Hiring and Recruiting Top Talent in Belgium
Belgium may be on the north-western coastline of mainland Europe, squeezed between nations north, south and east and the sea to the west, but in a business sense it is at the heart of the continent. Numerous multinational companies have offices in the Belgian capital Brussels and other major cities, attracted by a highly educated and skilled multi-lingual workforce.
Logistically, Belgium has a highly efficient transport infrastructure with excellent connections across Europe by air, sea or land. Leading business center such as London, Paris and Frankfurt are just a few hours away and 500 million Europeans are within 800 kilometres. Belgium is at the intersection of some of the world’s largest economies.
In this fast-moving commercial environment, companies must move quickly to extend their international reach. As a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) and Recruitment Process Organization (RPO), Bradford Jacobs source top-level staff from any industry and any country to find the perfect fit for every role. This is backed up by Employer of Record (EOR) services to handle all aspects of staff administration and compliance with Belgium’s demanding employment, tax and registration laws.
Bradford Jacobs’ expertise in international recruitment services is indispensable for expansion into Belgium. Our comprehensive knowledge of all Belgian employment sectors, and understanding of the culture and customs, guarantees an untroubled transition.
Challenges when expanding into Belgium
An unusual challenge facing foreign companies expanding into Belgium is that the country has three official languages affecting both social and business life. Around sixty per cent of Belgians speak Dutch in the northern region of Flanders. In Wallonia in the south over 30 per cent speak French with a small percentage speaking German in the east. Dutch speakers generally have good knowledge of English, particularly in the capital, Brussels.
This also governs the language used in contracts between employers and employees and contracts between companies.
In addition, companies must comply with regulations covering registration, visas, permits, tax, payroll and complex employment laws, which are closely monitored by the Belgian authorities with the risk of severe penalties for non-compliance.
These complexities and the extra legal requirements in dealing with three languages make it strongly advisable to consult with global recruitment specialists Bradford Jacobs. Our Professional Employer Organization (PEO) network will source the brightest talent either within Belgium or from abroad. Then our Employer of Record (EOR) services relieve the administrative headaches, freeing incoming companies to concentrate on their territorial expansion.
The Recruitment Process in Belgium
International companies expanding into Belgium need not operate through a local entity to recruit employees, but must adhere to certain regulations, such as:
- Registering with the regional tax office and National Social Security Office (NSSO) and assigning a company representative to liaise with them
- Implementing an industrial insurance policy
Belgian companies traditionally employ a payroll agency to handle tax, social insurance, HR and contracts. An Employer of Record (EOR) such as Bradford Jacobs are ideally placed to fill this role with our in-house experts’ detailed knowledge of Belgian employment laws, whether staff are recruited in-country or from other territories.
However, foreign workers moving to Belgium as employees must hold a work permit, unless they are nationals from the European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA) or Swiss nationals. Permit applications must be made to the relevant employment agencies for Flanders, Wallonia or Brussels-Capital regions.
Determining which visas are required for different categories of worker, then handling the applications and follow-ups, could require setting up a dedicated in-house department – and few companies want to divert resources to such an operation.
Bradford Jacobs, through our EOR services and Professional Employer Organization (PEO) recruitment networks, have the resources and the time. We are experts in hiring staff, applying for work visas in Belgium and ensuring employees meet Belgian work and business visa requirements with the correct documentation.
Legal Checks that can be made on Employees
Belgian employers are permitted to carry out background checks on applicants, as long as they are relevant to the position and cannot be discriminatory. Checks may include, for example:
- The candidate must possess the necessary documents permitting them to work in Belgium
- Previous employment records and educational qualifications
- Medical and criminal record checks can be made only for certain occupations
If checks contravene an individual’s rights under General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), fines and other sanctions can be imposed on the employer.
How do you hire Belgian Employees?
The employer electronically notifies the National Social Security Office (NSSO) they have hired staff under the DIMONA declarations. All employees in private and public sectors must register with the NSSO at the start and end of employment. Strict rules govern when notifications must be made.
