In Belgium—perhaps the only country in Europe where this is the case—an employee’s termination notice period or pay in lieu of notice varies depending on whether the employee is a blue-collar or a white-collar worker.  

Notice periods for blue-collar workers are based on years of past service and can total up to 217 days.

In contrast, white-collar workers whose earnings do not exceed €30,5351 gross/year receive three months’ notice for every five years of past service. For white-collar workers earning more than €30,535 gross/year, the parties must agree on the notice period; if no agreement can be reached, the matter can then be filed in labor court. Such agreements are generally concluded by taking into consideration the white-collar employee’s salary,2 seniority, age, and position within the company and his or her prospects for finding a new job. Various formulas have been developed in an attempt to predict the outcome of these court cases.

White-collar workers earning more than €61,0713 gross/year are allowed to conclude agreements on termination notice at the moment of execution of the employment contract, but such agreements may not provide less than three months’ notice for every five years of past service.  

The Belgian government has now taken the first step in trying to reduce the differences in notice periods for blue- and white-collar workers. As of January 1, 2012, the notice periods for blue-collar workers will, in general, be increased by 15 percent. For white-collar workers, the notice periods will be reduced by 3 percent as of January 1, 2012, and by 6 percent as of January 1, 2014. Moreover, tax-free measures will apply to parts of these notice periods or the pay in lieu of such notice. White-collar workers earning more than €61,0714 gross/year will still be allowed to conclude agreements on termination notice at the moment of execution of the employment contract.

It should be stressed, however, that this new ruling on the termination of employment contracts under Belgian law is only the first step in an attempt to harmonize the notice periods of blue- and white-collar workers. Complete equalization will be longer in coming, given the resistance of some of the affected workers.