Employment 2023

Last Updated August 08, 2023


Law and Practice


Van Olmen & Wynant is a double niche firm with an employment and corporate branch. Since 1993, it has been active in all fields of Belgian and European employment law under the direction of managing partner Chris Van Olmen. Van Olmen & Wynant is also a founding member of the international alliance of employment law boutique firms L&E Global. The employment team consists of 17 lawyers, of which three are partners. A sub-division of the team is specialised in public sector employment law. The team handles advisory matters as well as litigation, and assists Belgian and international clients.

The Belgian Employment Contracts Act makes a distinction between blue-collar and white-collar workers. The distinction is mainly relevant for the regulations on dismissal and work incapacity, as well as for collective labour law. Blue- and white-collar workers working in the same sector often fall under different joint committees (where the collective bargaining takes place) and thus under different collective bargaining agreements. They are also usually represented separately on the Works Council and the Committee for Prevention and Protection at Work. Furthermore, there are differences in the calculation of holiday pay and the systems of temporary unemployment between blue- and white-collar workers.

However, the Unified Status Act of 2014 eliminated certain differences between blue- and white-collar workers. Most importantly, it unified the notice periods in case of dismissal for both categories. Since the Belgian constitutional court declared the distinction discriminatory, the legislator still has some work to do in unifying the two statuses.

Other employee statuses that exist in Belgian law are sales representatives, domestic servants and student workers.

Indefinite Employment Contract

In the case of an indefinite employment contract, the duration of the contract is undetermined. This is the most common form of employment contract and is considered the “standard” form of employment by the legislator. This contract does not need to be in writing and requires no other formalities. The mere agreement between employer and employee suffices.

Definite Employment Contract

In the case of a definite employment contract, the duration or the end date of the contract is predetermined, or it is concluded for clearly defined work. The end date may be determined in the form of a fixed event in the future. In contrast to an indefinite employment contract, a written agreement is required for a definite employment contract. This written agreement must be signed, at the latest, by the time the employee starts working for the employer.

Substitution Contract

The substitution contract is a particular kind of employment contract which is concluded to replace an employee whose employment contract is temporarily suspended. The substitution contract ends when the employee who is being replaced returns to work. This employment contract requires a written agreement which includes the reason for the substitution, the identity of the replaced employee and the conditions of employment of the replacement employee, such as whether there will be a notice period at the end of the contract.

Temporary Agency Work Contract

A temporary agency work contract is a contract between an employee and a temporary employment agency. The employee is assigned by the agency to work on a temporary basis for another company. Temporary agency work is subject to several conditions, such as the special recognition required for agencies and the strict definition of cases in which temporary work is allowed (eg, replacement of an employee, performance of exceptional work).

Sales Representative Contract

An employment contract for sales representatives is a contract whereby an employee undertakes to seek out and visit clients for the purpose of negotiating and concluding business deals. Specific rules regarding termination of the employment contract are applicable to sales representatives, as they are entitled to compensation for bringing in clientele. There are also specific rules for a non-compete clause. Most regulations on working time are not applicable.

Other Forms of Contracts

Other forms of employment contracts include student contracts, contracts for domestic servants and contracts for teleworkers.

Full-Time Employment

In full-time employment, the maximum working time differs per sector, although the general legal weekly working time is set at 38 hours. A general exception is allowed for a 40-hour week, but this needs to be compensated by 12 additional compensation rest days (or for a 39-hour week, six compensation days).

Part-Time Employment

In part-time employment, the maximum working time is the same as in full-time employment, but the minimum is a third of the working time of full-time employment. The duration of each work period is a minimum of three hours, with certain exceptions, such as in the case of resumption of work. Part-time employment requires a written agreement, which must mention the part-time work arrangement agreed upon, and the work schedule.

Overtime Work

When an employee performs overtime work, the employer is legally required to grant compensatory rest to the employee. The employee receives their regular wage for the compensatory rest. On top of the paid compensatory rest, the employee receives overtime pay which is legally set at a minimum of 150% of the normal wage for Mondays to Saturdays, and at 200% for Sundays and holidays. However, many sectors provide higher overtime pay supplements. The Labour Act of 1971 also provides some exceptions, for example, in the case of overtime due to an emergency. It is also possible to conclude a six-month agreement with the employee during which they can provide voluntary overtime work (in principle limited to 120 hours per year, but to boost the economy, it is possible to perform an additional 120 hours per year until 2025). With a sector agreement, the voluntary overtime hours can reach up to 360 hours per year. These voluntary overtime hours have specific rules regarding overtime pay and they do not have to be compensated by rest.

Minimum Wage

In Belgium, minimum wages are agreed upon by the social partners. Collective bargaining agreements No 43 and No 50 foresee a national guaranteed monthly minimum income (including all benefits). However, in most sectors, collective bargaining agreements are concluded with higher minimum wages (not including the additional benefits). Employers and employees are always free to negotiate a higher salary than the applicable minimum wage.

13th Month

Many sectoral and company collective bargaining agreements provide for a 13th month to be paid at the end of the year. This can also be negotiated in the individual employment contract. The amount will often be equal to the average monthly salary of the previous year.


Many employees receive variable pay on top of their fixed monthly/annual salary, in the form of bonuses. There are different forms of bonuses, which are often dependent on the performance of the company, a group of employees or the individual employee (targets). It is important to carefully draft a bonus clause or bonus plan, for example, if the employer wants to retain discretionary power to grant a bonus each year or to modify the plan in the future, to regulate pro rata payments or to define a condition that the employee still needs to be in service at the end of the bonus year or at the time of the payment.