Foreign companies hiring staff to be employed temporarily or partially in Belgium must declare the employment and its anticipated length with the NSSO before employment begins. This is required for any employee who was (or still is) habitually active outside Belgium or hired from outside the country. These are known as LIMOSA declarations.
When the member of staff is on board you, the employer, will be responsible for these additional elements of the hiring process:
- Register with the Belgian Tax Office
- Create employment contracts
- Calculate monthly salary and create pay slips
- Advise employees on available tax-free allowances
- Submit wage returns and social insurance forms
- Correspond with relevant parties
- Produce annual accounts and year-end statements
- Create payment schedule for wages withholding tax, national insurance and net wages
This list highlights why the vast majority of companies operating in Belgium outsource payroll to specialist providers such as Bradford Jacobs. Our international recruitment expertise benefits companies even before the payroll stage. We source the candidates for you to select your new staff members and then implement our Employer of Record (EOR) payroll know-how so every detail relating to salaries, tax and Belgian employment laws is dealt with by the time employees are in their office.
Basic Facts on Hiring in Belgium
- At interview employers are restricted to questions relevant to the nature and working conditions of the job
- The applicant has the right to refuse to answer questions that violate privacy or anti-discrimination laws
- Terms and conditions are embedded in Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs), not laws
- Minimum wages are fixed per industry sector, but must not be below the average set by national CBAs
- Maximum average working time is 38 hours per week and eight hours per day, with statutory exceptions for such as shift work and flexi-time
- Overtime is normally prohibited, but where authorized pay is at least 1.5 times the regular rate and twice if performed on a Sunday or public holiday
Belgian Work Culture
Many countries and their populations display individual characteristics and this applies particularly to Belgium in terms of regional and language differences. In-depth research is a vital prerequisite of moving into the territory.
Dutch or Flemish speakers in the northern region of Flanders account for around 60% of the population, with French speakers in southern Wallonia making up most of the balance, plus a minority of German speakers in the east. With different contract and employment requirements applying to each there is a case for wondering if there actually is a ‘Belgian’ work culture, just as there is no official ‘Belgian’ language.
Nevertheless, here are a few tips on business interaction in what is still a rather traditional country:
- Use ‘Mr’ , ‘Mrs’ or ‘Ms’ until indicated otherwise … first-name terms might take a while
- Even if discussions or negotiations are in English, learn appropriate greetings in Dutch or French – but choose the correct language and stick to the formal forms of address
- Better to be well-dressed than under-dressed and assume a jacket is required
- Adroit negotiators, Belgians like to work towards compromise and are receptive to convincing suggestions and ideas
- Exchanging business cards is part of initial introductions
- Prompt follow-up to business meetings is appreciated
- Belgians enjoy combining business meetings with lunch; office meetings are usually mid-morning or mid-afternoon
- Make an appointment … just ‘showing up’ at their office is generally not appreciated
- Be punctual
- On a personal level … respect personal space. Belgians tend to keep a firm line between personal and business life, so don’t pry
Recruiting in-country through Bradford Jacobs’ Employer of Record (EOR) services means the culture and customs of your new territory will automatically be an open book, making the transition even smoother.
What Employment Laws exist in Belgium?
The main sources of employment regulations are national legislation, Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs), national employment agreements and statutory or regulatory provisions, covering:
- Employment contracts
- Working hours
- Temporary work
- Remuneration protection
- Work councils
Be aware all employment laws carry sanctions for violation.
Employment laws protect employees against dismissal under certain circumstances, such as:
- If they are using their right to ‘time credit’
- Are on maternity or paternity leave
- Have filed a complaint for harassment or discrimination
If the employer cannot prove the reasons for dismissal are unrelated to the employee’s protected entitlements, they must to pay additional compensation plus the indemnity in lieu of notice.
