Labor Law

Belgian employment law

Discover what there is to know about Belgian employment law, including working hours and holiday pay, parental rights, and more.

Belgian employment law

By Victoria Pearce

Updated 10-4-2024

Fortunately for expats moving to Belgium, the country’s employment law provides significant protection for workers, covering everything from working hours and holiday entitlement to parental rights and anti-discrimination. Labor unions are strongly involved in employment legislation, and works councils help to resolve any employment disputes. As a result, those working in the country should find the support they need should any issues arise.

If you are considering applying for a job in Belgium, this article provides an overview of Belgian employment law and includes the following information:


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Labor and employment law in Belgium

Belgium defines most of its labor laws on a national level and follows EU regulations that protect EU citizens. That said, there are a few areas of the country that are left to the three regional governments in Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels-Capital.

There is no consolidated code of law for labor laws in Belgium. Instead, legal requirements are drawn from numerous individual laws. 

Row of trees leading to an office tower in Parc de Bruxelles in Brussels
An office tower in Parc de Bruxelles in Brussels (Photo: George Pachantouris/Getty Images)

One feature that makes Belgian employment law unique is that some collective agreements (i.e. those negotiated between employers and trade unions) help govern some aspects of pay and working conditions across the whole private sector. 

An example of this is the former prohibition on night work from between 20:00 and midnight. While this prohibition was recently lifted temporarily for some businesses, it remains subject to negotiations between the government and labor unions. 

Foreign workers: your right to work in Belgium

Your right to work in Belgium will depend on your country of citizenship. For instance, EU, Swiss, and EEA nationals (including those from Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway) do not need a permit to work in Belgium. Foreign workers who are not from these countries, on the other hand, must obtain a visa and work permit before they are legally allowed to work in Belgium.

Work permits are most commonly offered to highly skilled workers and EU Blue Card holders. Limited categories of workers, including artists, professional athletes, and journalists may also be eligible for one, although these categories change from time to time and differ by region. 

A professional card is also an option for self-employed individuals who want to establish their business. This can be an attractive option for freelancers in Belgium

Employment contracts in Belgium

Formal employment contracts are common in Belgium. However, a written contract is not required for all employment types.

Belgian law recognizes the following four types of employment contracts:

  • Open-ended contract: The contract is for an indefinite period of time, and is sometimes called a permanent contract. This is the most common agreement for highly-skilled workers moving to Belgium. A written contract is not legally required for this contract type, but most employers will offer one to avoid confusion.
  • Fixed-term contract: The contract specifies a limited period of time, after which it automatically terminates
  • Specific-assignment contract: The contract is tied to a specific work assignment or project. This is commonly used for film and writing work, as well as seasonal farming.
  • Replacement contract: The contract is tied to the replacement of an existing employee for a period of time. This is commonly used for coverage while an existing employee is on parental leave.

Contract language

Depending on which region of Belgium you work in, your employment contract may be in French, Dutch, or German. However, regardless of the region, employees are entitled to ask for a written contract in a language they understand.

Changes to contract terms

Belgian employment law will not allow your employer to change the terms of the employment contract without your approval. Indeed, these can only be changed with mutual agreement of both the employer and the employee. 

Trial and notice periods

Probationary periods are not allowed under Belgian employment law, so you will not find a defined trial period in any employment contract within the country.

a man in a suit sliding an envelope across the table to his manager
Photo: Chalirmpoj Pimpisarn/Getty Images

Notice periods, on the other hand, are required when either the employer or employee wishes to terminate an employment contract. They can start from as little as one week, within the first three months of employment, and increase to twelve weeks for employers or six weeks for employees, by the two-year mark.

Wages and salaries

As of 2023, Belgium has one of the highest minimum wages (€1,955 a month) in Europe, ranking third after Luxembourg (€2,387) and Germany (€1,981). The government regularly reviews and raises the rate, and many industries set higher minimum wages based on collective agreements with labor unions.

The average monthly salary in Belgium is estimated to be around €3,900 to €4,600. However, salaries naturally vary depending on the profession, reaching up to six figures for some roles such as Company Director.

Notably, Belgium also has one of the lowest gender pay gaps in Europe, with women earning an average of 5% less per hour than men in 2021.

Working hours

Generally speaking, working hours for employees in Belgium may not exceed eight hours per day or 40 hours per week. Many full-time employment contracts actually limit the work week to 38 hours to comply with a collective bargaining agreement. 

Notably, overtime is only allowed in limited circumstances. For instance, daily working time may be increased to nine hours if the worker does not work more than 5.5 days a week and 10 hours if they are absent from home for more than 14 hours a day due to the distance between the workplace and their home. However, under no circumstances can work go beyond 11 hours per day or 50 hours per week.

