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11. Employee Benefits

Social Security

Unless stated otherwise by an international agreement, employees working in Belgium for an employer established in Belgium, or an operational office in Belgium, will in principle be subject to the Belgian social security scheme for salaried persons. It is impossible to deviate from the Belgian social security scheme by special agreement, which would be null and void by law.

The Belgian social security system for employees covers:

  • old-age and survivor’s pensions;
  • unemployment benefits;
  • insurance for accidents at work;
  • insurance for occupational diseases;
  • family allowances;
  • sickness and disability benefits; and
  • annual vacation (only for blue-collar employees).

In the scheme for employees, both employees and employers have to pay contributions to the National Social Security Office (RSZ – ONSS). The employer’s contributions amount to approximately 27% for white-collar employees and around 33% for blue-collar employees (percentages valid for 2020). The employee’s contributions are fixed at 13,07% and are deducted from his/her gross salary. On top of this, employees will have to pay income tax, which the employers need to withhold from the salary. This means that most employees will only receive 45-50% of their gross wage as net.

Healthcare and Insurances

On top of the protective Belgian healthcare system, employees benefit on a regular basis from complementary insurances covering the costs of hospitalisation, medical treatments or ambulatory fees (those costs are sometimes even covered for the employee’s family members).

Required Leave

Holidays and Annual Leave            

Employees are entitled to remuneration for 10 official public holidays. As from April 2012, employees who are starting their careers or who are restarting their activities after a long time off, are entitled to additional holidays after an introductory period of three months, so that they have the possibility to benefit from four weeks of holiday over one year. The employee will receive holiday pay that is equal to his/her regular salary. The holiday pay will be financed through a deduction from the double holiday pay of the next year.

The number of days of annual leave to which an employee is entitled for a given year, is determined in proportion to the number of days worked (and deemed to have worked e.g., where the employee was on maternity leave or sick leave) during the preceding calendar year, referred to as the ‘holiday reference year’. Generally, for a full holiday reference year, employees have the right to between 20 and 24 days of annual leave, depending on whether their working regime includes five or six working days per week.

As from April 2012, employees who are starting their careers or who are restarting their activities after a long time off, are entitled to additional holidays after an introductory period of three months, so that they have the possibility to benefit from four weeks of holiday over one year. The employee will receive holiday pay that is equal to his/her regular salary. The holiday pay will be financed through a deduction from the double holiday pay of the next year.

Further, a Royal Decree of 8 February 2023 guarantees employees not losing their holidays due to illness, even if the cause occurred during the holiday period. In such case, the employee is allowed to take these holidays on a later date. He will be able to take the holidays lost due to illness within the 24 months of the holiday year. Furthermore, employees have the possibility to transfer untaken days of paid leave to the next calendar year if one of the following cases of suspension occur: accident at work, occupational disease, other accidents and illnesses, paternity leave consisting of converted maternity leave, prophylactic leave, birth leave, and foster care leave. An employee can also transfer untaken holidays to a new employer if they change jobs.

Maternity and Paternity Leave

Women may take up to 15 weeks of maternity leave (with a possible extension of 2 weeks in case of multiple births). At least nine weeks must be taken after the birth and at least one week must be taken before the expected date of birth. Following the birth of a child, the father has a right to ten days of paternity leave, seven of which will be paid for by the social security system at 82 percent of the employee’s ceiled salary. This leave must be taken up within four months after the birth. Women receive maternity benefits whilst on maternity leave. This benefit, paid by the social security system, is equal to 82 percent of the employee’s salary for the first 30 days and then drops to 75 percent of her salary (which will be capped). During this period, the employer is not obliged to make any payments to the employee. Subject to compliance with legal, regulatory and contractual provisions, employers are free to determine the conditions in which the employment contract is to be performed. This leave must be taken within four months after the birth.

Sickness and Disability Leave

It is important to note that there is no difference between sickness leave and disability leave in Belgium. In case of illness or private accident, the employee continues to receive his/her normal salary during a period of thirty calendar days. This is the so-called ‘guaranteed salary’. To be entitled to the guaranteed salary, the employee needs to comply with some legal obligations, which includes, amongst other things, immediately informing his/her employer of his/her incapacity to work and presenting a medical certificate. Moreover, the employer may call upon an independent medical officer (the ‘controlling officer’) to verify an employee’s incapacity for work.

An Act of 28 November 2022 has implemented an exception on the obligation to present a medical certificate for the first day of incapacity. Employees can only invoke this exception three times in a calendar year. Employees can make use of this exemption for both short absences of one day and also for the first day of a longer period of disability.

An employee who wants to make use of this statutory exemption is required to inform his employer about his address of residence during the first day of incapacity for work. The employee is not obliged to do so if this address corresponds to the usual place of residence known by the employer.