Indexation and “Wage Norm”

In Belgium, indexation of wages to maintain the purchasing power of employees is legally required. However, the specific method, such as the frequency, the wages which are being indexed and the index that is applied, depends on what is agreed between the social partners in each sector. For example, in the largest Joint Committee (No 200, which is the residuary committee for white-collar workers), indexation takes place once a year on 1 January. In other sectors, it can be multiple times per year or even every two months, or the indexation will depend on surpassing inflation of a certain fixed index. On the other hand, the social partners impose a so-called “wage-norm” at the national level, which determines how much the labour cost is allowed to increase within the coming two years. This norm aims at maintaining the competitiveness of the Belgian economy by keeping wages in line with those of neighbouring economies. The current wage norm (2023–2024) is 0%, meaning that the average wage within a company is not allowed to increase, except due to indexation and a rise in pay scales.

Paid Vacation

All employees are legally entitled to 20 days (ie, four weeks) of paid vacation per year, for full-time employment (in a normal five-day work week). Vacation pay consists of single and double vacation pay, single vacation pay being equal to the normal salary the employee would earn if they worked during the vacation, and double vacation pay being a supplement to allow employees to go on holiday. For white-collar workers this supplement is 92% of the normal wage. White-collar workers receive their vacation pay directly from their employer, while blue-collar workers are paid by the social security system.

On top of the legal vacation days, many companies grant additional vacation days (there is only single vacation pay for these days).

Other Paid Leaves

The Belgian social security system has many types of paid leave, which are often largely covered by social security, with the employer only having to pay for a limited period of time and/or only a limited amount of the benefit. Examples include parental leave, palliative leave, care leave, educational leave and political leave.

Confidentiality and Non-disparagement

The Employment Contracts Act imposes upon employees an obligation of confidentiality, both during and after the performance of the employment contract, which is applicable even if it is not expressly stipulated in the employment act. A breach of this obligation can justify a dismissal for urgent cause, as well as damages to be paid to the employer. The obligation of confidentiality applies to information that is considered business secrets. It is recommended that the employer specifies in a confidentiality clause in the employment contract which information is considered confidential.

There is no specific obligation of non-disparagement imposed upon employees by the Employment Contracts Act, but employees are generally expected to behave in a loyal manner towards their employer (and vice versa). Additionally, employers can include a non-disparagement clause in the employment agreements with their employees.

Non-compete clauses are subject to strict conditions of validity. Applicable from 1 January 2023, they can only be validly agreed to by employees with a gross annual salary of more than EUR39,353 at the time of ending the employment contract. For gross annual salaries between EUR39,353 and EUR78,706, a non-compete clause is only valid for functions agreed to in a sector collective bargaining agreement. For gross annual salaries over EUR78,706, the clause is always valid, except for functions that have been excluded by collective bargaining agreement.

A non-compete clause must be put into a written agreement. Its application must be limited to 12 months after the end of the employment agreement, and limited to a geographical area in which the employee could compete with the employer (limited to the territory of Belgium). It must be applicable to similar activities, and finally, it must foresee a single and fixed compensation to be paid by the employer if they do not waive the application of the clause within 15 days after the end of the employment agreement. This compensation must be at least half the gross salary of the employee, corresponding to the period of application of the clause. For example, where the clause applies for 12 months, the employer will need to pay compensation of at least six months’ salary to the (ex-)employee.

In case of breach of a non-compete clause by an (ex-)employee, the (ex-)employee will have to repay the single and fixed compensation to the employer, as well as pay the same amount in damages.

Non-solicitation clauses are clauses which prohibit employees and customers from taking certain actions aimed at removing customers or employees from the employer. These clauses are not regulated by the Employment Contracts Act, but they are considered valid when inserted into an employment agreement. However, they cannot be abusive, which means that they must be proportionate to the legitimate aim of protecting the employer’s interests and they must be limited in time. A possible fixed fine in case of breach by the employee should remain proportionate.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) of the EU is the most important data privacy law, which is also applicable to the employment sphere. This Regulation is supplemented by the Belgian Data Protection Act.

The GDPR contains multiple principles and obligations that are applicable to employers when processing data regarding employees:

  • the processing of personal data must be lawful, fair and transparent;
  • the processing of personal data must be limited to certain specified and legitimate purposes, and the data that is collected should be limited to what is necessary to achieve this purpose;
  • employers must ensure that personal data is accurate;
  • the data must not be kept in a form which permits identification of subjects for longer than is necessary;
  • the (ex-)employees (data subjects) have a right to request access to all their personal data processed by the employer; and
  • there must be appropriate technical and organisational measures in place to protect personal data against unauthorised access, accidental loss or destruction.

In the event of a data breach, employers must notify the Belgian Data Protection Authority within 72 hours.

Most personal data of employees will be lawfully processed for the purpose of execution of the employment agreement (eg, processing of a bank account number for the payment of a wage) or to comply with legal obligations (eg, mandatory notification to the social security authorities). Most HR data can be stored for five years (or for as long as the employment contract remains valid).

Other important instruments for data protection are the fundamental right to privacy (Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights), collective bargaining agreement No 81 regarding the protection of the personal privacy of employees in relation to camera surveillance at the workplace (containing the procedure employers need to follow before they can install cameras in the workplace), and No 68 regarding the protection of employees’ privacy in relation to the monitoring of electronic online communication data (containing the procedure for monitoring emails and the use of the internet by employees).

EU workers have the right to stay and work in Belgium. In case of posting, the rules of the EU Posting Directive will apply. In general, mandatory Belgian labour provisions (except for the dismissal rules) will apply to posted workers.

