Belgium 5 minute countdown

Over the last few weeks you may have been bombarded with fliers and alerts on the many recent changes to Belgian employment laws. A lot of changes indeed, but what do they mean for you, and what do you need to do? In this post, we have cut away all the details to come to the essence of what should (and what need not) be added to your to do list for the coming weeks.

Right to disconnect

What it says – By 1 January 2023, all companies employing 20 or more employees must draft a policy on the right for employees to disconnect outside of working hours. Employers have a reasonable degree of latitude around content in the policy, as long as it is built around three pillars:

  1. an overview of how to exercise the right to disconnect,
  2. guidelines for using digital tools (essentially phone and laptop) in a way that serves the right to disconnect, and
  3. raising awareness around the use of and risks inherent in those digital tools.

What you may need to do – A policy will have to be agreed with the employees, either via the works council or, if you don’t have one, through a change to the employee handbook. Since changing the employee handbook requires at least 15 days’ notice of the draft changes, early December is really the last point by which you need to have a draft policy ready.

Implementation of the EU directive on transparent and predictable working conditions

What it says – As from 10 November 2022, Belgian employers have to provide certain information on the employment relationship to employees, ultimately on the first day of employment. Information to be provided includes details on salary and benefits and working time. Employers are free to choose the form in which they communicate this —  the employment contract for example is an acceptable form.

The new law also includes provisions on exclusivity clauses (prohibiting employees from working for other employers while they are working for you) which will be prohibited going forward, “unless they are allowed by law”. In this stage, there is unfortunately little clarity on those cases where an exclusivity clause will still be allowed, but it seems likely that the employer will need to be able to justify their use in any particular case.

Additionally the revisions introduce an obligation to offer employees the training required to perform their job.

What you may need to do – Since the employment contract is an acceptable form of communication, and most employment contracts that pass through our hands are already in pretty decent shape, there is likely not much to do for you. It doesn’t hurt of course to have your template employment contract checked for potential improvements. It is also advised to check any exclusivity clauses you may have in place.

Your employee handbook will also need an update, as it should mention the right to training and the right to appeal a termination (which may be a simple reference to the Employment Contracts Act), as well as some other minor details.

Medical certificate for first day of absence

What it says – As from 1st January 2023, employees will no longer be required to submit a medical certificate for the first day of a period of incapacity for work. This applies to up to three first days per year. Companies with less than 50 employees may opt out of this rule.

What you may need to do – Your employee handbook will need to be amended by the end of the year:

  1. to reflect this change, if you have more than 50 employees; or
  2. to document any decision to opt out, if you have less than 50 employees.

The Labour Deal and the Belgian implementation of the EU Directive on Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions have also introduced other rights for employees, such as the right to ask for a 4-day work week (NB, not the right to such an arrangement, only that the request for it is considered in good faith and granted if there is no good reason why not], and the right for employees with at least six months’ service to request a contract with more predictable and secure working conditions. For these changes you can wait for the employee to make the first move —  they do not require immediate action by the employer, except possibly some training to line managers around responding to such requests in an appropriate manner (i.e. not immediately rolling their eyes or falling about laughing at the mere suggestion of a reduced working week).

If we can be of help on any of these, whether by providing or reviewing a draft right-to-disconnect policy or performing a quick scan of your employee handbook, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.