Belgium does not have a uniform code or legislation dealing with Belgian employment contracts but has many individual statutes, case law, decisions by labour courts and royal decrees. Importantly, Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) are often assigned legal status by the government and cover well over 90% of the workforce in the private sector. Collaboration between employers, employees and works committees is an essential and successful element of Belgian employment relations.
Employment statutes and their amendments cover Belgian employment contracts; working hours and breaks; maternity rights; discrimination and harassment; equal pay for men and women; annual leave; temporary and agency workers. CBAs deal with categories including hiring and recruitment; overtime; minimum wages; alcohol and drugs policy; individual and collective dismissals.
In the autumn of 2022, a bill to reform aspects of labour law was due to go before Belgium’s Parliament. Proposals include employees completing their hours in a four-day week, varying the number of days worked in successive weeks, variable work schedules and employees’ entitlement to training. The ‘right to disconnect’ will make it illegal for employers with more than 20 staff to contact their employees by email or other electronic methods for professional reasons or to insist they remain online out of office hours.
The Employment Contracts Act, amended in 2013, rationalised the differences between blue and white-collar workers regarding notice periods and sickness benefits but generally maintained the distinction. The Act recognises the following types of the contract according to duration:
Permanent, open-ended employment contracts: Not for a specific period, terminated by resignation, retirement or dismissal following the correct procedures. Do not legally have to be in writing.
Fixed-term employment contracts must be in writing, specifying a start and end date or a defined project, after which the contract ends.
Specific assignment employment contracts: Specifies work to be carried out over some time which is not necessarily spelt out, such as harvest work, film work, and writing projects.
Replacement employment contracts: To take the place of an existing employee for a period of time.
Apprenticeship Contracts: These can be offered to individuals aged between 16 and 18 who attend an educational establishment one or two days per week.
Note: Probation periods: Since 2014, these cannot be included in a contract.
Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs): The top-level agreements cover an entirely private sector, with the second level comprising specific industrial sectors and the bottom level covering agreements reached company level. Lower-level agreements can only improve agreements of the level above. In the private sector, well over 90% of employees are covered by CBAs, which generally have legal standing from the government.
Foreign companies can open a subsidiary to establish their presence – the usual route to hire staff, operate payroll and deal with the revenue and social insurance authorities. The typical choice is to open the equivalent of a limited liability company known as either an SRL in French or a BV in Dutch. After incorporating the subsidiary, employers face other considerations when hiring. These include:
There is a more straightforward option. Once Bradford Jacobs’ Professional Employer Organisation (PEO) recruitment networks have located the most talented staff for your company, we step in to steer you through these crucial early moves in the hiring process.