To do business in Belgium, it is vital to have a good understanding of its business or work culture. Making the right impression with the right people is the key to success in Belgium, and it is important to back this up with the right research on the market and potential business associates.
As a global PEO (Professional Employment Organization) it is our goal to be familiar and updated with the business culture in the country we work with and in. By sharing our knowledge about the Belgian work culture, we want to support your global expansion plans. Therefore, we will address all the aspects of the work culture in Belgium to start your expansion well-informed.
Work Culture in Belgium
You are on target for taking your first steps into a new country as part of your global expansion. Belgium, which is ideally situated as the commercial heart of the European continent, offers great opportunities. However, understanding the work ethic and culture of Belgium will go a long way to creating the right business environment for your company and staff.
For instance, Belgium has three official international languages and legislative regions – Dutch (and Flemish) spoken in Flanders in the north; French in Wallonia and the Brussels-Capital region and German in nine municipalities in the east.
Belgians strike a healthy balance between work and life and are amiable, hard-working and respect the rules. Unless they are among the ‘young upwardly mobile professionals’, most Belgians aim to own their home in the commuter belt and drive a good car to work!
Here are a few tips on business interaction in what is still a rather traditional country:
- Punctuality: Make an appointment and be punctual. Just ‘showing up’ at their office is generally not appreciated, however, prompt follow-ups are. Keep to schedule, call ahead if you are going to be late.
- Language: Even if all discussions or negotiations are in English, learn appropriate greetings in Dutch, French or German – but choose the right language and stick to the recognized forms of address.
- Business Relationships: It is important to understand your partners, staff, adversaries, or competitors especially when negotiating. For instance, in Flanders a consensus is looked for, whereas in Wallonia hierarchy and authority may win the day.
Belgians prefer doing business with people they know, so first timers need to build trust through personal appeal, socializing to develop strong relationships.
- Introductions and Greetings: Generally, a handshake in business is usual. Use Mr., Mrs., or Ms. until indicated otherwise but titles are not really necessary. First-name terms might take a while and good manners are very important.
- Business Cards: Exchanging business cards is part of the initial introduction and informal but should display all the relevant information e.g., name, job title, contacts, academic qualifications, and your company. They should be in either French, German, or Dutch on the reverse.
- Gift-giving: It is not a common practice to exchange business gifts, although something from your home-country may be appreciated.
- Interaction: On a personal level, respect personal space. Belgians tend to keep a firm line between personal and business life, so do not pry.
- Dress Code: Better to be well-dressed than under-dressed and assume a jacket is required. Elegant and smart rather than fashionable. Dark suits with ties for men and suits, dresses or separates for women.
- Negotiating the Deal: Adroit negotiators, Belgians like to work towards compromise and although receptive to suggestions and ideas, they may need persuading with good argument and logic. You may find Walloons more formal than their more direct Flemish counterparts.
- Business Meals: Belgians enjoy combining business meetings with lunch or dinner which usually take place at a restaurant; office meetings are usually mid-morning or mid-afternoon.
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.
Belgium National Minimum Wage
The National Minimum Wage (NMW) functions either with wages set by Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) or as a national minimum where no collective agreements exist. In 2021 it remained at €1,627 (US$1,925) per month or €19,508 (US$23,086) per year based on 12 annual payments.
The average salary for certain industries provides a good starting point when negotiating wages. According to salary explorer, the average salary for Belgium is €6,150 (US$7,235) per month, €73,800 (US$86,814) per year.
Many industries establish their own minimum wages in collective agreements. The precise minimum wage depends on the following:
- Where the job is located and where the employee resides
- Duties and seniority
- Normal working hours
Companies are advised to keep up to date with potential changes, but this is another requirement that can be handled by Bradford Jacobs’ payroll services.
Probation Periods in Belgium
Since January 2014, probationary periods cannot be included in new employment contracts except for students and temporary agency workers.
In practice, there can be a probationary period of up to:
- two weeks for blue-collar workers
- anywhere between one and six months for white-collar workers - if the annual wage does not exceed around €36,000 (US$42,400).
White-collar employees earning more than this may have a trial period of up to 12 months. During this period, either side can terminate the employment with seven days’ notice.
Working Hours in Belgium
Daily working time should not exceed eight hours a day or 38 hours a week; nine hours a day and up to 40 hours a week is permitted in certain industries and sectors. Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) may decide on fewer working hours per week.
After six hours, the worker receives a break as per a CBA, or for 15 minutes if there is no agreement. Shift workers are permitted to work up to 12 hours per day to a maximum of 50 hours per week, based on two daily shifts and two workers.
Flexitime allows for more than 38 hours in a week as long as the quarterly or annual weekly average is no more than 38 hours. Strictly applied rules govern night work, working on Sundays and public holidays.