Non-EU workers will need to request a single permit for the right to stay and the right to work in Belgium. The right to stay is a federal competence while the right to work is regulated by the regions (Brussels, Flanders and Wallonia). The single permit needs to be requested by an employer. In principle, the competent region will carry out a test to see whether it is possible to fill the position with a person who is already on the Belgian market. This is a very severe test. However, there are multiple exemptions, for example, for highly skilled workers, managers and researchers. The main exemption is the one for highly skilled workers, which requires a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and a certain annual gross salary. For managers, the annual gross salary needs to be higher. The figures are indexed every year and depend on the competent region. For the right to stay, the employee will need to prove a clean criminal record and the absence of any diseases which might threaten the Belgian population. Obtaining a single permit can take some months (up to half a year) depending on the workload of the administrations involved.

Posted workers need to be notified to the Limosa-system. For foreign workers who wish to work for a longer period for an employer in Belgium (not posting), a simple Dimona-notification to the social security services suffices. As mentioned in 4.1 Limitations on Foreign Workers, non-EU workers can only start their work in Belgium after they have obtained the single permit.

Mobile work is usually performed in the form of telework, meaning that the work is not executed from a physical workplace provided by the employer, but from the home or another location chosen by the employee. There are two forms of telework: structural telework, regulated by collective bargaining agreement No 85, and occasional telework regulated by the Act of 5 March 2017.

Structural Telework

Structural telework is by far the most common. It requires the signing of a written annex to the employment contract (or a specific written contract) that lays down the specific arrangements between the employer and employee, for example, regarding:

  • the places where the employee is allowed to work;
  • the moments/time during which the employee needs to be reachable;
  • the tools the employee requires;
  • the days on which the employee is allowed to telework (if not permanently);
  • the reimbursement of costs due to telework;
  • the procedure and rules when the teleworker can return to the office (or can be requested to return); and
  • the notice period to end the telework.

Often this agreement also includes privacy and confidentiality obligations to protect the data of the company when the employee is performing work in public places. The policy regarding health and safety at work is also applicable to the teleworker.

There are different schemes that allow employees to take a longer period of time off work, such as the system of time-credit, parental leave, palliative leave, care leave and educational leave. These leaves are linked to a specific situation or motive.


In the system of time-credit, there are six different situations in which the employee can take leave (care for children under eight years old, palliative care, care for an ill family member, care for a disabled child under 21 years old, assistance or care for an ill child, attending education). The employee can take 51 months’ leave in the system of time-credit, with the exception of 36 months for the situation of attending education. The employee can take full-time leave, half-time leave or one fifth leave. The employee will receive benefits for the leave from the social security system.

Parental Leave

Parental leave allows both parents to take four months’ full time, eight months’ part time, 20 months’ one fifth leave, or 40 months’ one tenth leave. The leave must start before the child reaches the age of 12, or 21 if the child has a physical or mental disability. The employee will receive benefits for the leave from the social security system. This leave is to be distinguished from maternity leave and paternity leave.

Palliative Leave

Palliative care leave allows employees to take one month of leave, either full time, half time or one fifth. This period of one month can be extended twice by one month. The employee will receive benefits for the leave from the social security system.

Care Leave

An employee who wishes to take care leave requires recognition as a “carer”. An employee has the right to six months’ full-time, or 12 months’ half-time or one fifth care leave during their career. The employee will receive benefits for the leave from the social security system.

Educational Leave

Educational leave allows employees to take 125 hours of leave per school year to further their education. The employee will continue to receive their normal salary from the employer.

Other Leave

An employer and an employee may also agree that the employee takes unpaid leave for a certain amount of time, outside any of these categories. However, this is not a right, and the employee requires the consent of the employer.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a trend of cross-border telework. This can have a significant impact on the applicable labour law, social security law and taxes. Regarding social security, Belgium has ratified a new EU cross-border remote work agreement, but for other aspects there remains a legal vacuum.

Unions are very important in the Belgian social system, as they fulfil many different roles at different levels:

  • representation of employees in companies (the Works Council, Committee for Prevention and Protection at Work, and the union delegation), at sector level (Joint Committees) and at the level of the National Labour Council (Belgium is the only European country with centralised collective bargaining);
  • negotiating and concluding collective labour agreements;
  • defending workers’ interests by organising collective actions or before the courts; and
  • payment of unemployment and certain other benefits.

Unions must be representative in order to take on most of these roles, which entails that they must fulfil certain conditions established by law, such as a minimum number of members. There are three representative unions in Belgium, namely the Christian trade union (ACV or CSC), the liberal trade union (ACLVB or CGSLB) and the socialist trade union (ABVV or FGTB). Almost 50% of the Belgian working population are members of a trade union. The collective bargaining coverage is around 96%.

Within companies, there are several bodies in which social consultation between employer and employees takes place.

The Works Council is mandatory in companies with over 100 employees. It focuses on the economic-financial and labour-organisational aspects of the company. In transnational companies, a European Works Council can facilitate information and consultation of employees regarding transnational issues. In the absence of a Works Council, the Committee for Prevention and Protection at Work takes on these tasks.

The Committee for Prevention and Protection at Work (CPPW) is instituted in companies with over 50 employees. The committee focuses mostly on well-being and safety within the company.

The composition of the Works Council and the CPPW is determined by four-yearly social elections. The elected employee representatives and the candidates for the elections enjoy special protection against dismissal.

