms of discrimination of 10 May 2007

  • combating discrimination between men and women of 10 May 2007

  • preventing certain acts inspired by racism and xenophobia of 30 July 1981

  • combating the pay gap between women and men of 22 April 2012

  • workers’ wellbeing at work of 4 August 1996 (covering health, safety and harassment)

  • the principle of non-discrimination against part-time employees of 5 March 2002

  • the principle of non-discrimination against fixed-term employees of 5 June 2002

  • temporary agency work and employee leasing of 24 July 1987

  • employees’ annual leave of 28 June 1971

  • work regulations of 8 April 1965

  • European Works Councils of 23 April 1998.

Laws are in many cases implemented in more detail by royal decrees. The case law of the specialist labour courts and the Supreme Court plays a significant role in interpreting employment legislation.

Belgium is unusual in that national inter-sectoral collective agreements, negotiated by trade union confederations and their employer counterparts, play an important role in governing some aspects of pay and conditions across the whole private sector, essentially replacing legislation in the relevant areas. The Government has given most of these agreements the force of law in all private sector employment. The most important agreements referred to in this topic are as follows, by theme:

  • recruitment and selection — no. 38 of 6 December 1983 (and subsequent amendments)

  • induction of employees — no. 22 of 26 June 1975

  • additional voluntary overtime — no. 129 of 23 April 2019

  • night work — no. 46 of 23 March 1990 and no. 76 of 18 July 2000

  • “time-credit” leave — no. 103 of 27 June 2012

  • paid sick leave — nos. 12bis and 13bis of 26 February 1979

  • national minimum wage — no. 21 of 15 May 1975, no. 23 of 25 July 1975, no. 43 of 2 May 1988 (and subsequent amendments), no. 50 of 29 October 1991

  • reimbursement of employees’ public transport costs — no. 19/9 of 23 April 2019

  • breastfeeding breaks — no. 80 of 27 November 2001 and no. 80bis of 13 October 2010

  • equal opportunities — no. 95 of 10 October 2008

  • equal pay — no. 25 of 15 October 1975

  • alcohol and drugs policy — no. 100 of 1 April 2009

  • company councils — no. 9 of 9 March 1972 (and subsequent amendments), no. 15 of 25 July 1974, no. 34 of 27 February 1981, no. 37 of 27 November 1981

  • trade union delegations — no. 5 of 24 May 1971 (and subsequent amendments)

  • European Works Councils — no. 62 of 6 February 1996 (and subsequent amendments) and no. 101 of 21 December 2010

  • reasons for dismissal — no. 109 of 12 February 2014

  • collective dismissals — no. 10 of 8 May 1973 (and subsequent amendments) and no. 24 of 2 October 1975 (and subsequent amendments)

  • transfers of undertakings — no. 32 of 28 February 1978 (and subsequent amendments).

Collective agreements negotiated at industry level, which are often given legal force by the Government, play an important role in setting pay and conditions for the great majority of employees. Where an employer is also covered by a company-level collective agreement, its provisions must be at least as favourable for the employee as the provisions of the industry-level agreement. Similarly, the terms of employees’ employment contracts must be at least as favourable as the provisions of any applicable collective agreement. Another important source of law is the “work regulations” that all employers are required to have in place.

This topic refers to employment law in the private sector only.

Temporary COVID-19 Crisis Measures (as at 29 May 2020)

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the national Government has taken a number of temporary measures affecting employment law. The main instrument to prevent crisis-related job losses has been extended use of an existing state-subsidised short-time working and temporary lay-off scheme, while employees prevented from working for reasons such as quarantine have been entitled to receive public benefits. The Government has relaxed, for specified “crucial” industries and essential services, normal rules on overtime (see Normal and Additional Hours) and the use of successive fixed-term contracts (see Fixed-term Contracts). Over May–June 2020, many employees with children were able to take special “corona” parental leave, with enhanced public benefits (see Parental Leave). Employers are required to observe special COVID-19 health and safety rules for the duration of the crisis.

Employment Law in Belgium: Quick Facts
  • Employers must comply with various procedural rules during recruitment and selection, and observe the legal prohibition of discrimination on numerous grounds. Recruitment and Selection

  • A probationary period is not generally permitted at the start of an employment relationship. Recruitment and Selection

  • Employers are required to provide new recruits with an induction programme. Recruitment and Selection

  • Employers and employees bound by employment contracts have a number of statutory duties. Employment Contracts

  • No particular circumstances are required to justify the use of fixed-term contracts and, in general, there is no limit on the fixed term that can be agreed. Employment Contracts

  • Wages must generally be paid in euros by cheque or bank transfer, either at least twice a month (blue-collar employees) or monthly (white-collar employees). Employers must provide detailed payslips and observe rules on deductions from pay. There is a national minimum wage. Pay and Benefits

  • In principle, an adult employee’s working time should not exceed eight hours per day and 38 hours per week, but there is a range of derogations from these limits. There are also various long-term working time flexibility schemes that allow employees to work longer daily or weekly hours. Working Time, Rest and Holidays

  • Employees must have minimum rest breaks and daily and weekly rest periods (usually Sundays), and are entitled to four weeks’ paid annual leave. Working Time, Rest and Holidays

  • Working parents are entitled to maternity, paternity and parental leave. Employees can also benefit from other types of leave and time off to provide care and deal with family and personal matters. In addition, certain employees have a right to take long periods of full-time or part-time unpaid leave under a “time-credit” scheme. Parenthood and Work-life Balance

  • The duration and amount of sick pay depend on whether an employee is categorised as blue-collar or white-collar. Parenthood and Work-life Balance

  • Discrimination in relation to employment is prohibited on numerous grounds including sex, nationality, presumed race, national or ethnic origin, age, sexual orientation, marital status, religious, philosophical or political convictions, present or future state of health, disability and physical or genetic characteristics. Women and men must receive equal pay for the same work or work of equal value. Equality and Discrimination

  • Employers are required to prevent “psychosocial risks” — including harassment, sexual harassment, violence at work and “psychological harassment” — and protect employees from them. Equality and Discrimination

  • Most employees have their pay and conditions set by collective agreements. Employees have a right to join trade unions, and representative unions are entitled to negotiate collective agreements and set up union delegations at company level. Industrial Relations and Collective Rights

  • A joint employer-employee company council, with various information, consultation and decision-making rights, must be set up in all companies with at least 100 employees. Industrial Relations and Collective Rights

  • Employers have numerous detailed obligations in the field of health, safety and wellbeing at work. Occupational Health and Safety

  • In companies with 50 or more employees, a prevention and protection at work committee represents the workforce in health and safety matters. Occupational Health and Safety

  • An employer can in principle dismiss an employee at any time by giving the required notice (or making a payment in lieu). However, a dismissal must not be discriminatory and employees may be able to claim compensation if their dismissal was “manifestly unreasonable” or an “abuse of rights”. Employers can also dismiss employees without notice for a “serious reason”. Particular rules apply to collective dismissals. Termination of Employment

  • Statutory notice periods apply to termination by the employer or employee. Termination of Employment

  • When there is a business transfer, employees’ employment contracts are automatically transferred to the new employer. Other Key Issues

  • Employers are required to have in place “work regulations” laying down the general employment conditions applicable to employees. Other Key Issues