Employers are also prohibited from requiring employees to work more than 78 overtime hours in three months, or 91 overtime hours in one year. Employees who have worked overtime can choose to receive overtime pay or rest time. 

a busy businesswoman talking on mobile phone while checking time on watch at office
Photo: Maskot/Getty Images

Belgium recently struck a new labor deal that included some employee-friendly changes. For instance, most employers must now grant employees a ‘right to be offline’, meaning that the majority of workers are not expected to respond to work messages outside of working hours. 

Companies have also embraced flexible working, allowing employees to request to work four days (full-time) instead of five. They can also vary their hours so they can work more hours in some weeks and less in others. Notably, the employer can refuse these requests but must provide a written justification for it.

Paid and unpaid leave

Holiday pay

Similar to most European countries, the amount of paid holiday an employee is entitled to in Belgium depends on how long they worked in the course of the year. However, holiday entitlement must be at least 24 days for 12 months of work.

University graduates younger than 25 can also receive youth holiday, which essentially provides a route to paid holiday leave during their first year of employment. 

Employees over 50 who were unable to work during part or all of the year that was used to calculate their holiday entitlement may instead be granted senior holidays to ensure that they still receive holiday leave.

Employees in Belgium also receive an annual holiday allowance which is similar to a bonus payment. For those designated as white-collar workers (i.e. those in intellectual labor jobs), this is paid by the employer. The amount includes the salary that is normally owed for the holiday period plus a supplement that is equal to 92% of the monthly salary.

Blue-collar workers (i.e. those in manual labor jobs) also receive holiday allowance, but it is handled by the Belgian Federal Service for Annual Holiday (Rijkdienst voor Jaarlijkse Vakantie) or another holiday fund service. 

Under Belgian employment law, employees are entitled to have 10 national holidays off work each year. Work is generally prohibited during these periods, with some exceptions. For instance, those who work in a sector where working on Sundays is allowed may be asked to work on a holiday. However, they are entitled to compensatory rest time.

Sick pay

Employees in Belgium are entitled to statutory sick pay during the first 30 days of absence. This pay comes directly from the employer and is calculated based on the employee’s normal salary. Factors such as the nature of their contract (e.g. white or blue collar) and the length of service can impact the amount of sick pay they receive.

a sick woman laying on the sofa and blowing her nose
Photo: Tom Merton/Getty Images

After 30 days, employees will receive sickness benefits through their health insurance fund (Mutuelle/Ziekenfonds). This is one of the many social security benefit programs in place in Belgium. 

Self-employed workers can also receive sickness benefits through their health insurance fund if they meet certain conditions. For example, they must have been paying into the fund for at least six months.

Other forms of paid leave

You are entitled to a leave of absence from your work, on your normal salary, for the following reasons:

  • if you have to appear in court
  • to attend family events
  • to comply with civic obligations and civil missions

To receive your salary, you must inform your employer in advance of your absence, or as soon as possible if the circumstances prevent you from giving advance warning.

Regional governments in Belgium also run paid educational leave programs that allow employees to be absent from work for recognized training courses with full pay. Notably, these courses do not have to be related to your job.

Unpaid leave

Employees can take up to 10 days of unpaid leave each year for compelling reasons due to unforeseen events. These could be used to handle unexpected life emergencies.

Unpaid career breaks and reduced work hours are also available for employees who need to care for a child under 8 years old, a disabled child under 21, a seriously ill household member, or a person with an incurable disease.

Private sector employees can also take unpaid leave to fulfill political duties. 

Parental rights in Belgium

Your rights during your pregnancy

Pregnant employees in Belgium have access to high-quality healthcare and support services, as well as strict working rights. For instance, employers are prohibited from allowing pregnant staff to work in the week prior to their expected due date, as well as nine weeks after delivery. This leave is obligatory and the employee cannot work during this period. Moreover, they may not be assigned any overtime.

After returning to work, breastfeeding workers may be temporarily banned from performing work tasks that are hazardous. 

The Gender Law in Belgium prohibits discrimination based on sex, which includes discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood. Employers cannot dismiss a pregnant employee except for limited urgent reasons, such as economic reasons, improper behavior by the employee, or termination of a fixed-term contract. The employer must also prove that their reason for the dismissal is non-discriminatory.

Maternity leave

Maternity leave is provided to mothers in Belgium whether they are employed, self-employed, or unemployed. 