Permanent employment contracts need not be in writing. However, written contracts must be in place for all other types of employment, such as fixed-term and part-time. There is no legal requirement to lodge employment contracts with any public body, but employers must declare all new employees either through DIMONA declarations or, for foreign employees, LIMOSA declarations.
How do you Onboard Belgian Employees?
Moving existing employees into Belgium, or recruiting new staff in-country, are the first stages of onboarding employees after sourcing suitable candidates. The parent company then has to deal with visas and work permits and ensure they comply with all local laws and regulations at the risk of attracting fines and sanctions from Belgian authorities.
The most efficient and effective method of onboarding employees into Belgium’s labor market is through a global recruitment company such as Bradford Jacobs. Our Employer of Record (EOR) Professional Employer Organization (PEO) services manage every stage of the process from finding the employee to seeing their first check is paid on time.
Bradford Jacobs’ global recruitment reach puts us in the front line of international talent acquisition and from there we step in to handle the intricacies of employment conditions, compensation and benefits, holiday entitlements and, crucially for the smooth running of your operation, payroll and tax. We get the paperwork out of the way before your employee’s first day at their desk.
Bradford Jacobs also devise specific onboarding plans to integrate your new employee into the company, with guides, useful information and resources to help them understand their role and local culture, customs and business etiquette.
What are the Benefits of Hiring Outsourcing for Belgium?
A major benefit of outsourcing recruitment into Belgium is that it streamlines international expansion by opening the potential of new markets efficiently, speedily and cost-effectively. Advantages include:
- A wide-ranging talent search with reduced recruitment costs
- Control over capital expenditure
- Mitigating risks with an ‘easy in, easy out’ operation while you explore new markets
- Quickly start new projects
- Focus on core business
- Improve flexibility
- Scale your global workforce to fit expansion blueprint
The next stage is to outsource payroll, by utilizing Bradford Jacobs’ Employer of Record (EOR) platforms to deal with the demanding requirements of Belgian employment laws and regulations, which come with strict penalties for non-compliance. Bradford Jacobs’ global recruiting and EOR services take care of selection, onboarding, payroll, compliance and providing ongoing support.
Working with a Recruitment Agency
Belgium is a member of the European Employment Service (EURES) network with other European Union nations plus Norway and Iceland. The member nations exchange information on job vacancies, living and working conditions.
In view of Belgium’s different regions with individual official languages, the government’s employment services reflect this diversity.
- The Brussels region office is ACTIRIS (Office Régional Bruxellois de l’Emploi/Brusselse Gewestelijke Diest voor Arbeidsbemiddeling)
- The Flanders and Wallonia regions have their own offices (Services Subrégionaux de l’Emploi/Subregionale Tewerkstellingsdiensten)
Belgian recruitment agencies search worldwide to fill positions, particularly for executive management, information technology and where fluent English is required.
Employment Contracts in Belgium
Belgian employment regulations cover individual contracts for white collar workers, manual/blue collar workers, domestic and student workers, sports people and homeworkers. The most common are:
- Indefinite, permanent contracts
- Fixed-term contracts for a contracted period or those relating to a specific task or project
- Replacement contracts for an employee to cover absences for an official reason, such as maternity leave or long-term sickness. These must detail the duties of the employee being temporarily replaced and cannot exceed two years
- Part-time contracts for less than the usual 38-hour week, which do not always preclude the employee from also receiving unemployment benefit
When requested, employers may provide a copy in English, but legally employment contracts should be in Dutch, French or German.
Although written agreements are not legally required for permanent contracts, employees have the right to ask for one, which should be provided within two months of starting work. Contracts typically include:
- Employer and employee names and address, work location and duties
- Start date including length of any trial period
- Salary and payment frequency
Bradford Jacobs’ in-country employment experts will deal with every aspect of contract compliance, freeing you, the employer, to concentrate on the day-to-day operations of your employees with all the paperwork tidily dealt with.
