Belgium has fairly extensive protective labour laws, as enacted by Parliament. Moreover, collective bargaining between the so-called ‘social partners’, i.e. the employers’ organisations and the trade unions, plays a very important role in the shaping of the rules of labour law. Case law, in particular that of the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court, can have considerable influence on the application of labour and employment law in practice. In Belgium, specialised labour courts deal with disputes in relation to employment relationships. Enforcement of labour law provisions may also be initiated by other authorities, including the labour inspectorate or tax and social security authorities. The Social Inspectorate also provides information to employers and workers, gives advice, arbitrates and verifies whether labour law and the various collective labour agreements are complied with.
Employment law in Belgium is mainly based upon the following sources:
- International law and EU law, especially EU Regulations and Directives; the Constitution
- National Acts, in particular the Act of 3 July 1978 on employment contracts;
- Legislative Decrees of the Regions and Communities;
- Royal and Ministerial (executive) decrees;
- Collective bargaining agreements, i.e. agreements on national, sectorial or company level between one or more trade unions, on the one hand, and one or more employers’ organisations or one or more employers, on the other hand, on a wide range of collective labour issues;
- Employment contracts;
- Work rules (‘arbeidsreglement / règlement de travail’), i.e. a mandatory document including a set of rules that are proper to the employer and the employees of his/her undertaking;
In principle, case law precedents have no legally binding force. Yet, in practice, decisions of the highest courts, i.e. the Supreme Court (‘Hof van Cassatie / Cour de Cassation’) and the Constitutional Court, have strong persuasive authority, especially when confirmed repeatedly. Also, judgements of international courts like the Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights, can have an important impact.
The Federal Government ‘De Croo’ concluded its important ‘Labour Deal’ which resulted in the Act of 3 October 2022 (also called the Labour Deal Act). This deal includes several important novelties, like the 4-day and the alternating work week, the right to disconnect for employees in companies consisting of at least 20 employees, a 7-day notice period for flexible work schemes, a transition project to another job in case of dismissal, the improvement of the worker’s employability after dismissal, the implementation of training days for employees in companies with a minimum of 20 employees, better protection for platform workers in the sense that there is a presumption of an employment contract when a certain amount of criteria are met, the regulation of evening work in the e-commerce sector and the monitoring of diversity and discrimination on the labour market via a reporting obligation to involve joint committees in the fight against discrimination.
Further, the Transparent and Predictable Working Condition Directive (2019/1152) and the Work-Life Balance Directive (2019/1158) were transposed by different acts of 7 October 2022. Accordingly, the right to information regarding certain essential working conditions is guaranteed, employers can no longer demand exclusivity from their employees also minimum standards for paternity, parental and carer’s leave got implemented.
Additionally, the Act of 30 October 2022 introduces an exemption from the obligation to submit a medical certificate for the first day of incapacity for work up to three times in a calendar year.
Moreover, the Act of 28 November 2022 on the protection of reporters of breaches of Union or national law transposes the Whistleblowing Directive (2019/1937) in the private sector, but also offers greater protection for whistleblowers to encourage reporting of unlawful conduct regarding almost all breaches of social law.
On 24 January 2023, the social partners of the National Labour Council signed CBA No. 164 regarding the employer’s intervention in travel by bicycle between the home and the workplace. It ensures a general obligation for employers to provide compensation to employees who come to work by bicycle.
Next, an amending Act of 16 February 2023 extended the protection against adverse measures against employees in case of discrimination complaints or harassment at work related to discrimination. More persons who take actions on behalf of the victim (e.g., witnesses) are also protected with less strict conditions.
In addition, a Royal Decree published on 16 March 2023 and an Act of 17 July 2023 provide for change in terms of annual leave. These changes allow employees who become sick during their annual leave to take their holidays on a later date and allow persons who cannot take their vacation days during the vacation year due to certain suspension causes to transfer the days to the next two years.
Furthermore, pursuant to a Royal Decree of 23 April 2023, employers who performed well during the crisis can grant a one-off purchasing power premium (in the form of a consumption voucher) of up to EUR 750 per employee. The consumption voucher can be granted from 1 June 2023 to 31 December 2023 and is valid until 31 December 2024.
Finally, as of 1 July 2023, employers and employees in all sectors will be able to make “additional voluntary overtime.” This entails that employees can perform up to 120 voluntary overtime hours per calendar year, on top of the base quota of voluntary overtime. The salary, which does not include an overtime pay supplement, is fully exempt from social security contributions and withholding taxes. Also, within this context compensatory rest is not provided for.