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Ending a work relationship: resigning, lay off and unemployment rights

18:56 31/07/2014

Be it your decision or your employers, your current working relationship is coming to an end. While terminating employment may feel as cumbersome as a break up, you can find comfort in knowing that many rules exist in Belgian law that make sure you and your employer’s rights are upheld. The following is an overview of Belgium’s complex rules around ending employment.

You may want to resign for a number of reasons: to broaden your horizons, you have already found another job, poor working relationships with colleagues and many more. In general, your employer cannot and will not refuse these reasons for leaving; even if just for the fact that keeping an employee who doesn’t want to be there is bad for morale.

The notice period
Of course, you cannot leave whenever you want: you have to respect the Belgian termination of employment notice period. During this period, you are supposed to work as usual.

The notice period does not begin until the first day of the following month. As such, those wanting to have a minimum notice period should consider handing in their letter of resignation on the last day of the month prior (although not looked upon highly, this is common practice among Belgian employees).

Once you’ve established the beginning of your notice period, the duration of this period depends on how long you have been with your company and your salary. As of 2014, if you have been working for less than five years and receive a gross annual salary of less than €32,254, then your employee must respect a notice period of at least six weeks. If you have been working for the employer for more than five years, the notice period increases to three months.

In the case that your gross annual salary goes over €32,254 (this is salary including annual leave and the 13th month payout), your notice period must be negotiated with your employer. While this could mean a longer notice period, the length of the period may not be longer than four and a half months if your gross annual salary is between €32,254 and €64,508, and no more than six months if your annual salary is more than €64,508 a year. If you cannot come to an agreement with your employer about that termination notice period, the judge of Labour will make the decision. 

The letter
When writing your letter of resignation, make sure to include the following:

-       your name and contact details

-       the date 

-       your wish to resign and end your employment contract 

-       the company’s name and address 

-        the start date of the notice period

-       the maximum duration of the notice period as laid down by law 

Keep in mind that you do not have to explain your reasons for resigning in your letter. Once these elements are in the document, sign it and send it on to your employer.

Your resignation rights
Make sure to consider all your rights when terminating your employment contract. For example, do you have rights to unemployment benefits, paid holidays or a year-end bonus? For this, it is always better to break the contract by common consent when leaving a company. Sometimes, the employer agrees to dismiss his employee. This is ideal and certainly worth attempting. If it is not possible to break the contract that way, it would be better for you to prove that your employer can be blamed for something.


Solicitation leave
One benefit of resigning that your employer probably will not mention is that you have the right to take one day off a week for ‘solicitation leave’, or a day off to search for other employment. This applies during the whole termination notice period.


Getting laid off
The same notice period rights apply in the case that your employer terminates your work contract. The difference however is that you the employee is then entitled to reduce the period of notice by giving ‘counter-notice’ of his or her own. You are also entitled to leave for seeking a new job. Finally, may have rights to unemployment benefits.


Unemployment benefits – do you apply?
Most individuals who lose employment involuntarily have the right to unemployment benefit (allocations de chômage/werkloosheidsuitkeringen). Still, some limitations exist.

Self-employed people, for example, cannot immediately benefit from the unemployment scheme, as they do not pay any contributions for it. Self-employed persons who become unemployed but who used to work as salaried persons can still be entitled to unemployment benefits on particular conditions.

Also, the mere fact that you are subject to the social security scheme for salaried persons is not sufficient to be able to use your right to unemployment benefits. Indeed, you must be able to prove a sufficient number of working days during a particular reference period. This reference period is the period preceding the demand for unemployment benefits. The required number of working days and the duration of the reference period depend of your age. This is why most employees doing occasional work, student contracts and domestic staff cannot receive unemployment benefits.

Work performed abroad can, under certain conditions, be taken into consideration in the calculation of the number of working days.


Registering for unemployment
Those applying for unemployment benefits have a procedure to follow. First you need to register at your local unemployment benefit office, the Caisse Auxiliaire de Paiement des Allocations de Chômage (CAPAC)/Hulpkas voor Werkloosheidsuitkeringen. In Brussels, the CAPAC is located near Brussels’ north train station.

Entitlement to unemployment benefits depends if you satisfy specific granting conditions. These include:

- you can not receive any salary

- you can not do any work

- you must be unemployed independent of your will

- you must be available for the labour market

- You must be in a state of capacity for work

- You must not have reached the legal pension age yet

Finally, to receive your unemployment benefit you have to be registered at your local employment agency (Actiris in Brussels, VDAB in Flanders and Forem in Wallonia).


Benefit amounts
The basic unemployment benefit is calculated on the basis of your gross income. However, the daily amount is limited to a maximum. This basic percentage may be added with extra percentages, depending on the category and the duration of the unemployment. After one year, most unemployment allowances decrease. If you want to obtain an unemployment benefit, file a demand with the credit institution of your choice, either a trade union or the public ‘Auxiliary Fund for Unemployment Benefits’ (CAPAC). The monthly unemployment benefit amounts to a maximum of €1,394.4 gross. 


Useful resources:

To learn more about your rights when changing jobs, consult this manual by the VDAB, or these websites: website of the Belgian Federal Public Service Employment national employment office useful information about working in Belgium as a self-employed person, or employing someone


Photo courtesy of Flickr/new3dom3000

Written by Kelly Hendricks