Belgian Minimum Wage
Belgium’s minimum wages operate as either a National Minimum Wage (NMW) or wages set by collective agreements at industry level. Where committees do not reach a collective agreement for a specific industry, the national NMW applies.
Belgium’s minimum wage is reviewed bi-annually and it consistently ranks among the EU’s highest. In the third quarter of 2020 the NMW in Belgium increased to €1,625.72 per month.
Minimum wages may be governed by collective bargaining agreements and can also depend on job location, role and seniority and hours worked in a week.
Being aware of Belgium’s minimum wage and average salary for certain industries provides a good base when negotiating a salary. According to data from the Average Salary Survey website, the average gross salary in Belgium is €61,103 a year. This is €37,623 after taxes as of October 2020.
Companies are advised to keep up-to-date with potential changes, but this another requirement that can be handled by Bradford Jacobs’ payroll services.
Belgian Employment Probation Periods
Since January 2014, probationary periods cannot be included in new employment contracts (except for students and temporary agency workers). Probation can be up to two weeks for blue-collar workers and between one and six months for white-collar workers if the annual wage does not exceed around €36–37,000. White-collar employees on higher salaries may have a trial period of up to 12 months, during which either side can terminate employment with seven days’ notice.
Overtime in Belgium
Overtime must fit with normal working hours usually averaged over three months, with compensatory time off.
Working hours should not exceed 11 a day or 50 a week, with overtime paid at an extra 50% for Monday to Saturday and 100% extra for Sundays. There are punctual and structural overtime regimes.
- Punctual overtime arrangements respond to employers’ needs for flexibility within a certain period to respond to market needs, as agreed by unions. Compensation can be by extra pay or time in lieu.
- Structural overtime covers longer designated periods and covers regulations on average hours per week, with compensation in extra pay or time off
Notice Periods in Belgium
The Unified Employment Status Act (2014) aligned notice periods for blue- and white-collar employees and stipulated that probationary periods could not be included in a contract. Some employers became more reluctant to conclude permanent employment contracts with their new hires, instead preferring to draw up a temporary employment contract first. In order to address this, since March 2018 gradually increasing periods of notice were introduced for the first six months. Employees on a permanent contract are entitled to:
Notice Periods in BelgiumSince January 2014, probationary periods cannot be included in new employment contracts (except for students and temporary agency workers). Probation can be up to two weeks for blue-collar workers and between one and six months for white-collar workers if the annual wage does not exceed around €36–37,000. White-collar employees on higher salaries may have a trial period of up to 12 months, during which either side can terminate employment with seven days’ notice.
Fixed notice periods during the first five years vary from:
|Each 3-month period of service||Dismissal by employer||Employee notice|
|0-3 months||2 weeks||1 week|
|3-6 months||4 weeks||2 weeks|
|Steadily increasing to, for example|
|9-12 months||7 weeks||3 weeks|
|15-18 months||9 weeks||4 weeks|
|21-24 months||11 weeks||5 weeks|
Up to a maximum of 64 weeks’ notice from the employer (13 weeks from the employee) for more than 23 years’ service.
Due to frequent changes in Belgian employment regulations, employers should stay up-to-date, with support from payroll specialists such as Bradford Jacobs.
Redundancy, Termination, Severance in Belgium
Employees with more than six months’ service must be given the reason for termination, with employers risking a fine of two weeks salary or being referred to the Labor Court for settlement. Unjustified dismissal on an indefinite contract means an employee can claim for between three and 17 weeks’ salary as compensation.
An employer can terminate a contract with a severance / redundancy payment in lieu of notice, either for the full notice period or for part of it with the remainder being served as notice.
Pension System in Belgium
Belgium’s pension system features contributions-funded arrangements, voluntary occupational pensions and private schemes. Income-related contributions (7.55 for employees and 8.86% from employers) are compulsory for employed and self-employed workers and civil servants.