The trade union delegation within companies is established in accordance with sector provisions. This body is competent to negotiate and conclude collective bargaining agreements and to assist employees in the event of complaints. In the absence of both a Works Council and a CPPW, the trade union delegation fulfils their tasks. Trade union delegates are also protected against dismissals linked to their trade union function.

Collective bargaining agreements are concluded between one or more employee organisations (trade unions) and one or more employers or employer organisations. They can be concluded at different levels: at national level (National Labour Council), at sector level or at company level. They are very important sources of rights and obligations for both employers and employees, and they are binding upon their signatories.

National and sectoral collective bargaining agreements can be declared universally binding, which makes them not only binding upon their signatories, but upon all employers and employees that fall under the scope of the agreement. Only representative trade unions can conclude collective bargaining agreements with such an effect.

Motivation of the dismissal by the employer is not required to legally terminate an employment contract. However, in the application of collective bargaining agreement No 109, employees can request by registered letter that the employer communicates the reasons for the termination. This collective bargaining agreement is only applicable to employees with at least six months’ service.

The request must be made within two months after the termination. If a notice period must be performed by the employee, the request can be made within six months of the notice, but no later than two months after the end of the employment contract. The employer must comply with the request within two months. The employer must communicate all the elements that will allow the employee to know the concrete reasons that led to their dismissal. In case of non-compliance with the request by the employer, the employer will have to pay a fixed civil penalty of two weeks’ salary. See 8.1 Wrongful Dismissal for the procedure if the employee believes that the motivation for the dismissal is manifestly unreasonable.

In case of dismissal for urgent cause, the employer is obliged to communicate the urgent cause for the dismissal of their own motion within three working days after the dismissal.

Collective Redundancies

Collective redundancies are regulated by the EU Directive on collective redundancies of 1998, the “Renault” Act of 13 February 1998, and several royal decrees and national collective bargaining agreements. These instruments lay out the procedure to be followed by employers contemplating a collective dismissal. This procedure includes consultation of the employees, through either the Works Council, the trade union representatives, the Committee for Prevention and Protection at Work, or by consulting the employees directly. Only after the termination of the information and consultation procedure, can the employer initiate the collective dismissals. Often the consultation of the worker representatives will lead to the negotiation of a social plan which can include additional dismissal compensation, outplacement, early-retirement schemes, etc.

Notice periods are defined by the Employment Contracts Act and are mandatory. They differ depending on whether the employer or the employee is terminating the contract, and they become longer as the seniority of the employee increases. Compared to other countries, Belgium has rather long notice periods which continue to increase (if notice is given by the employer). Therefore, employees with very long careers can end up with notice periods of two to three years). However, when notice is given by the employee, the notice period is limited to a maximum of 13 weeks. The notice period starts on the Monday following the week in which notice was given (if notice is handed in by Wednesday at the latest).

Before the Unified Status Act of 2014, separate notice periods were applicable to white-collar and blue-collar workers. If an employment contract which started before 2014 is terminated, these notice periods continue to apply for the portion of employment before 1 January 2014. In this case, therefore, the first part of the notice period (based on the seniority until 2014) will be calculated according to the old rules, and the second part (based on the seniority as from 2014) will be based on the unified rules.

Notice by the employer must be given by registered letter or by bailiff. Notice by the employee can be given by delivery to the employer of written notice, by registered letter or by bailiff. The notice must in any case mention the start and duration of the notice period. In case of notice by registered letter, the notice period will take effect on the third working day after the date on which the letter was sent.

If the contract is terminated without observing the notice period, the party terminating the contract must pay severance in lieu of notice, equal to the duration of the notice period.

In case of a dismissal for serious cause, no notice period or severance pay applies.

Both the employer and the employee can terminate the employment agreement without notice period and without severance pay for serious cause. A specific procedure applies in this case. Serious cause is understood as the serious deficiency that makes any professional co-operation between the employer and the employee immediately and permanently impossible. This requirement is interpreted very strictly by the courts.

The party terminating for serious cause must do so within three working days of having sufficient knowledge of the serious cause. “Sufficient” indicates that it is still possible to conduct an investigation in case it is, for example, insufficiently clear who is responsible for the serious cause. Moreover, the party must communicate the serious cause justifying the dismissal within three working days after the termination. The other party can be notified by registered letter or by bailiff.

If these formalities are not respected, or if the serious cause is not accepted by the court, the party terminating for serious cause will have to pay compensation equal to the severance pay due in the case of a normal dismissal (with an indemnity in lieu of notice).

Employment contracts can be terminated by mutual agreement. It is also possible to conclude an agreement after a unilateral dismissal to settle the modalities of the dismissal. There is no specific statutory basis for termination agreements between employers and employees – they have full contractual freedom within the limits of regular employment and contract law. An employee may agree to a settlement only after the end of the employment contract, because only after this moment can the employee freely dispose of their rights and obligations.

Certain categories of employees are specifically protected against dismissal because of their function within the company, or because of their specific situation.

Pregnant and Breastfeeding Employees

Employees that are pregnant are protected against dismissal from the date of the notification of their pregnancy, until one month after the end of the maternity leave. They can only be dismissed for reasons that are unrelated to the pregnancy. In case of breach of protection, the employer will have to pay a fixed fee of six months’ salary, on top of the severance pay due. The same protection applies to breastfeeding employees. Similar protections apply to employees in a time-credit system or employees who are on specific leave.

