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:

Seniority (as from  January 1, 2014) Notice Period
From 0 to less than three months 2 weeks
From three to less than six months 4 weeks
From six to less than nine months 6 weeks
From nine to less than twelve months 7 weeks
From twelve to less than 15 months 8 weeks
From 15 to less than 18 months 9 weeks
From 18 to less than 21 months 10 weeks
From 21 to less than 24 months 11 weeks
From 2 years to less than 3 years 12 weeks
From 3 years to less than 4 years 13 weeks
From 4 years to less than 5 years 15 weeks
From 5 years to less than 6 years 18 weeks
From 6 years to less than 7 years 21 weeks
From 7 years to less than 8 years 24 weeks
From 8 years to less than 9 years 27 weeks
From 9 years to less than 10 years 30 weeks
From 10 years to less than 11 years 33 weeks
From 11 years to less than 12 years 36 weeks
From 12 years to less than 13 years 39 weeks
From 13 years to less than 14 years 42 weeks
From 14 years to less than 15 years 45 weeks
From 15 years to less than 16 years 48 weeks
From 16 years to less than 17 years 51 weeks
From 17 years to less than 18 years 54 weeks
From 18 years to less than 19 years 57 weeks
From 19 years to less than 20 years 60 weeks
From 20 years to less than 21 years 62 weeks
From 21 years to less than 22 years 63 weeks
From 22 years to less than 23 years 64 weeks
From 23 years to less than 24 years 65 weeks
From 24 years to less than 25 years 66 weeks

Continue to add 1 week per year of additional service.

2. 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.

3. 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.