On January 1, 2014, new dismissal rules under Belgian law took effect.  These changes will require a complete review of your company’s Belgian employment contracts and policies.  The following is a short summary of the main changes.

  1. New notice periods

There are new notice periods for blue-collar and white-collar employees.  The length of the notice period will now depend entirely on seniority (years of service), without any influence from criteria such as the age, the salary levels or the employee’s position. Also, where previously the notice periods were different for blue-collar versus white-collar employees, they are now the same for both.

The new harmonized notice periods will apply as of January 1, 2014 to employment contracts concluded as of that date, but also to current employment contracts for the period of employment starting as of January 1, 2014.

The new rules represent a significant increase in notice periods for blue-collar employees, but remain relatively the same for white-collar employees – except those with low seniority or more than 20 years’ seniority, where it will be less.  Importantly, the never-ending discussion on the statutory minimum notice and the “Claeys” formula, going forward, is over.

The notice periods that will apply to new contracts after January 1, 2014, or for any seniority accrued starting January 1, 2014, under the old contracts for both types of employees is as follows:

Click here to view the table.

Continue to add 1 week per year of additional service.

  1. Trial Period

The concept of a trial period (or what we may refer to as a probationary period) disappears for employment contracts concluded after January 1, 2014.

  1. Outplacement

Under the previous rules, only employees 45 years of age or older were entitled to outplacement.

Under the new rules, the right to outplacement has been extended to all employees dismissed who would be entitled to 30 weeks’ notice or severance (i.e. 9 years of seniority or above).  The outplacement service must be equal in value to four weeks’ salary.

Coming down the road (in two short weeks) in Belgium:

To further harmonize the employment status of blue and white-collar employees in Belgium, on April 1, 2014, employers will be required to demonstrate proper motivation for dismissal of any blue or white-collar employee with more than six months of continuous service.  Until now, an employer in Belgium was not required to provide a reason for an employee’s dismissal, unless the employee was being terminated for “serious cause” or where the employee enjoyed certain protections from dismissal.  Furthermore, blue-collar employees used to be entitled to a termination indemnity of six months’ salary where the dismissal violated Article 63 of the Employment Contracts Act.  White-collar workers were not granted this same protection.  These differences in treatment upon termination are now abolished and both categories of employees will enjoy the same rights.

Specifically, an employer must provide a justified rationale for the termination of any employee.  Unjustified dismissals, those unrelated to the employee’s skills and abilities or own conduct, or unrelated to the operational requirements of the undertaking, and a dismissal a reasonable employer would not have made, may be disputed before the labor court.