Working mothers are entitled to 15 weeks of quasi-paid maternity leave (French: congé de maternité, Dutch: moederschapsverlof), and 19 weeks when they give birth to multiple children. The earliest time that maternity leave can start is six weeks before the expected due date, or eight weeks for multiples.

a pregnant woman bonding with her baby son in a park in the city
Photo: David Trood/Getty Images

Notably, the week prior to the expected due date, and the nine weeks following the birth are required leave and must be taken. This also means that unemployed mothers cannot begin work during this obligatory leave period.

Maternity leave can be extended if the child requires hospitalization after birth. The extension is equal to the period of time the child remains hospitalized. 

If you are self-employed, you are entitled to up to 12 weeks of quasi-paid maternity leave, and 13 weeks for multiples. The week prior to the expected due date, and the two weeks after the birth are required leave and must be taken. During the remaining optional leave weeks, a self-employed person may work part-time if they wish. Notably, working part-time extends the maternity leave period up to a maximum of 18 weeks and 20 weeks for multiples.

Maternity benefit

Belgian maternity benefit varies by employment status; i.e. whether you are employed, unemployed, or self-employed. Below is a summary of this.

  • For employees, maternity benefit is calculated as:
    • 82% of their salary for the first 30 days
    • 75% of their salary beyond 30 days to the maximum time allowed
    • Maximum rate: €110.23 per day
  • For unemployed persons, maternity benefit is calculated as:
    • Amount of unemployment benefit plus 19.5% of their previous gross salary for the first 30 days
    • Amount of unemployment benefit plus 15% of their previous gross salary beyond 30 days to the maximum time allowed
    • Maximum rates: €116.85 in the first 30 days, €110.23 beyond 30 days
  • For self-employed persons, maternity benefit is paid as a flat rate allowance that begins at €830.67 per week for the first four weeks, and gradually decreases over time

Paternity leave

Salaried and self-employed fathers and co-parents are currently entitled to 20 days of fully-paid paternity or birth leave (French: congé de naissance, Dutch: geboorteverlof). This can be taken all at once or spread over a period of four months. 

Adopting parents are entitled to the same amount of quasi-paid leave as birth parents, which can be taken until the child is 12 years old. Foster parents receive six days of quasi-paid leave per year.

Other forms of parental leave in Belgium include:

  • Four months of quasi-paid parental leave (French: congé parental, Dutch: ouderschapsverlof)
  • One year of quasi-paid childcare leave or a career break (French: crédittemps avec motif, Dutch: tijdskrediet met motief)
  • Up to 10 days per year of unpaid urgent reasons leave (French: force majeure, Dutch: verlof om dringende redenen)
  • One to 24 months of paid medical care leave (French: congé pour porter assistance, Dutch: verlof voor medische bijstand)
  • Up to two months of paid palliative leave (French: congé pour soins palliatifs, Dutch: palliatief verlof)
  • Up to 12 months of informal caregivers’ leave (French: congé pour aidants proches, Dutch: verlof voor mantelzorg)

Social security and tax in Belgium

Social security contributions and withholding tax will be deducted from your salary in Belgium.

The National Social Security Office (NSSO) collects social contributions which cover replacement income (such as pensions and unemployment assistance) and supplementary income (such as healthcare and family allowances).

In 2023, the payroll tax for employees in Belgium, which cover social security, is 13.7%. Withholding tax is based on gross taxable income and varies significantly depending on a number of rules. You can read more about this in our article on the Belgian tax system.

Public health insurance is also available to everyone in Belgium and is partially funded by social security. You can read more about that here.

Protection from discrimination at work

Belgian law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex, age, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. There are also additional distinctions within each of these categories. For example, discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is considered to be sex discrimination. 

If you believe that you have encountered discrimination at work, you can contact either of the entities below to seek assistance and lodge a complaint:

Joining a union in Belgium

Trade unions are an important part of working life in Belgium. All employees are allowed to join one if they wish. However, trade union density is just over 49% of workers.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) also estimates that 96% of employees have the right to bargain in Belgium.

The three largest trade unions in Belgium are the Christian Trade Union (ACV), the Socialist Trade Union (ABVV), and the Liberal Trade Union (ACLVB)

side shot of a woman standing among a crowd of protesters during a strike in Brussels
Photo: Pauline Loroy/Unsplash

Belgium operates a social consultation system, with three levels that vary based on the number of participants in the consultation. These consultations develop collective labor agreements (CCTs), which regulate working conditions, wages, and the management of social peace. Notably, CCTs can sometimes have sweeping authority across the private sector.

Strikes are not uncommon in Belgium during trade union consultations. In fact, in recent years, the country experienced the second-highest number of strike actions per year, behind France. 

