Historically, there has been a distinction in Belgian labor law between blue-collar workers and the white-collar workers based on whether they performed manual or intellectual labor (articles 2 and 3 of the Act of 3 July 1978 on employment contracts (Wet van 3 juli 1978 betreffende de arbeidsovereenkomsten / Loi du 3 juillet 1978 relative aux contrats de travail)). Blue-collar workers were considered as those performing manual work while white-collar workers were those performing intellectual work. The two groups of workers had been afforded different rights depending on their assigned category. Generally speaking, white-collar workers were better off than their blue-collar counterparts.
On July 7, 2011 (judgment no. 125/2011), the Constitutional Court of Belgium (“Grondwettelijk Hof” / “Cour constitutionel”) held that the differences in the treatment between blue-collar and white-collar workers were discriminatory. The Court notably criticized the differences with regard to the notice period in case of dismissal and the absence of a guaranteed salary for the blue-collar workers’ first day of absence due to illness (the so-called: “carenz day” (“carensdag” / “ jour de carence”)). The Court left a period of two years (i.e., until July 8, 2013) for the Belgian legislature to remove these differences in the treatment between the two statutes. After extended negotiations, the Unified Employment Status Act of 26 December 2013 (hereinafter referred as the "Unified Employment Status Act") was adopted and entered into force on January 1, 2014 (Wet van 26 december 2013 betreffende de invoering van een ennheidsstatuut tussen arbeiders en bedienden inzake de opzeggingstermijnen en de carenzdag en begeleidend maatregelen / Loi du 26 décembre 2013 concernant l’introduction d’un statut unique entre ouvriers et employés en ce qui concerne les délais de préavis et le jour de carence ainsi que de mesures d’accompagnement).
New notice periods
The Unified Employment Status Act introduced a new way to calculate the notice period which affects both blue-collar and white-collar workers. The harmonization applies to employment contracts concluded after January 1, 2014. Transitional rules have nevertheless been introduced for contracts concluded before January 1, 2014 and ending before December 31, 2017 (articles 67 to 70 of the Unified Employment Status Act). The transitional calculation constitutes a mixture of the old rules and the new rules.
As for the workers engaged after January 1, 2014, the notice periods where the worker is terminated are fixed as follows:
Click here to view the table.
As we can see from the table above, the notice period is solely based on the length of the employment (i.e., seniority of the worker) and is calculated in weeks. Under the previous rules, the notice period used to vary based on the worker’s level of remuneration or age. Furthermore, the notice period under the previous rules was calculated in days for the blue-collar worker and in months for the white-collar worker.
Another important reform brought by the Unified Employment Status Act is the removal of the “carenz day.” Contrary to the white-collar worker, the blue-collar worker was not entitled to a guaranteed salary by the employer for his first day of illness (articles 61 to 66 of the Unified Employment Status Act). From now on, this legal difference, qualified as discriminatory by the Constitutional Court, has ceased to exist. However on the other hand, the new regime reinforces the employer’s control over its employees in case of illness (i.e., new check-ups on workers taking medical leave, obligation of the worker to immediately inform the employer, etc.) (article 61 of the Unified Employment Status Act).