Occupational pensions are classified on an individual basis, industry-wide as governed by collective agreements or company schemes.
Public Holidays in Belgium
National and Bank Holiday dates:
- New Year’s Day January 1
- Easter Monday
- Labor Day May 1
- Ascension Day
- Whit (Pentecost) Monday
- Belgium National Day July 21
- All Saints’ Day November 1
- Armistice Day November 11
- Christmas Day December 25
Foreigners moving to work in Belgium should also be aware other ‘unofficial’ holidays are celebrated that may affect work, depending in which region, Dutch, French or German, they are based. These dates may be holidays for civil servants and employees of institutions controlled or supervised by them, such as municipalities or universities. King's Feast is observed by all (i.e. federal, community or regional, provincial and local) administrations, including some schools. These dates may also be observed by banks. They include:
- Epiphany January 6
- Valentine’s Day February 14
- Iris Day (Brussels only) May 8
- Flemish Community Day (Flanders) July 11
- French Community Day (Wallonia) 3rd Sunday of September
- Halloween October 31
- All Souls’ Day November 2
- German Community Day November 15
- King’s Feast November 15
- Saint Nicholas Day December 6
- Second Day of Christmas December 26
Working Hours in Belgium
Daily working time should not exceed eight hours, generally between 6am and 8pm. However, hours may be increased as follows:
- 9 hours if the worker does not work more than 5½ days a week
- 10 hours if the workers are absent from home for more than 14 hours a day because of travelling time between home and workplace
The weekly limit is 38 effective hours or 38 hours on average over a specified period. Effective weekly hours should not exceed 40.
However, collective agreements in various sectors have reduced working time to less than 38 hours. Visit: SPOC.LabourInspection@employment.belgium.be
Sick Leave in Belgium
Employees receive benefit paid by the employer for the first 30 days of incapacity through illness or injury. Benefit depends on salary, contract and length of service. Thereafter benefit is paid by the Health Insurance Fund (Mutuelle/Ziekenfonds). Employers must be informed promptly of incapacity to work and may appoint an independent medical officer to confirm the ailment.
Vacations and Holidays in Belgium
Holiday allowance depends on whether the employee is working six days a week (24 vacation days) or on the five days a week scheme (20 days) for a completed year service. Entitlement is based on two vacation days for each completed working month in the previous year. The maximum is four complete weeks of paid leave for a full-time employee, although collective agreements may include extra days.
Maternity / Paternity Leave in Belgium
The employed or unemployed are in principle entitled to 15 weeks’ maternity leave, comprising two periods.
- A maximum of six weeks is taken before birth, although five can be moved to after birth. It is compulsory to take final week before the expected delivery
- Nine weeks leave start the day of the birth, or the following day if the mother was at work the day of birth. It is mandatory to take post-natal leave
The amount of maternity benefit varies on being employed, unemployed or self-employed and on income. Payments are made out of the mutual fund - 82% of salary (no ceiling) for the first 30 days, 75% of salary (subject to ceiling) from 31st day to a maximum of €110.23 per day.
Co-parents are entitled to 10 days paternity leave, to be taken within four months following the birth, all at once or over a period. The employer pays the full salary for the first three days. For the next seven days the mutual insurance fund pays at 82% of capped daily gross salary at € 120.52.
Work with Bradford Jacobs’ Global Payroll and Recruitment Services
Bradford Jacobs’ Employer of Record (EOR) and Professional Employer Organization (PEO) specialist teams bring their unrivalled understanding of Belgium’s employment market to the fore when consulting with international companies on their global expansion plans. Belgium poses particular challenges with three separate regions and the legal requirement to complete contracts in different languages, so our in-country experts are a vital link to meeting these demands. Every aspect of hiring and recruiting in Belgium falls within our expertise and experience. Remove the risks, costs and uncertainty of establishing a subsidiary in Belgium by outsourcing your recruitment and payroll through Bradford Jacobs. Contact us now – we have the solutions.