Health and safety at work

Employers in Belgium are responsible for creating and maintaining a safe work environment for their employees. Legislation such as the Act of 4 August 1996 requires companies with 50 or more staff to set up a prevention and protection committee where members can give their opinions and approval of the employer’s plans that may impact the wellbeing of employees.

Belgium also has extensive legal restrictions regarding the use of chemical, carcinogenic, mutagenic, and biological agents in the workplace.

Training and development

Most private sector employers (i.e. those with at least 20 employees) must provide each full-time staff member with five training days per year. Training is paid by the employer and employees are entitled to their regular pay during this time.

Notably, part-time employees are also entitled to training in proportion to the amount of time they work.

Terminating the employment relationship


Under Belgian employment law, employees can be dismissed in two ways: either through regular dismissal following notice and compensation, or dismissal with serious cause.

A dismissal with serious cause can be immediate. However, the employer must provide proof of the reasons for the dismissal and the decision must be made within three days of the action deemed to be serious cause. A regular dismissal, on the other hand, does not require a written explanation unless an employee with more than six months of seniority requests it. 

Since 2014, notice periods have aligned for all workers, in both blue and white-collar jobs. Notably, an employer must give more notice when dismissing an employee than an employee must give when leaving a company after three or more months of employment. For example, an employee that has been with the company for 12 to 15 months is entitled to eight weeks’ notice from the employer for regular dismissal. However, the same employee can terminate their own employment with only four weeks’ notice.

an employee in a suit carrying a box full of work files
Photo: Anchalee Phanmaha/Getty Images

It is important to be aware that some employees are protected from dismissal in Belgium. This includes pregnant staff members, those on parental leave, and those who have filed a harassment or discrimination complaint. And should an employer wish to dismiss a protected employee, they must be able to prove that the reason for dismissal is unrelated to their protected activity.

Leaving a job voluntarily

Employees in Belgium must provide notice before leaving a job, and the length of this increases with their tenure at the company. Once they are hired, an employee must provide one week’s notice. However, when they reach the two-year mark, they must provide six weeks’ notice before leaving.

If you want to resign from your job in Belgium, you will need to hand in a resignation letter that includes the following information:

  • the date of the letter 
  • the recipient (typically your supervisor or HR manager)
  • a clear statement that you are resigning
  • the start and end date of your notice period
  • your name and signature

Notably, it is not necessary to include your reasons for resigning in the letter, and you should refrain from sharing your thoughts about the company. Just remember, this is an official document that will be stored by the company. 


Under Belgian employment law, individual redundancies (i.e. lay-offs) follow the same procedures as a termination of an employment contract. 

Collective redundancies require special information and companies must follow consultation guidelines. These occur when the number of impacted employees equals or exceeds any of the following:

  • Ten employees in a company with an average of between 20 and 99 employees
  • 10% of the workforce in companies with an average of between 100 and 299 employees
  • 30 employees in a company with an average of 300 or more employees

For collective redundancies, employers must inform and consult their works council if they have one. These councils consist of management and employee representatives and are a requirement for all employers with 100 or more staff.


Belgium operates a state pension system, which all employees and employers pay into. The official retirement age is 65, but recent developments in the country’s employment law have led this to be progressively increased. As of February 2025, the age will be 66, and this will continue to increase by one year every year until 2030.

Government pension can be collected before the retirement age if the employee has met the required number of years in service. For example, a 61-year-old employee must have 43 years of employment service to retire early.

Notably, employees who wish to work beyond retirement age are also permitted to do so.

Company mergers and insolvencies

Belgian employment law requires companies that plan a merger or face insolvency to notify their works council and undergo a consultation period. They must also pay out notice periods for all employees in the event of a business closure. 

However, if a company becomes insolvent and cannot pay out its employees, a public fund will intervene to ensure that they receive the payments they are owed.

Temporary, part-time, agency, and informal workers

Part-time employees in Belgium generally receive the same rights as full-time workers, although some benefits such as paid leave entitlement are worked out on a pro-rata basis.

Temporary workers are allowed in Belgium but are subject to limitations. For instance, there must be an exceptional need to justify hiring a temporary worker rather than a regular employee. Temporary agencies must also receive government authorization before they can operate. Temporary agency workers make up just over 20% of the workforce in Belgium.

Fixed-term employment is also allowed, however, less than 9% of workers are employed with this type of contract. These are most commonly used to cover a limited need; for example, when a regular employee is on parental leave. 

Making a complaint as a worker in Belgium

Most employees in Belgium turn to their works council or union representative for help in the first instance. These entities can help them resolve any employment disputes informally or encourage formal action as necessary.

Employees wishing to file a claim for discrimination can do so through the Institute for Equality of Women and Men or the Interfederal Centre for Equal Opportunity (UNIA).