Unless stated otherwise by an international agreement, employees working in Belgium for an employer established in Belgium, or an operational office in Belgium, will in principle be subject to the Belgian social security scheme for salaried persons. It is impossible to deviate from the Belgian social security scheme by special agreement, which would be null and void by law. The Belgian social security system for employees covers: old-age and survivor’s pensions; unemployment benefits; insurance for accidents at work; insurance for occupational diseases; family allowances; sickness and disability benefits; and annual vacation (only for blue-collar employees).
Healthcare and Insurances
On top of the protective Belgian healthcare system, employees benefit on a regular basis from complementary insurances covering the costs of hospitalisation, medical treatments or ambulatory fees (those costs are sometimes even covered for the employee’s family members).
Holidays and Annual Leave
Employees are entitled to remuneration for 10 official public holidays. As from April 2012, employees who are starting their careers or who are restarting their activities after a long time off, are entitled to additional holidays after an introductory period of three months, so that they have the possibility to benefit from four weeks of holiday over one year. The employee will receive holiday pay that is equal to his/her regular salary. The holiday pay will be financed through a deduction from the double holiday pay of the next year.
The number of days of annual leave to which an employee is entitled for a given year, is determined in proportion to the number of days worked (and deemed to have worked e.g. where the employee was on maternity leave or sick leave) during the preceding calendar year, referred to as the ‘holiday reference year’. Generally, for a full holiday reference year, employees have the right to between 20 and 24 days of annual leave, depending on whether their working regime includes five or six working days per week.
Maternity and Paternity Leave
Women may take up to 15 weeks of maternity leave (with a possible extension of 2 weeks in case of multiple births). At least nine weeks must be taken after the birth and at least one week must be taken before the expected date of birth. Following the birth of a child, the father has a right to ten days of paternity leave, seven of which will be paid for by the social security system at 82 percent of the employee’s ceiled salary. This leave must be taken up within four months after the birth. Women receive maternity benefits whilst on maternity leave. This benefit, paid by the social security system, is equal to 82 percent of the employee’s salary for the first 30 days and then drops to 75 percent of her salary (which will be capped). During this period, the employer is not obliged to make any payments to the employee. Subject to compliance with legal, regulatory and contractual provisions, employers are free to determine the conditions in which the employment contract is to be performed. This leave must be taken within four months after the birth.
Sickness and Disability Leave
It is important to note that there is no difference between sickness leave and disability leave in Belgium. In case of illness or private accident, the employee continues to receive his/her normal salary during a period of thirty calendar days. This is the so-called ‘guaranteed salary’. To be entitled to the guaranteed salary, the employee needs to comply with some legal obligations, which includes, amongst other things, immediately informing his/her employer of his/her incapacity to work and presenting a medical certificate. Moreover, the employer may call upon an independent medical officer (the ‘controlling officer’) to verify an employee’s incapacity for work.
In 2017 a new procedure came into force to reintegrate employees who have been absent from the workforce during a long period, because of illness (now included in the Code of the Well-being at Work). In short, the employee or the employer can request a reintegration procedure. In this procedure, the (medical) prevention advisor will investigate the rest capabilities of the employee, in order to see whether he/she can (gradually) return to the workplace, and if the workplace, or the work itself, should be adapted. The employer should investigate the recommendations of the prevention advisor, in order to evaluate if the necessary changes to the work or the workplace are possible or not. However, until now in most cases the prevention advisor has concluded that the employees concerned were not able to be reintegrated, which often resulted in the end of the employment contract due to medical force majeure.
Other Required or Typically Provided Leave(s)
Employees have the right to be absent from work without loss of salary on the occasion of: 1) certain family events (marriage, funeral, childbirth, adoption, holy communion, non-confessional youth celebration, etc.); 2) for meeting civil duties (jury service, participation in the electoral process, etc.); and 3) appearance before a court.
Pensions: Mandatory and Typically Provided
The statutory retirement age in Belgium is officially 65. However, by the Act of 10 August 2015, the Federal government has decided at the beginning of June 2015, that this age will increase to 66 by 2025 and to 67 by 2030.
Apart from the social security benefits (the “first pillar”), many employees are entitled to an additional pension insurance (the “second pillar”) paid by the employer as part of their salary package. Occasionally, the second pillar pension is organised on sectoral level. Some people also add to these two pillars, a private pension insurance scheme (the “third pillar”).
Other Required Or Typically Provided Benefits
The following benefits are often granted to Belgian employees: collective bonus, warrants, stock options, profit sharing; company car, company bike or mobility budget; computer, tablet, smartphone, Internet connection; travel and subsistence costs; family allowances and other kinds of allowances complementary to fringe benefits; meal vouchers; and eco-vouchers.