international employment law firm alliance L&E Global

Belgium: Upcoming Changes in Employment Law

On Tuesday 12 October, the Belgian federal government presented its budget for 2022. The negotiations between the governing parties resulted in a list of measures regarding employment law, which will have to be laid down in the legislation during the coming months. We give a concise overview below.

  1. Employees will no longer need a medical certificate for an absence due to sickness of 1 day

Currently there is no legislation that obliges employees to submit a medical certificate from their physician when they are ill. However, employers can request this when such rule is included in the internal work rules or in a collective bargaining agreement. In practice, this is often the case. The government has decided that employers will no longer be allowed to request a medical certificate:

  • If the company has more than 50 employees (SME’s are exempted)
  • For an absence of 1 day: if the absence will last longer a certificate can still be requested.
  • For a maximum of 3 absences per year.
  1. More incentives for the re-integration of long-term ill employees

Long-term ill employees will have to complete a question list after 10 weeks of absence from their work. The question list will be used to indicate what is possible for the reintegration of the employee. If the employee refuses to complete the question list or refuses to cooperate, he will lose 2,5% of his allowance.

At the same time, employer with a high rate of incapacitated employees will be forced to pay a special contribution of 2,5% of the global gross wage costs during a quarter. However, it is not very likely that many employers will be sanctioned, as a company will only be sanctioned when it has three times more long-term ill employees than the average in their sector. The sanction will also not be applicable for SME’s. In addition, it is unclear how to count the average rate if a company belongs to different sectors.

Next, there will also be incentives for physicians, health funds and employment services.

  1. Changes to working time: 4-day work week and night work for e-commerce

The government proposes to make a 4-day work week with 38 hours possible. Currently a 5-day week with 38 hours is the standard for a full-time work schedule. Such a 4-day work week with a full-time schedule would mean that the employee would work 9,5 hours per day, while currently 9 hours is the normal maximum, and this might also entail that these employees will have to work late hours. Before creating legislation, the government is asking the advice of the social partners in the National Labour Council. Therefore, it is not yet certain whether this system will become a reality.

Next, the government wants to make Belgium more attractive for e-commerce, as our strict working time rules, especially regarding night-time, make it that most e-commerce companies prefer the Netherlands above Belgium. Therefore, it would become easier to use night work (work after 20h) until midnight (without additional remuneration) for the e-commerce sector. In addition, a pilot project will be launched, whereby employees can voluntarily go to work in an e-commerce company at night. However, first the social partners still have to give their opinion on the proposal. In case they do not reach an agreement, the government might not introduce this system after all.

  1. Other measures 
  • The special social security contribution which was introduced in 1994 will be gradually abolished. This will increase the net wage of employees with 50 to 150 euros per month. This would also lower the wage costs of employers.
  • The exemption for social contributions for a first hire will be limited to 4000 euro per quarter (16,000 euro per year). Until now there were no limitations, which e.g. led to a situation in which an employers were not paying any social contributions for an employee with a remuneration of 3 million euros.
  • A person who has been unemployed for a long time, will be able to keep a quarter of his unemployment benefits for three months, if he starts work in a bottleneck job.
  • A revision of the fiscal benefits for expats.

Key Action Points for Human Resources and In-house Counsel 

  • Adapt your internal work rules concerning the new rules for medical certificates.
  • Revisit your wage strategy, taking into account the abolition of the special social security contribution and the limitation of the exemption of social security contributions for first hires.
  • See whether a full-time 4-day work week would be an option for your company.