The Belgium government recently agreed on introducing a series of reforms aimed at boosting private sector employees’ work-life balance. The most notable changes include the option for employees to ask their employers for a four-day workweek as well as the right to disconnect. Once a draft bill outlining and explaining the new measures is introduced, it will enter into effect after it is passed by the Belgium parliament. This process will likely take months and may alter current provisions.

Update: The Belgium government recently presented the draft bill to Parliament. The draft bill still has to be voted upon in Parliament and published in the State Gazette before it can enter into force.


Key details

Four-day workweek option

Employees will be allowed to ask their employers to work four days instead of five days a week by increasing their work hours on those four days (up to 9.5 hours per day when stated in the work rules or 10 hours if agreed in a collective bargaining agreement) and without loss of salary. For increased flexibility, employees may also ask their employers to alternate their volume of working hours each week by working more or fewer hours one week and compensating for the difference the next week.

Employers are not mandated to accept such requests. If the employer refuses the employee’s request, the refusal must be justified and in writing. If the employer agrees to the employee’s request, such agreement must be reflected in writing as an addendum to the employee’s employment contract. Such flexible arrangements are limited to a six-month period (renewable), and a copy of the employee and employer agreement should be sent to the Health & Safety Committee, or to the union delegation when there is no such committee within the company.

In addition, employers will be mandated to give a seven-day advance notice (instead of the current five days) to any work schedule changes for part-time employees with a variable work schedule (unless a shorter timeframe is provided in an applicable collective bargaining agreement).

The right to disconnect

Employers with 20 or more employees will be required to implement the right for their employees to disconnect after working hours are performed. The new right to disconnect needs to be negotiated at the company level and with the trade unions, and should then be reflected in a collective bargaining agreement. Such agreements must minimally include the employees’ right to not read work emails and messages after working hours. It is still unclear how this new right should be implemented for companies without a trade union.

This new measure follows a growing trend in many other European Union member states such as France and Spain. It also follows the Belgian government’s introduction of the right to disconnect to public sector employees in early 2022.

Employee training

All employees will be entitled to three employer-paid days per year for training purposes to ensure they keep up to date with the skills needed for their position. Training days will increase to four in 2023 and five in 2024.

Employers with a minimum of 20 employees will be required to prepare a training plan to discuss with their employee representations.

Diversity

The Belgium labor minister will be providing, every two years, the social partners with data on diversity in their sector of activity. Based on such data, employers will be required to draft a report explaining how diversity is handled in their workplace. A remedy action plan will need to be prepared by employers whose reports differ significantly from the data provided by the Belgium labor minister.