Under Belgian employment law, all communications between employers and employees, company acts and documents concerning employee relations must be drafted in the local language: Dutch, for companies located in the Flemish region; French, for companies located in the Walloon region; and Dutch or French, for companies located in the Brussels region. This is regulated by three separate decrees, one for each region, and the sanctions for non-compliance differ according to the region.
For the Flemish region, acts or documents not drafted in Dutch, such as an employment contract, are null and void. For the Walloon region, the sanction is less severe, and acts or documents not drafted in the correct language can be replaced by a document in the correct language.
The legislation also applies to foreign companies with a company, branch or even only one employee in Belgium. Moreover, the rule applies even if the relevant employee does not speak the local language.
The present situation arose as a result of the application of the Flemish Decree on the use of languages (of 19 July 1973). The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has recently heard a case regarding the application of the Flemish Decree in an international context.
The CJEU handed down its decision on April 16, 2013, holding that the Flemish Decree on the use of languages violated the principle of free movement of persons in the EU. The CJEU criticized the obligation on employers to draft cross-border employment contracts in Dutch in situations where neither party has mastered the local language. The CJEU ruled that, in such cases, it must be possible to draft contracts in another, more appropriate, language.
Following the decision of the CJEU, the Decree of March 14, 2014 was passed to amend the legislation which concerns the use of languages in the relationship between employers and employees and also in company documents and papers that are required by law. However, the amendments made are very limited in scope. Indeed, the legislator emphasized that the Dutch language is still the primarily language in company acts and documents relating to employer/employee relations. The only (limited) change brought to the text is the fact that, in cross-border employment relationships, it is permitted to have the employment contract translated into another official language of the EU or EEA which is understood by all parties. The original will however be in Dutch, and, where a dispute arises, the Dutch version would still prevail.