The EU Directive on work-life balance for parents and carers, which entered into effect on 1 August 2019, focuses on promoting equality between men and women and addresses the underrepresentation of women in the labor market by establishing rights to paternity, parental and caregiver’s leave. EU member states were given a three-year deadline to enact local legislation complying with the directive, which ended in August 2022. While some countries, such as the Netherlands, Italy and Austria, transposed the Directive within the designated timeframe, other jurisdictions, such as Belgium, have missed the deadline.
Since Belgian legislation already includes many provisions that the Directive prescribes, the most significant change introduced by the new rule is the introduction of a carer’s leave entitlement.
The employee now has the right to take an unpaid carer’s leave for a maximum of five working days per calendar year to provide personal care or support to a seriously ill family member. These five days of carer’s leave must be deducted from the employee’s existing entitlement to unpaid leave for compelling reasons of 10 days per year.
Employees taking such leave must be protected against termination of employment. The new legislation extends such protection to all employees taking maternity, paternity and parental leaves from the submission of the leave request until one month after their return from their leave. Dismissals shortly before or after these periods may be invalid if the employer started preparing actions and documents needed for the dismissal during the protected timeframes.
Employers are now mandated to inform, in any written form, all their new and existing employees about the essential aspects of the employment relationship, whenever such information is requested. This includes the duration of leaves provided, notice periods, training rights, place of work, etc.
In addition, employees are now entitled to a more secure and predictable working schedule. Employees with variable working schedule may request, after six months of service, to have a fixed working schedule. While the employer is allowed to refuse such request, the refusal must be justified and delivered to the employee in writing.
Employers should review the changes and ensure compliance by amending their HR internal policies and practices, employment agreements, company-level collective bargaining agreements, and family-related benefits and policies as needed.