Rivermate | Belgium flag


Employee Rights and Protections

Explore workers' rights and legal protections in Belgium


In Belgium, employers must have valid reasons to terminate an employee's contract. These include economic or technical reasons such as restructuring, financial difficulties, or technological changes impacting the employee's job function. Inadequate professional conduct, including poor performance, incompetence, or repeated misconduct, can also be grounds for termination. Serious cause, such as severe misconduct like violence, theft, breach of trust, or willful refusal to perform work in a serious manner, is another valid reason. Lastly, medical reasons or force majeure, such as long-term illness or disability that makes it impossible for the employee to continue working, and reassignment to a suitable position is not possible, can also lead to termination.

Notice Requirements

Both employers and employees must adhere to notice requirements prior to termination (with a few exceptions). Notice periods in Belgium are generally determined by the employee's seniority (length of service) and whether it's the employer or employee terminating the contract. Notice typically starts on the Monday following the week in which notice was given. In certain cases (e.g., illness, accident), the notice period may be suspended. Notice of termination is recommended to be in writing, typically via registered letter, to establish proof.

Severance Pay

Severance pay may apply in the following circumstances: termination by employer (excluding serious cause), where an employee is usually entitled to severance pay when dismissed by the employer without serious cause. Severance pay in Belgium is based on the employee's seniority and salary level. Some sectors or companies may have additional severance provisions outlined in collective agreements.

Special Considerations

Dismissal for Serious Cause

A dismissal must occur within three working days of the employer learning of the serious misconduct. Notification of the reason for dismissal must be provided in writing within three working days of the termination. Employees dismissed for serious cause are generally not entitled to severance pay.

Protected Employees

Special protections exist for groups such as pregnant employees, employees on sick leave, and employee representatives.


Belgium has a robust set of laws to safeguard individuals from discrimination. These laws are built on three primary legal foundations:

  • The Act of 30 July 1981 (the Anti-Racism Act): This act criminalizes behavior driven by racism and xenophobia.
  • The Act of 10 May 2007 (the Anti-Discrimination Act): This act offers broad protection against discrimination on various grounds.
  • The Act of 10 May 2007 (the Gender Act): This act specifically prohibits discrimination based on gender.

Protected Characteristics

In Belgium, discrimination is prohibited based on the following protected characteristics:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Descent
  • National or ethnic origin
  • Nationality
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity and gender expression
  • Pregnancy
  • Childbirth
  • Maternity
  • Civil status
  • Age
  • Health status
  • Disability
  • Physical or genetic characteristics
  • Religious or philosophical beliefs
  • Political opinions
  • Trade union membership
  • Language
  • Social origin
  • Property
  • Birth

Redress Mechanisms

Belgium provides multiple channels for seeking redress upon experiencing discrimination:

  • Unia (Interfederal Centre for Equal Opportunities): An independent public institution responsible for combating discrimination and promoting equal opportunities. Unia offers mediation, legal support, and can initiate lawsuits.
  • Institute for the Equality of Women and Men: An independent government body focusing on gender equality. It offers support and legal advice in cases of gender-based discrimination.
  • Labor Courts: Individuals subjected to employment discrimination can seek legal remedies through the labor courts.
  • Criminal Courts: Certain discriminatory acts, especially those involving hate speech or incitement to violence, can result in criminal charges.

Employer Responsibilities

Belgian employers have significant responsibilities in upholding anti-discrimination laws and ensuring a workplace free from discrimination. These include:

  • Non-discrimination Policies: Creating and implementing clear policies on non-discrimination and equal treatment.
  • Training: Providing regular training to employees on anti-discrimination law, diversity, and inclusion.
  • Complaint Procedures: Establishing accessible procedures for reporting discrimination incidents, ensuring thorough investigation and corrective action.
  • Prevention: Actively taking preventative measures to build a discrimination-free workplace environment, fostering respect and inclusivity.

Employers in Belgium may be held accountable for acts of discrimination committed by their employees during employment.

