Belgium is made up of three regions: Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels-Capital. There are also four “language areas”: Dutch-speaking (Flanders), French-speaking (Wallonia), Dutch-French bilingual (Brussels-Capital) and German-speaking (a small area around Eupen), which determine the official language to be used in documents such as employment contracts. Employment legislation is primarily a national matter, though the regions have competence in some areas, such as educational leave, training and the employment of non-EEA nationals.

Belgium does not have a consolidated employment law code, but numerous individual statutes. The most important referred to in this topic are the laws (often amended since their initial adoption) on:

  • employment contracts of 3 July 1978 (as well as contracts and dismissal, this covers matters such as various forms of leave)

  • labour of 16 March 1971 (covering topics such as working time, rest and maternity rights)

  • feasible and user-friendly work of 5 March 2017 (covering issues including working time, training and leave)

  • combating certain forms of discrimination of 10 May 2007

  • combating discrimination between men and women of 10 May 2007

  • preventing certain acts inspired by racism and xenophobia of 30 July 1981

  • combating the pay gap between women and men of 22 April 2012

  • workers’ wellbeing at work of 4 August 1996 (covering health, safety and harassment)

  • the principle of non-discrimination against part-time employees of 5 March 2002

  • the principle of non-discrimination against fixed-term employees of 5 June 2002

  • temporary agency work and employee leasing of 24 July 1987

  • employees’ annual leave of 28 June 1971

  • work regulations of 8 April 1965

  • European Works Councils of 23 April 1998.

Laws are in many cases implemented in more detail by royal decrees. The case law of the specialist labour courts and the Supreme Court plays a significant role in interpreting employment legislation.

Belgium is unusual in that national inter-sectoral collective agreements, negotiated by trade union confederations and their employer counterparts, play an important role in governing some aspects of pay and conditions across the whole private sector, essentially replacing legislation in the relevant areas. The Government has given most of these agreements the force of law in all private sector employment. The most important agreements referred to in this topic are as follows, by theme:

  • recruitment and selection — no. 38 of 6 December 1983 (and subsequent amendments)

  • induction of employees — no. 22 of 26 June 1975

  • additional voluntary overtime — no. 129 of 23 April 2019

  • night work — no. 46 of 23 March 1990 and no. 76 of 18 July 2000

  • “time-credit” leave — no. 103 of 27 June 2012

  • paid sick leave — nos. 12bis and 13bis of 26 February 1979

  • national minimum wage — no. 21 of 15 May 1975, no. 23 of 25 July 1975, no. 43 of 2 May 1988 (and subsequent amendments), no. 50 of 29 October 1991

  • reimbursement of employees’ public transport costs — no. 19/9 of 23 April 2019

  • breastfeeding breaks — no. 80 of 27 November 2001 and no. 80bis of 13 October 2010

  • equal opportunities — no. 95 of 10 October 2008

  • equal pay — no. 25 of 15 October 1975

  • alcohol and drugs policy — no. 100 of 1 April 2009

  • company councils — no. 9 of 9 March 1972 (and subsequent amendments), no. 15 of 25 July 1974, no. 34 of 27 February 1981, no. 37 of 27 November 1981

  • trade union delegations — no. 5 of 24 May 1971 (and subsequent amendments)

  • European Works Councils — no. 62 of 6 February 1996 (and subsequent amendments) and no. 101 of 21 December 2010

  • reasons for dismissal — no. 109 of 12 February 2014

  • collective dismissals — no. 10 of 8 May 1973 (and subsequent amendments) and no. 24 of 2 October 1975 (and subsequent amendments)

  • transfers of undertakings — no. 32 of 28 February 1978 (and subsequent amendments).

Collective agreements negotiated at industry level, which are often given legal force by the Government, play an important role in setting pay and conditions for the great majority of employees. Where an employer is also covered by a company-level collective agreement, its provisions must be at least as favourable for the employee as the provisions of the industry-level agreement. Similarly, the terms of employees’ employment contracts must be at least as favourable as the provisions of any applicable collective agreement. Another important source of law is the “work regulations” that all employers are required to have in place.

This topic refers to employment law in the private sector only.

Temporary COVID-19 Crisis Measures (as at 29 May 2020)

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the national Government has taken a number of temporary measures affecting employment law. The main instrument to prevent crisis-related job losses has been extended use of an existing state-subsidised short-time working and temporary lay-off scheme, while employees prevented from working for reasons such as quarantine have been entitled to receive public benefits. The Government has relaxed, for specified “crucial” industries and essential services, normal rules on overtime (see Normal and Additional Hours) and the use of successive fixed-term contracts (see Fixed-term Contracts). Over May–June 2020, many employees with children were able to take special “corona” parental leave, with enhanced public benefits (see Parental Leave). Employers are required to observe special COVID-19 health and safety rules for the duration of the crisis.

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