Belgium’s labor laws are mainly sourced from the Constitution and a broad array of royal decrees and parliamentary acts. Working time means the time during which a worker is available to the employer (in other words the time during which the employee is under the employer’s authority) and which he cannot use freely as he sees fit.
Hours & Pay Regulations
The maximum workday is eight hours, the standard workweek 38 hours.
In a large number of collective bargaining agreements concluded at the industry level, Saturday is an obligatory nonworking day. In that case, the daily maximum of eight hours is automatically increased to nine hours.
Reduced working hours exist in a number of industry and trade sectors and are also applied to shift work, night work, etc. A reduction in working time is generally achieved by providing additional time off at the same salary, rather than by formally reducing working hours per day or per week.
The daily limit may be increased to 11 hours when a shift system is introduced, and even to 12 hours for continuous work.
The weekly limit of 38 hours (or less) is averaged over a period of three months or sometimes over 12 months, taking into account detailed limits on the extent to which the regular limits may be exceeded. An annual average system always requires a collective bargaining agreement and is used when seasonal fluctuations determine the work volume. Labor Act, 1971, March 16 (as amended), arts. 19; Law on the Reconciliation Between Employment and Quality of Life, 2001 (as amended), art. 2; An Act Respecting Work that is Feasible and Manageable, 2017, art. 33-39.
Overtime can be allowed when the regular work requires either indispensable preparatory or finishing tasks, urgent loading and unloading of merchandise, work with material that deteriorates very quickly, exceptional and unforeseen increase in work, etc.
Overtime work is paid at a rate of time and one-half.
Overtime worked on Sundays and holidays is paid at double time. As an alternative to overtime pay, compensatory rest must be granted within either three months or 12 months following the date(s) of the overtime. Employers cannot require employees to work more than 78 overtime hours in three months or 91 hours in one year.
An employee can voluntarily agree to perform overtime up to 100 hours per calendar year without obligation to take compensatory rest (only overtime payment is due). Pregnant employees cannot work overtime. Labor Act, 1971, March 16 (as amended), art. 29.
Although there is a general prohibition on night work, i.e., work between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., various exceptions exist to the general prohibition.
In principle, workers who engage in night work (between 8 pm and 6 am) are not entitled to a supplement to their wages/salary (bonus). Night work is paid in the same way as work carried out in the daytime. There are two exceptions to this principle:
- In particular sectors, the joint committees have concluded collective agreements which make provision for additional remuneration for night work;
- In the absence of collective agreements, it is additionally provided that specific compensation should be granted to workers employed under schemes which regularly involve work between midnight and 5 am. From December 1, 2012, the amount of this bonus is €1,12 (€1,35 for workers aged 50 and over).
When the work day exceeds six hours, employees are entitled to a rest period of at least 15 minutes.
Sunday is a mandatory uncompensated day of rest. An employee who works on a Sunday is entitled to compensatory time, which is generally taken within six days after the Sunday worked. Workers who work on a Sunday are entitled to compensatory rest over the six days following that Sunday.
This is unpaid compensatory rest because the ordinary day of rest is not paid for either. The compensatory rest should not be deducted from the number of hours worked. The compensatory rest need not necessarily coincide with a normal working day of the worker: the rest period may coincide with the day on which no work is normally carried out in the undertaking (usually Saturday).
However, the compensatory rest may not coincide with a public holiday or with a day of compensatory rest granted as part of the rules governing public holidays, or with a day of compensatory rest granted for exceeding the normal working time limits.
The length of the period of compensatory rest is granted in accordance with a fixed scale, as follows:
- A full day if the work on Sunday lasted for more than four hours;
- A half a day if the work on Sunday did not last more than four hours; in this case, the compensatory rest should be granted before or after 1 pm and on that day the worker may not work for more than five hours.
If work is done on Sunday, the worker is entitled to his normal remuneration unless they are entitled to receive overtime. Overtime worked on Sundays and holidays is paid at double time.
In particular sectors, provision may be made in sectorial collective agreements that work on Sunday also gives entitlement to a wage/salary supplement (bonus).
Employees are entitled to the following 10 national holidays per year with pay:
- Jan. 1: New Year’s Day
- Easter Monday
- May 1: Labor Day
- July 21; Independence Day
- Aug. 15: Assumption of Our Lad
- Nov. 1: All Saints’ Day
- Nov. 11: Armistice Day
- Dec. 25: Christmas
An employee who is required to work on a holiday is entitled to both overtime pay and compensatory time. Overtime worked on Sundays and holidays is paid at double time.
If employees work fewer than four hours on a holiday, they are entitled to a half day of compensatory time, if more than four hours, a full day of compensatory time. Compensatory time must be taken within six weeks of the holiday worked.
When a public holiday falls on a weekend, employees are entitled to an additional day off, which is typically the first working day following the public holiday. Law of January 4, 1974, on Public Holidays (as amended), arts. 11, 14 (French); Labor Regulations Holidays (French); Labor Act, 1971, March 16 (as amended), art. 29.