Working conditions

In Belgium, a set of regulations is enforced to ensure a healthy and balanced work environment for employees. These standards cover work hours, rest periods, and ergonomic considerations.

Work Hours

Belgium's legal maximum for average working hours is 38 hours per week and 8 hours per day. Specific industries may have lower maximums established through collective bargaining agreements. Companies can implement flexible work schedules exceeding 38 hours a week, provided the quarterly or yearly average remains at 38 hours. Statutory exceptions exist for specific sectors like shift work, allowing extended daily hours up to 11 or 12 hours under specific circumstances.

Rest Periods

Employees are entitled to a minimum uninterrupted daily rest period of 11 hours between working days. Belgian law mandates a minimum weekly rest period of 36 consecutive hours, typically falling on Sundays or another designated day. Employees in Belgium are legally entitled to a minimum of 20 paid vacation days per year, on top of national holidays.

Ergonomic Requirements

Belgian legislation emphasizes the importance of a safe and ergonomic work environment to prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders. Specific regulations are outlined in the Royal Decree of 4 April 2002 on the Minimum Requirements for Workplace Design. Key points include:

  • Workstation Design: Workstations must be designed considering ergonomic principles to promote good posture, minimize physical strain, and accommodate different body types.
  • Adjustable Equipment: Employers should provide adjustable furniture, like chairs and monitors, to enable employees to personalize their workspace for optimal comfort.
  • Work Breaks: Employers are encouraged to implement short, regular work breaks to allow employees to move around and reduce physical strain.

Health and safety

Belgium prioritizes worker safety and well-being through a comprehensive framework of health and safety regulations. This guide explores these regulations, outlining employer obligations, employee rights, and the enforcing entities.

Employer Obligations

Belgian law places significant responsibility on employers to ensure a safe and healthy work environment. Key obligations include:

  • Risk Assessment and Prevention: Employers must conduct systematic risk assessments to identify and mitigate potential hazards in the workplace. This proactive approach is a cornerstone of Belgian health and safety regulations.

  • Internal Prevention and Protection Service (IPP): Companies are required to establish an IPP, staffed by trained prevention advisors. The IPP plays a vital role in developing and implementing safety protocols, monitoring working conditions, and providing safety training to employees.

  • Information and Training: Employers must provide employees with clear information about workplace risks, prevention measures, and emergency procedures. Regular training on health and safety practices is mandatory.

  • Accident Reporting and Investigation: All work-related accidents must be reported to the appropriate authorities, and employers are obligated to investigate the incident's cause and implement corrective actions to prevent recurrence.

  • Emergency Plans: Employers must create emergency plans detailing procedures to follow in case of fire, accidents, or other emergencies.

Employee Rights

Employees in Belgium possess fundamental rights regarding health and safety at work:

  • Right to a Safe Workplace: Employees have the right to work in an environment free from foreseeable risks to their health and safety.

  • Right to Information and Training: Employees have the right to receive clear and comprehensive information and training on workplace hazards, safety measures, and emergency procedures.

  • Right to Refuse Unsafe Work: Employees have the right to refuse work they believe poses a serious threat to their health and safety.

  • Right to Report Violations: Employees have the right to report any suspected breaches of health and safety regulations to their employer, union representatives, or relevant authorities.

Enforcement Agencies

Several Belgian entities oversee workplace health and safety regulations:

  • The Federal Public Service Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue (FPS Employment): The FPS Employment enacts health and safety legislation, conducts inspections, and provides guidance to employers and employees.

  • The External Services for Prevention and Protection at Work (ESPP): These private entities provide expert guidance and support to companies on health and safety matters, particularly for smaller businesses lacking the resources for an internal IPP.

  • Social Inspectorate: This enforcement arm conducts workplace inspections to verify compliance with health and safety regulations. They have the authority to issue fines and stop work orders in cases of serious violations.

Rivermate | A 3d rendering of earth

Hire your employees globally with confidence

We're here to help you on your global hiring journey.