On 1 January 2014, new termination rules intended to harmonise the notice periods applicable to blue-collar and white-collar employees entered into effect. The new statutory provisions form part of the progressive harmonisation of the status of blue-collar and white-collar employees and fundamentally change the Belgian dismissal rules.
Moreover, as from 1 April 2014, a dismissed employee is entitled to know the reasons for his or her dismissal, further to Collective Bargaining Agreement No. 109. This means that, in practice, it will be necessary to justify the dismissal of both blue-collar and white-collar employees; previously, this requirement applied only to blue-collar employees.
Therefore, as from 1 April 2014, the employer will need to be able to justify the dismissal of blue-collar and white-collar employees.
If the employer fails to do so, the employee can request a justification by sending a registered letter to the employer within two months from the termination of his or her employment contract.
In the event of termination with notice, this request must be sent within six months following notification of the notice period and in any case no later than two months from the effective termination date of the employment contract. The employer must inform the employee of the exact reasons for his or her dismissal within two months from the receipt of such a request. In this regard, it should be noted that specific formalities apply.
If the employer fails to provide reasons for the dismissal or does so too late, it must pay two weeks' salary, on top of the regular notice period or compensation in lieu of notice.
Further, if it appears that the dismissal is obviously unreasonable (i.e. it is unrelated to the qualifications or behaviour of the employee or the employer's business needs and contrary to what a reasonable employer would have done), the employee can initiate legal proceedings, in which case the employer could be ordered to pay damages of 3 to 17 weeks' remuneration, in addition to the regular notice period or compensation in lieu thereof.
Therefore, it will be important for employers to maintain personnel files and follow up on performance and other issues in order to be able to prove that a dismissal is not obviously unreasonable.
Finally, certain dismissals are exempt from the abovementioned rules (e.g. employees with less than six months' seniority, students, dismissals in the framework of a pre-pension scheme, dismissals further to a business closure, specific categories of employees to whom such rules already applied, etc.).