An employee’s entitlement to vacation is based on the amount of time worked in the preceding year. An employee who worked fulltime is entitled to four weeks of paid vacation in the following year. Employees are entitled to five days of paid leave after they have accrued three months of service with the employer. Unused leave cannot be carried over to the following year.
Vacation time for blue collar workers is paid for by the holiday fund or the National Office for Annual Leave, which determines payments based on employee salaries from the previous year and is slightly more than 15 percent of employee salaries. White collar employees are paid directly by employers for vacation time, including both the vacation pay owed and a supplement, which is equal to 1/12th of 92 percent of employees’ gross salaries.
The employer can mandate when vacation is taken. Royal Decree Determining Method of Execution of the Laws Relating to the Annual Vacation of Employed Persons, 1967, No. 1967099001, arts. 35, 46, 64.
Minimum wages typically are set by collective bargaining agreements. If an employee’s work is not covered by a collective agreement containing a minimum wage provision, the legal monthly minimum wage is 1,622.48 euros for workers age 20 or older.
Lower minimum wages apply to younger workers.
Once a year, the Central Economic Council advises the government as to the appropriate wage adjustment for the upcoming year. Collective Bargaining Agreement No. 43, 2007; Act of March 30, 1994, Relating to Social Provisions.
A female employee is entitled to six weeks of paid prenatal maternity leave immediately prior to the expected date of childbirth or eight weeks prior to that date if she is expecting more than one child. She must take maternity leave beginning no later than seven days before the due date; the remainder of the prenatal leave is optional. If she does not take the full amount of available prenatal leave, she may extend her post child birth leave by the amount of unused prenatal leave. The employee is entitled to nine weeks of postnatal paid maternity leave plus any remaining prenatal maternity leave. The employee also may choose to stockpile two weeks of unused prenatal maternity leave and take that leave at any time during the first eight weeks after she returns to work. If childbirth requires hospitalization of more than seven days, maternity leave may be extended by the amount of time hospitalization exceeds seven days, up to a maximum of 24 weeks of post childbirth maternity leave. Pregnant women are entitled to two 30 minute rest periods per day with pay. After her child is born, a female employee is entitled to rest periods for as long as seven months after childbirth to breast feed her child. Women on maternity leave also are protected against dismissal during the period from the date the employer is notified of the pregnancy until the end of the month following the maternity leave. Labor Act, 1971, March 16 (as amended), arts. 39-42.
A father is entitled to take 10 days of paid paternity leave within four months after the birth of his child. The first three days of leave are paid by the employer; the remainder is paid by social security. A father may take the remainder of the mother’s postnatal leave to care for his newborn child if the mother is hospitalized or dies during maternity leave.
Any employee, male or female, is entitled to take parental leave of up to four months at any time during the first 12 years after the birth or adoption of a child.
Employees are entitled to take paid educational leave of up to 120 hours per year for professional courses and up to 80 hours per year for general education courses. For employees who wish to take both professional and general education courses, educational leave is limited to a total of 120 hours per year. When an employee takes leave to attend professional education courses, social security reimburses the employer for 50 percent of the employee’s salary. With respect to general education courses, social security reimburses the employer for 100 percent of the employee’s salary subject to a cap.
Employees are entitled to take short periods of paid leave for family events such as marriages, funerals and a child’s first communion, as well as for civic events such as jury duty, voting, and military enrollment. In addition, employees are entitled to paid leave of up to one day a month to attend to duties relating to local political office, such as membership in a provincial council. Although the employer must pay the employee’s salary during such leave, the political entity served by the employee is required to reimburse the employer for the expense.
An employee is entitled to take family care leave to attend to any sick relative who lives with the employee. Similarly, an employee is generally allowed to take leave to care for a person with a terminal illness, who in this case need not be a family member. An employee who seeks family care leave must give the employer seven days’ advance notice; the leave may be deferred at the request of the employer but not refused. Family care leave is limited to an initial period of one month and may be extended an additional month.
The extent of an employee’s entitlement to sick leave depends on whether the employee is a blue collar or a white collar worker.
A ‘blue-collar worker’ who has worked for an employer for at least 30 days prior to an illness or injury is entitled to take up to 30 days of sick leave with partial pay. A blue collar worker is entitled to 100 percent of normal salary for the first seven days of sick leave paid by the employer and 85.88 percent of salary for the eighth through the 30th days of sick leave paid in part by the employer and in part by social security. A ‘white-collar worker’ is entitled to take up to 30 days of sick leave at 100 percent pay. If a white or blue collar worker returns to work and has a relapse within 14 days, the employee is not entitled to an additional period of sick leave benefits. Additional sick leave benefits are available, however, if the employee suffers a new illness or injury within 14 days of returning to work from a prior illness or injury.
Employees are entitled to up to 10 days of unpaid leave per year for compelling reasons relating to unforeseen events.
Employees who have the requisite seniority can take a sabbatical or work reduced hours.
Last updated on: August 27th, 2018