Employee Representatives in the Works Council and the Committee for Prevention and Protection at Work

Employee representatives in the Works Council and the Committee for Prevention and Protection at Work can only be dismissed for an urgent cause which has been accepted in advance by the court, or for an economic or technical reason which has been accepted in advance by the joint committee. In case of breach of this condition, the employee will be entitled to reintegration or to a fixed fee. The employee has the choice to ask for reintegration. If the employee does, and the employer does not accept the request for reintegration, the employer will have to pay an indemnity equal to the salary for the remaining part of the employee’s mandate. If the employee does not request reintegration, the employer must pay an indemnity equal to two, three or four years’ salary depending on whether the employee has less than ten years’, between ten and 20 years’, or more than 20 years’ seniority, respectively. The protection also applies to candidate employee representatives.

Trade Union Representatives

Trade union representatives also enjoy protection against dismissal, which is regulated by collective bargaining agreement No 5. Sector collective bargaining agreements can determine further modalities of this protection. The protection generally entails that union representatives cannot be dismissed for reasons related to the exercise of their mandate. In case of breach by the employer of the conditions and procedures for the dismissal of union representatives, the employer will have to pay compensation of one year’s salary.

Prevention Advisers

A prevention adviser can only be dismissed for reasons that are unrelated to their independence or for reasons that show they are not competent to perform their tasks. The dismissal of a prevention adviser is subject to certain procedural conditions, such as consent of the Committee for Prevention and Protection at Work.

Employees with an indefinite employment contract can challenge their dismissal based on a claim for unreasonable dismissal. An unreasonable dismissal is a dismissal based on reasons that are unrelated to the suitability or conduct of the employee or that are not based on the operational needs of the company, and which would never have been decided by a normal and reasonable employer. If the court finds that this is the case, it may award compensation of minimum three weeks’ and maximum 17 weeks’ salary.

Belgian anti-discrimination law is heavily influenced by the EU, specifically:

  • Directive 2000/43/EC implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin; and
  • Directive 2000/78/EC establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation.

At the Belgian federal level, there are three acts specifically on discrimination, namely:

  • the Anti-discrimination Act;
  • the Racism and xenophobia Act; and
  • the Discrimination between men and women Act.

The purpose of the Anti-discrimination Act is to create a general framework for combating discrimination based on a limited number of grounds: age, sexual orientation, marital status, birth, assets, religion or ideology, political opinion, syndical conviction, language, health, disability, a physical or genetic trait or social origin. In a case of discrimination, the victim will be entitled to damages. At the choice of the employee, the amount of the damages can be either a fixed compensation of six months’ gross salary, or the actual damage suffered.

There are also three collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) that are particularly relevant for discrimination, namely:

  • CBA No 38 on the recruitment and selection of employees;
  • CBA No 25 on equal remuneration for male and female employees; and
  • CBA No 95 on equal treatment during all phases of the employment relationship.

Other laws that mention equal treatment are:

  • the Non-discrimination in favour of part-time workers Act; and
  • the Non-discrimination in favour of workers with definite employment contracts Act.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some courts made digital proceedings possible. However, this trend has not been followed by the labour courts, where physical proceedings are still very much the standard. However, it is possible to submit the parties’ conclusions digitally via a secure platform and to track the status of the case.

The Belgian court system has separate labour courts in the first instance and at the appellate level for labour-related litigation. In these courts, one professional judge and two lay judges decide on the case. One of these lay judges (so-called judges in social affairs) is a representative of the employers’ organisations and the other of the trade unions. Employees can be represented by an attorney in court, but also by a union representative.

In criminal social law cases, the competent court is the correctional (criminal court) which has a special chamber for social law-related cases (the judges in this chamber need to have specific social law training). In the court of appeal in these social criminal cases, one of the judges will be a judge attached to a labour court of appeal.

Class action claims are restricted to certain types of claims in Belgium, such as competition and consumer protection claims, not including claims based on labour laws, which is why class action claims are not possible for employment matters.

The parties to an employment contract cannot agree in advance to submit any dispute that may arise from the contract to arbitration, which means that pre-dispute arbitration agreements are not enforceable. There is one exception to this rule, namely for white-collar workers with an annual salary of over EUR78,706 who oversee the daily management of the company, or who have management responsibilities in a department or business unit of the company that can be compared to those of the whole company. Arbitration clauses are uncommon.

Employers and employees can always agree to submit a dispute which has already arisen (eg, after a dismissal) to an arbitrator.

The prevailing party, either the employer or the employee, can be awarded compensation for the costs of an attorney. This is a fixed fee depending on the amount of the claim. In most instances, the fixed fee will not cover the full costs of an attorney.

Van Olmen & Wynant

Avenue Louise 221
1050 Brussels

+32 264 405 11

+32 264 638 47

info@vow.be www.vow.be
Author Business Card

Trends and Developments


Loyens & Loeff CVBA offers a unique combination of legal and tax expertise in its employment, pensions and benefits practice, enabling the firm to provide its clients with innovative and effective solutions. With two partners, a counsel and nine associates, the growing team covers the full employees’ life cycle from hiring to firing and retirement. The lawyers act as business partners to their clients, making their lives easier and adding value both to their projects and operations by offering pragmatic solutions to complex national and/or cross-border legal and tax issues. The firm’s specialists are recognised for their out-of-the box approach, their innovative vision on change and transformation, and their empathic leadership in negotiating reorganisation plans, (alternative) remunerations and flexible rewards. The team’s service also covers transformation processes, restructuring, collective and high-profile dismissals, top management contracts and compensation, working-from-home policies, whistle-blowing policies, international mobility, pension plan design and pension litigation, etc.


In a new (post-COVID) world, while employees are seeking balance between working from home and in the office and inflation is leading to a substantial indexation of wages, many new employment-related regulations have come into effect in Belgium, touching on a wide variety of matters and protecting employees more than ever.

