international employment law firm alliance L&E Global

Belgium: 13 weeks confirmed as the maximum notice period for leaving employees

A new Act of 20 March 2023 brings amendments to the Act on the introduction of the unified statute between blue-collar and white-collar workers, also known as the “Unified Status Act.” The purpose of this Act is twofold: firstly, to resolve the ongoing dispute regarding the maximum notice period for termination by employees, and secondly, to eliminate the distinction in notice periods based on salary for white-collar workers, which was in violation of the constitutional principle of equality.

Since January 1, 2014, the notice period for employees whose employment contracts commenced before that date has been determined in accordance with articles 67 to 69 of the Unified Status Act. These articles stipulate that two periods must be combined: one related to seniority acquired before January 1, 2014, and the other related to seniority acquired thereafter.

In cases where an employee resigns, proportional notice periods based on the employee’s seniority were introduced. The maximum notice period is set at 13 weeks for employees with 8 years of seniority, as stated in Article 37/2 §2 of the Employment Agreements Act. However, there has been considerable debate regarding whether the notice period could exceed this duration. The new rules put an end to this ambiguity by establishing that the notice period for employee resignations can never exceed 13 weeks.

Additionally, the new act abolishes sections 3 and 4 of Article 68 of the Employment Agreements Act, which applied to the termination of employment agreements for higher-earning white-collar workers already employed on January 1, 2014. These sections provided specific transitional arrangements for two categories of higher-earning white-collar workers. For white-collar employees with an annual salary exceeding €32,254 as of December 31, 2013, the maximum notice period in case of dismissal was set at 4.5 months. For white-collar employees with an annual salary exceeding €64,508 as of December 31, 2013, the maximum notice period was set at 6 months.

The abolition of these provisions reinstates the old rules outlined in Article 82, §3 and §5 of the Employment Agreements Act. However, it is highly unlikely that the Parliament was aware of the legal consequences of this abolition, as it would seems very strange that the legislator would like to return to the old rules. Therefore, we believe that this abolition was an error which might be restored soon.

In any case, here you fight a fast recap of the old rules. Under Article 82, §3, the notice period for higher-earning white-collar employees whose annual salary exceeded €32,254 (in 2013) could be determined in two ways: either through mutual agreement between the parties at the time notice was given or by a court decision, with no time limit shorter than the legal minimum. For the highest-earning white-collar workers, whose annual salary exceeded €64,508 (in 2013), Article 82, §5 provided the option to determine notice periods in the employment contract, with a minimum duration of 3 months for each period of 5 years of seniority, which was the same as the minimum period for lower-earning white-collar workers.

These new rules will come into effect on October 28, 2023, and will only apply to notices served after that date. As said, we expect that the abolition of art. 68, 3 and 4 of the Employment Agreements Act will be amended by this time.

Take aways

  • A notice period given by an employee can never exceed 13 weeks (the law has now been adapted to confirm to the existing case law).
  • There is uncertainty regarding the possibilities for notice periods given by the employer to higher-earning white-collar employees, but it is likely that this will be cleared out before the Act enters into force (28 October 2023).

Source: Act of  20 March 2023 to amend the Act of 26 December 2013 regarding the introduction of a unified status between blue collar and white collar workers regarding the notice periods and the carenz day and regarding the amendment of the legal maximum duration of the notice periods in case of a notice given by employees, published on 28 April 2023.