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Belgian Labour Law in a nutshell

Applicable law and sources of Belgian Labour Law

Belgium has comprehensive labour laws. Belgian labour law consists of an extensive system of laws, decrees and other regulatory instruments. Belgian labour law is divided into individual labour law and collective labour law. Collective bargaining between employers’ organizations and trade unions plays a crucial role in shaping labour regulations, they result in collective bargaining agreements (CBAs).

CBAs are concluded between employers and employee representatives at sector level. They can regulate specific terms and conditions of employment, wages, working conditions and other issues. CBAs have a binding force for the parties involved within their scope of application.

Case law in Belgium can significantly influence the application of labour and employment laws. Case law in labour law takes place in specialised labour courts. These courts handle disputes between employers and employees, with previous decisions, in addition to laws and regulations, influencing the outcome. Employees and employers can take disputes to court to defend their rights or claim damages. Labour law continues to evolve under the influence of changing legislation and social developments.

Employment agreements

Labour relations in Belgium are governed by employment agreements. These agreements can be either oral or written. However, specific contracts and clauses, including those related to training, non-competition, project-based employment, part-time work, temporary positions, remote work, high-paid employees with managerial responsibilities, and contracts with foreign workers, must be in writing. Failure to comply with this written contract requirement can lead to various sanctions, including nullifying the clause or considering the contract indefinite.

While the law doesn’t mandate specific clauses in employment contracts, mandatory legal, regulatory, and collective bargaining conditions are considered integral and cannot be deviated from. Notably, written employment contracts in Belgium must be in either French, Dutch, or German, depending on the location of the employer’s operating unit.

Working hours, rest periods and leaves

In principle, the maximum working time in Belgium is 38 hours per week. There are exceptions to this, which are strictly regulated. Employees are entitled to breaks and rest between shifts. In addition, employees are entitled to a minimum of 20 leave days outside statutory holidays, these leave days are based on the number of days worked in the previous year. These leave days are thus accrued.

Trade unions and employee representation

Trade unions play a crucial role in the Belgian world of work, representing workers in negotiations on working conditions and conflicts of interest. A Trade Union Delegation must be established upon the request of representative trade unions in undertakings meeting a minimum employee threshold, determined by CBAs. Employers must accept such requests. In the absence of a Works Council, the responsibilities of the Works Council are transferred to the Committees for Prevention and Protection at Work (CPPW) and/or the Trade Union Delegation. Employees have the right to join a trade union.

In Belgium, there are specific representative bodies, including Works Councils and CPPW, are required in undertakings meeting certain criteria. Works Councils are mandatory for undertakings with at least 100 employees on average, while CPPW is necessary for those with a minimum of 50 employees on average. An « undertaking » is defined as a unit with social and economic autonomy, not necessarily corresponding to a legal entity.

The employee representatives within the Works Council and CPPW are union members nominated by their union and elected during social elections held by the employer every four years. The next social elections will take place in 2024.

Termination of labour relations

There are two types of dismissals in Belgium: the individual dismissal and the collective dismissal.

Individual dismissals: These involve the termination of employment for individual employees, typically based on specific reasons such as poor performance or misconduct. Employers and employees must respect statutory notice periods when terminating an employment contract. The notice periods can vary depending on the employee’s seniority within the company and the nature of the contract. There are various legitimate and illegitimate grounds for dismissal, and procedures for dismissal must be followed correctly to avoid manifestly unreasonable dismissal.

Collective dismissals: These relate to the termination of a group of employees by an employer, usually due to economic or organizational reasons. Collective dismissals and closures of undertakings are governed by specific rules. A collective dismissal occurs when a minimum number of employees are dismissed for reasons unrelated to their individual performance within a 60-day period, with the minimum number varying based on the workforce size.

Employers must inform and consult with employees, either through the Works Council, Trade Union Delegation, or directly, and notify the relevant administrative authority.

Collective dismissals may trigger special monthly compensation for certain employees. In case of a closure, eligible employees receive a closure indemnity based on seniority and age.

Employers and unions often establish social plans to provide extra compensation and support. Larger employers must create a re-integration unit for outplacement services in case of collective dismissals, while smaller ones need it only for early retirement cases.

Specific sectors may have additional procedures outlined in CBAs.


Belgium has non-discrimination laws that are applicable in the realm of Belgian labour law. These laws aim to prevent discrimination in employment on various grounds, including race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, and more.

Employers are legally obligated to ensure that their hiring, promotion, and employment practices do not discriminate against employees or job applicants based on these protected characteristics. Additionally, there are laws in place to promote equal pay for equal work, regardless of an individual’s gender.

Belgian labour law also includes provisions to protect employees from harassment and ensure reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities in the workplace.

Overall, these non-discrimination laws play a crucial role in promoting fairness, equality, and inclusivity in the Belgian labour market. Violations of these laws can result in legal consequences for employers.

Restrictive covenants

Restrictive covenants, also known as non-compete clauses and non-solicitation clauses, are legal provisions in employment contracts. They aim to prevent employees, typically those with access to sensitive information or key client relationships, from competing directly with their former employer or soliciting clients for a specified period after leaving the company. Belgian employment law contains various provisions governing restrictive covenants, which can limit an employee’s actions during and after their employment. To be valid post-employment, these clauses must meet specific criteria, including written agreements, minimum salary thresholds, limitations on activities and geographical areas, and indemnities for the employee.

Transfer of undertakings

In Belgium, when there is a transfer of an undertaking or a division of a business to a new employer, specific rules outlined in Collective Bargaining Agreement nr. 32bis of 7 June 1985 come into play. This transfer is considered to have occurred when the transferred business or division remains operational under the new employer, ensuring continuity. The CBA nr. 32bis ensures the continuity of employees’ rights when an undertaking or part of it is transferred. This means that when a company changes hands, employees are typically transferred to the new employer with their existing employment contracts and conditions intact. Importantly, the law prohibits unfair dismissals related to the transfer, and any changes to employment conditions must be justified for economic, technical, or organizational reasons.

To facilitate a smooth transition, both the previous and new employers are obligated to inform and consult with employee representatives or trade unions about the upcoming transfer. This ensures that employees are aware of the change and can address any concerns. Additionally, any liabilities and obligations tied to the employees, such as collective agreements and pension plans, typically pass to the new employer.

Overall, CBA nr. 32bis prioritizes job security and the preservation of employees’ rights during transfers of undertakings, while also promoting transparency and consultation between employers and employees.


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