These new measures range from individual vocational training entitlements, the right to request a four-day work week, the right to claim more comfortable working conditions, new medical force majeure rules, and enhanced flexible working conditions for parents and carers, to the possibility to be absent three days per year without a medical certificate, incremental financial liabilities in the context of garden leave, and employee restructurings.

In this context, recent trends and developments in the market have focused in particular on two positive areas: labour cost reduction for companies; and enhanced protection for employees (with a corresponding administrative burden and legal risks for employers).

Labour Cost Reduction

Companies have been increasingly looking for ways to streamline (wage) costs. This discussion can be held at individual level but is now also being conducted at company level, through collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) and even redundancy plans. Due to the challenging economic situation and even during a war on specific talent, redundancy schemes and closures are being implemented. In addition, various legal systems have also been developed and made available to employers to reduce their wage costs or, at least, to increase employees’ take-home pay without affecting the company’s total (wage) costs. Outsourcing actions also appear to be more common, and could lead to long-term cost savings – for example, outsourcing IT or even outsourcing supermarket jobs leads to less strict work-and-salary conditions in the long run and is quite popular. Moreover, in retail, the flexi-job system could offer a flexible solution at a reduced cost for employers seeking sales advisers on Saturdays.

Flexible reward plan

Under a flexible reward plan (often called a “cafeteria plan”), employees have the possibility to exchange part of their “traditional salary” (percentage of gross monthly salary, bonus, end-of-year bonus, etc) for other benefits made available under the plan and determined by the company.

By exchanging part of their salary for a flexible reward (eg, for a bicycle, vacation, a mobile phone, car, tablet, extra hospital insurance cover, etc), the employee can make individual choices on how to spend their salary at favourable tax and social rates.

The company can for example, on the one hand, propose a salary reduction to employees and, on the other hand, provide them with a company bicycle. The employee will, in this case, receive slightly less salary each month but will have a bicycle at their disposal for regular commuting, which is exempt from social security contributions and payroll withholding tax. The employee then has the option of purchasing the bicycle at the end of the lease contract.

Although flexible reward plans are not new, they are being increasingly considered by companies to keep their wage costs under control. Such an approach can indeed make costs increase less rapidly, since the amounts in the flexible reward plan are not indexed.

Work bonus

In Belgium, employees pay 13.07% of their gross salary in social security contributions. Employees with lower wages are, however, entitled to a reduction of these employee contributions. This is the so-called “work bonus”.

The aim of this work bonus is to guarantee these workers a higher net wage without increasing their gross wage. In this way, the gap between the lowest wages and unemployment benefits is widened, combating unemployment traps.

The reduction in employee contributions depends on the wage bracket the employee is in. As from 1 July 2023, the reduction amount for the lowest wage bracket has been increased and an intermediate threshold has been added. The sum of all reductions per person per calendar year is however capped (EUR2,967.72, as from 1 December 2022).

Since the taxable wage increases with a lower deduction of employee contributions, the tax legislation provides for a tax reduction, called the tax work bonus. This tax reduction is equal to 33.14% of the work bonus enjoyed during the taxable period up to a maximum of EUR910 (assessment year 2023).

An increase in the gross wage of the workers concerned will, however, reduce the benefit of the work bonus. More concretely, workers will receive barely, if at all, higher net wages than before the gross wage increase, while employers will see their employer contributions rise. Paid overtime will also cause an increase in monthly salary, which may result in less or no reduction in employee contributions.

For this reason, employers and unions are looking, within the legal framework, for alternatives to a wage increase that does not negatively affect work bonus while continuing to safeguard workers’ purchasing power. These include, for example, the granting of non-recurring result-based benefits (CBA No 90) or meal vouchers. Relance overtime can also be advantageous in this regard.

Relance overtime

Overtime is strictly regulated in Belgium. It is prohibited, as a matter of principle, and where allowed, it strictly relates to specific circumstances (eg, extraordinary work increase, inventory work, urgent work on machinery or equipment, etc) and is subject to stringent conditions.

To improve flexibility, “voluntary overtime” was introduced a few years ago. This is the possibility of working a certain number of overtime hours on a voluntary basis, where this is, in principle, only authorised for specific reasons or circumstances. Furthermore, this voluntary overtime does not trigger a compensatory rest obligation; only a salary supplement must be paid.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government introduced a similar scheme authorising the provision of an additional 120 hours of overtime per year, benefiting from advantageous tax, social security and employment treatment. This is the so-called “relance overtime”.

Since 1 July 2023, it has once again been possible for employees to work 120 hours of relance overtime per year, in addition to the ordinary voluntary overtime quota. This favourable measure is applicable until 30 June 2025.

The draft Act reintroducing relance overtime was adopted on 20 July 2023.

The result of this system is a limited cost for the employer and an attractive net remuneration for employees, since:

  • these hours are exempted from social security contributions (for both the employer and employees) and tax;
  • no holiday pay needs to be paid on the remuneration linked to these hours;
  • these hours have no impact on the work bonus; and
  • these hours do not give rise to any recuperation or additional pay.

For example, if an employee earns a gross amount of EUR100, qualified as relance overtime, the employer’s cost will amount to EUR100 and the net remuneration for the employee will be EUR100.

In addition, any employer may decide to make use of relance overtime before the ordinary voluntary overtime quota has been used up.

Note that employees who have the status of “trusted person” or “managerial staff” cannot benefit from this favourable regime, as no extra hours can be paid to them.