Corporations with less than 50 employees on the first of January of the calendar year in question may derogate from this exemption. The employer must make a mention of the derogation in the labour regulations or in a collective agreement.

During the first year of incapacity following the period covered by the guaranteed salary, the employee will receive sickness benefits from the Health Insurance Fund (‘ziekenfonds – mutuelle’). As of the second year, the employee will be entitled to invalidity benefits if the Medical Board for Invalidity of the National Sickness and Invalidity Insurance has confirmed the invalidity (the level of incapacity for work must be at least 66%). These invalidity benefits amount to 65% (for an employee with at least one dependent), 55% (for a single employee) or 40% (for a cohabiting employee without dependents) of the employee’s gross capped remuneration. The Health Insurance Fund also reimburses numerous medical and pharmaceutical costs.

In 2017 a new procedure came into force to reintegrate employees who have been absent from the workforce during a long period, because of illness (now included in the Code of the Well-being at Work). In short, the employee or the employer can request a reintegration procedure. In this procedure, the (medical) prevention advisor will investigate the rest capabilities of the employee, in order to see whether he/she can (gradually) return to the workplace, and if the workplace, or the work itself, should be adapted. The employer should investigate the recommendations of the prevention advisor, in order to evaluate if the necessary changes to the work or the workplace are possible or not. However, until now in most cases the prevention advisor has concluded that the employees concerned were not able to be reintegrated, which often resulted in the end of the employment contract due to medical force majeure.

In 2022, the reintegration procedure was amended. The prevention advisor-occupational physician has the obligation to inform the incapacitated employee as soon as possible of the options in resuming work, including the possibility of requesting a pre-employment visit or initiate a reintegration process, with the purpose of facilitating return to work via adjustments to the work position and/or through modified or other work.

It is also possible to start a reintegration process even in the event of a work accident or occupational disease. However, the reintegration process can only be started when the temporary disability resulting from the accident at work or when occupational disease has come to an end in accordance with the legislation on accidents at work and occupational diseases.

A third change is the fact that the reintegration program now only provides three reintegration assessments instead of five.  This adjustment simplifies the reintegration process.

Finally, it is important to note the decoupling of medical force-majeure from the reintegration process. An Act of 30 October 2022 amended Article 34 of the  Employment Contracts Act. This article allows an employer, subject to following the strict procedure and only after an incapacity for work for at least nine months and if no reintegration process is ongoing, to dismiss an employee for medical force-majeure.

It is important to strictly follow the procedure in article 34 of the Labour Contracts Act. Medical force-majeure is only possible if the prevention advisor-occupational physician has decided to a definitive impossibility to work and there is no possibility to appeal and there was no demand for adapted or different work by the employee or if the employer can justify that adapted or different work is not possible or if the employee does not agree to the adapted or different work.

Other Required or Typically Provided Leave(s)

Employees have the right to be absent from work without loss of salary on the occasion of 1) certain family events (marriage, funeral, childbirth, adoption, holy communion, non-confessional youth celebration, etc.); 2) for meeting civil duties (jury service, participation in the electoral process, etc.); and 3) appearance before a court.

The reasons for such short leave periods, as well as the duration of the allowed time-off (the day of the event, up to a couple of days) for each absence are provided for in the Royal Decree of 1963. Yet, more favourable provisions may be determined at an industry or company level.

Pensions: Mandatory and Typically Provided

The statutory retirement age in Belgium is officially 65. However, by the Act of 10 August 2015, the Federal government has decided at the beginning of June 2015, that this age will increase to 66 by 2025 and to 67 by 2030. Nevertheless, there are exceptions to this minimum retirement age (i) for labour-intensive professions and (ii) in case the employee can prove a minimum number of years worked (63 years of age and 42 years worked by 2019). The employee receives a pension from the Belgian social security system. Apart from these social security benefits (the “first pillar”), many employees are entitled to an additional pension insurance (the “second pillar”) paid by the employer as part of their salary package. Occasionally, the second pillar pension is organised at sectoral level. Some people also add to these two pillars, a private pension insurance scheme (the “third pillar”).

Any Other Required or Typically Provided Benefits

The following benefits are often granted to Belgian employees:

  • collective bonus (CBA n°90), warrants, stock options, profit sharing
  • company car, company bike or mobility budget
  • computer, tablet, smartphone, Internet connection
  • travel and subsistence costs
  • family allowances and other kinds of allowances complementary to fringe benefits
  • meal vouchers
  • eco-vouchers
  • There is an individual right to training for full-time workers since the law of 3 October 2022. This right consists of three days of training in 2023 and five days of training as from 2024.
Any questions

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