Enhanced Employee Protection


On 20 July 2023, a new Act was published amending the three existing anti-discrimination Acts in Belgium and significantly expanding both their material scope and their sanctions.

Protected criteria

The legal framework against discrimination in Belgium is a closed system. Only the criteria explicitly set out in it (eg, gender, health status, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, etc) are protected. The new Act further broadens some of these criteria. The “social origin” criterion has, for example, been extended to include “social origin or condition” in order to take account, for example, of situations involving the homeless, job-seekers, illiterate people, people living in difficult socio-economic conditions or people with a criminal record. The last protection is rather strange as, based on GDPR interpretation, information on criminal records cannot be processed. This leads to uncertainty for employers as it is difficult to prove what cannot be proved.

Multiple discrimination

The updated legislation also introduces two new notions. The first is cumulative discrimination, defined as “the situation when a person is discriminated [against] on the basis of several protected criteria which are cumulated, but remain separable”. For example, the candidature of a 44-year-old man is refused because the employer assumed that he would not be able to work in a team composed only of women between 20 and 30 years old. The man was thus doubly discriminated against – on the basis of his age and on the basis of his gender. The second is intersectional discrimination, defined as “a difference of treatment on the basis of several protected criteria which interact and become inseparable”. For example, a woman who comes from a particular ethnic minority may face a different kind of discrimination from that faced by a man who comes from the same ethnic minority, or a different kind of sexism to that experienced by a white woman.

Before this Act, the Belgian legislator only recognised direct and indirect discrimination based on one criterion. With the new Act, direct and indirect discrimination can be based on a combination of different criteria. With this legislative amendment, the Belgian legislator therefore explicitly recognises for the first time the concept of “multiple discrimination”.

Discrimination by association

The concept of “discrimination by association” refers to a situation in which a person is discriminated against because they are closely associated with an individual representing a protected criterion. This could be the case, for example, of a father who is made redundant because one of his children has a disability and because his employer considers that the child’s disability is likely to undermine the father’s motivation and cause him to be absent from work. This concept was already largely accepted by case law, but is now explicitly legally implemented.

Assumed criterion

Another concept introduced in the anti-discrimination legal framework is that of “discrimination on the basis of an assumed criterion”. This refers to the situation where a person is discriminated against because they are perceived to have a protected characteristic that is in fact foreign to them. This is the case, for example, when it is assumed that a person has a particular sexual orientation because they are involved in an LGBTQI+ organisation, or when it is suspected that a person with a specific skin colour automatically has a particular religion and is discriminated against because of it. This extension codifies already existing case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union and of the European Court of Human Rights.


The new Act also broadens the sanctions that can be imposed by a court upon a finding of discrimination. In the field of employment relationships, a victim of discrimination can claim compensation for the actual prejudice (which requires submitting evidence confirming the precise amount of actual prejudice). Or they can claim a lump sum compensation of six months’ pay (which does not require any evidence of the prejudice).

For either cumulative or intersectional discrimination, the Labour Court can now combine the lump sum compensation for each of the protected criterion involved. If it is established that there was discrimination both on the basis of gender and ethnic origin, for example, the Labour Court could grant compensation of 12 months’ pay. The new legislation does not include any criteria indicating when the lump-sum compensations should be cumulated and when they should not. So it remains to be seen how the case law will evolve.


On 28 November 2022, the Act implementing the European whistle-blowers directive was published in the Belgian gazette. The Act came into force on 15 February 2023 for companies with more than 250 employees and all companies active in financial services, regardless of the number of employees. On 17 December 2023, the Act will come into force for companies employing between 50 and 249 employees.

Three channels to facilitate reporting have been established: an internal channel; an external channel (reporting to a federal ombudsman, including for former employees) and the press. Reporting through the press applies if the above channels are not successful and if there is an immediate threat to the public interest. The text also provides protection for whistle-blowers reporting tax fraud.

In addition to these channels, two bodies are also available to whistle-blowers: the Federal Ombudsman (responsible for checking the admissibility of the information and forwarding it to a competent authority) and the Federal Institute for the Protection of Human Rights (providing whistle-blowers with professional, legal and psychological support).

The Act also provides for protection against retaliation and the threat of retaliation for all individuals utilising the three reporting channels. Retaliation is broadly defined and includes suspension and dismissal, changing the terms of employment, demotion, withholding promotion, etc. As a safeguard against potentially malicious or frivolous reporting, the whistle-blower should however fulfil specific conditions to be eligible for the protection scheme, among which is, having reasonable grounds to believe that their complaint is true. The protection against retaliation is not limited in time, so that the employee could virtually invoke this protection any time. This may cause some legal uncertainty for companies. Of course, the more time that has elapsed between the reporting and an alleged act of retaliation, the more difficult it will be for the employee to demonstrate that there is indeed a causal link between the two.

An employee who has suffered retaliation is entitled to compensation ranging from 18 to 26 weeks’ salary. If the reporting relates to legislation on financial services, products and markets or the prevention of money laundering, the compensation may amount to six months’ salary or the real damages, and the employee will even have the right to ask for their reinstatement.

The law also provides for a reversal of the burden of proof, which means that the employer will have to prove that any disadvantage afforded to the whistle-blower was justified and not related to the report. 

There are also tough sanctions for non-compliance, including criminal sanctions for employers who could be liable for a prison term of between six months and three years. For legal entities (that cannot go to prison), such sentence would be converted into a fine of between EUR24,000 and EUR576,000 (not paid to the employees, for the avoidance of doubt). Non-compliance can take the form of impeding (or trying to impede) a report, the initiation of vexatious proceedings against a whistle-blower, retaliation or violation of confidentiality.

Transparent working conditions

The EU transparent and predictable working conditions directive was transposed into the Act of 7 October 2022 that came into force in Belgium at the end of 2022. National CBA No 161 was also concluded, covering the matter.

Along with several new criminal sanctions in the Social Criminal Code, this Act guarantees the right to (collective) information for employees on certain essential terms and conditions of employment as well as the creation of specific new rights. The aim is to improve working conditions and employee’s protection by promoting more transparent and predictable employment.

Information of an individual nature

Employers must provide their employees with information on a series of listed main aspects of their employment relationship (eg, workplace; function to perform; start and end date; salary, including the initial amount, other components, fringe benefits, payment method and frequency; etc). Additional requirements apply when the employee is working in another country for more than four consecutive weeks, as well as in case of posting.

Information of a collective nature

Additional elements must also be integrated into the company’s work regulations. These relate to:

  • the procedure and requirements applicable to the termination of the employment contract;
  • the collective agreements on working conditions concluded at company or sector level;
  • the competent social security institution; and
  • the right to training offered by the employer.

Minimum requirements in working conditions

These specific new rights include several additional restrictions on trial periods that still exist in temporary, agency and student employment contracts; the impossibility for the employer to prohibit their employee from working for other employers, unless a legal exception applies; the guarantee of a minimum degree of predictability regarding variable working hours for part-time workers; and the right of any worker with at least six months’ seniority to request a form of employment offering more predictable and secure working conditions and the obligation for the employer to give a reasoned written reply. This new Act also obliges employers, in specific cases, to offer training to their employees free of charge.

Dismissal protection

If an employee files a complaint against an employer for a violation of the rights discussed, the employer may not subject the employee to adverse treatment. The employer may, of course, take action based on reasons not related to the complaint (eg, poor performance, reorganisation, etc). Within 12 months of filing the complaint, the burden of proof rests on the employer. It is up to the employer to prove that the unfavourable measure was adopted for reasons unrelated to the complaint. A lump-sum compensation of six months’ gross pay is provided.

The legislator goes very far and, moreover, even links dismissal protection to the new rules. Indeed, an employer may not dismiss an employee “who makes use of these rights” without risk of paying compensation of six months’ gross pay, except for reasons not related to this complaint.

Right to disconnect

Since 1 April 2023, all companies employing 20 or more employees must draft a policy on the right to disconnect. To this end, the work regulations should be amended, or a collective bargaining agreement should be drawn up.

The policy on the right to disconnect should contain the following pillars:

  • an overview of the practical modalities for the application of the right to be unavailable outside working hours (= the general framework);
  • guidelines for using digital tools in such a way as to safeguard rest periods, holidays and to ensure no infringement in the private and family life of the employee (= the content of the policy); and
  • training and awareness campaigns for employees on the conscious use of digital tools and the risks associated with excessive connection (= how to reach the objective).

Service providers will not of course be entitled to a right to disconnect; the law explicitly refers to employees. Similarly, persons holding a management position, or in a position of trust are not subject to provisions on working time. Therefore, the right to disconnect can hardly be applied to this category.

Although the right-to-disconnect policy is meant to be obligatory for employers with more than 20 employees, the law does not prescribe a priori any explicit sanctions when an employer does not draft such a policy, or when they are not acting in compliance with the policy.

However, when the policy is part of a sectoral CBA, declared Joint Committee-wide, the employer is obliged to comply with the provisions and, in the absence of this, may face criminal sanctions based on the Social Criminal Code. If a CBA on company level is breached by the employer, this is enforceable through civil proceedings which seek compensation for the damage suffered, initiated by the representative employee organisation. Moreover, it could be argued that the rights of employees are, in principle, incorporated in the employment contract.

Does it change the world? Not really. It seems to be more of a compliance measure with limited (if any) added value in reality.

Loyens & Loeff CVBA

Tervurenlaan 2
1040 Brussels

+32 2 743 43 43

+32 2 743 43 10

info.brussels@loyensloeff.com www.loyensloeff.com
Author Business Card

Law and Practice


Van Olmen & Wynant is a double niche firm with an employment and corporate branch. Since 1993, it has been active in all fields of Belgian and European employment law under the direction of managing partner Chris Van Olmen. Van Olmen & Wynant is also a founding member of the international alliance of employment law boutique firms L&E Global. The employment team consists of 17 lawyers, of which three are partners. A sub-division of the team is specialised in public sector employment law. The team handles advisory matters as well as litigation, and assists Belgian and international clients.

Trends and Development


Loyens & Loeff CVBA offers a unique combination of legal and tax expertise in its employment, pensions and benefits practice, enabling the firm to provide its clients with innovative and effective solutions. With two partners, a counsel and nine associates, the growing team covers the full employees’ life cycle from hiring to firing and retirement. The lawyers act as business partners to their clients, making their lives easier and adding value both to their projects and operations by offering pragmatic solutions to complex national and/or cross-border legal and tax issues. The firm’s specialists are recognised for their out-of-the box approach, their innovative vision on change and transformation, and their empathic leadership in negotiating reorganisation plans, (alternative) remunerations and flexible rewards. The team’s service also covers transformation processes, restructuring, collective and high-profile dismissals, top management contracts and compensation, working-from-home policies, whistle-blowing policies, international mobility, pension plan design and pension litigation, etc.

Compare law and practice by selecting locations and topic(s)


Select Topic(s)

loading ...

Please select at least one chapter and one topic to use the compare functionality.