Overtime in Belgium
Although normally prohibited, an employee may work up to 11 hours overtime per day and 50 hours per week if authorized, entitling workers to 50% extra above their hourly wage Monday to Saturday and 100% more for overtime on Sundays or public holidays.
Overtime must not exceed normal working hours, on average, and employees receive compensatory time off or paid rest time during overtime.
Rules on overtime do not generally apply to remote workers, sales representatives, managers, or executives.
Notice Periods in Belgium
Notice has to be given in writing by both parties and should include details of the start and finish of the notice period. Since the Unified Employment Status Act of 2014, notice periods for white- and blue-collar workers are the same. However, they do differ according to seniority and between the notice given by employer and employee.
For contracts written after January 2014, during the first three months the notice period is the same – one week. Then, there are 33 bands of notice periods. These range from one week for both as already mentioned, up to 66 weeks’ notice, given by employers - to people with 25 years seniority and over.
Notice given by employees goes to a maximum of 13 weeks, again with seniority of nine years and over. There are different notice periods still in force for those employees/employers whose business relationship started before 1 January 2014.
For more details on notice periods before the Unified Employment Status Act of 2014, click here.
Since 1 January 2014, the only exception is when determined by ‘company-level' collective labor agreements.
Redundancy, Termination / Severance in Belgium
Employees with more than six months’ service must be given a reason for termination; failure on the part of the employer can result in a ‘fine’ of two weeks salary. If the Labor Court rules that dismissal was unjustified, the employee can be compensated between three- and 17-weeks’ salary.
An employer can terminate a contract with a severance / redundancy payment in lieu of notice, either for the full period or part of it with the remainder served as notice. The employer and employee must choose between serving the notice period during which the employment contract is still running, or severance pay by stopping the contract immediately.
In the latter case, severance pay is equivalent to the wage and benefits multiplied by the duration of the notice period that should have been notified.
Pension Plans in Belgium
There are three types of pensions in Belgium:
- private pensions
- the public pay-as-you-go scheme (state pension)
- the voluntary occupational pension
For the Civil Service, self-employed and employees there is a compulsory insurance which comes under the statutory pension scheme (public) from the National Pensions Office; 7.5% contributions from employees and 9% from employers.
The occupational pensions or workplace pensions come through the company or negotiated by trade unions or across industries. These occupational schemes and company pension funds are regulated through the’ Financial Services and Markets Authority’ (FSMA)
Private pensions are available through a number of insurance providers and will be individually tailored according to the budget, applicants’ needs and circumstances. These companies are regulated by the National Bank of Belgium.
For those who not eligible for a full pension, it is possible to apply for a GRAPA (Income Guaranteed for the Elderly Scheme).
Public Holidays in Belgium
Belgian National and Bank Holiday dates are:
- New Year’s Day - January 1
- Easter Monday - varies between March/April
- Labor Day - May 1
- Ascension Day - 39 days after Easter
- Whit (Pentecost) Monday - varies in May/June
- Belgium National Day - July 21
- Assumption Day - August 15
- All Saints’ Day - November 1
- Armistice Day - November 11
- Christmas Day - December 25
Further holidays apply to the Dutch, French or German regions when public institutions, universities or banks may close. These 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
Sick Leave in Belgium
Regulations identify a difference between white-collar and blue-collar workers. In the case of sickness or accident, the employer pays the white-collar employee statutory sick pay during the first 30 days of absence 100% of salary, after which payment comes from the Health Insurance Fund (Mutuelle / Ziekenfonds).
The employer is allowed to ask for a medical certificate confirming the employee’s condition or require a medical examination by an independent assessor.
Rates of pay during sickness for Blue Collar workers:
- Full salary, 1 – 7 days: received from employer
- 86%, 8 – 14 days: received from employer
- 86%, 15 – 30 days: 26% received from employer
*60% from Insurance provider
60% up to 1 year from insurance provider
After one year, the employee will need to apply for invalidity benefit.
*Social security at 60%, capped at €147 (US$174) each day in a six-day week.
White Collar workers:
- Full salary, 1 – 30 days: received from employer
- 60% from up to 1 year from insurance provider
After one year, the employee will need to apply for invalidity benefit.
Vacations and Holidays in Belgium
Paid vacations depend on length of service and months worked during the preceding year, which generally equates to 24 vacation days (six-days-a-week scheme) or 20 vacation days (five-days-a-week scheme) i.e., a maximum of four complete weeks of paid leave for a full-time working employee.
Employees who have worked less than 12 months have their entitlement reduced pro rata, while Collective Bargaining Agreements regularly increase basic statutory requirements.
Belgium employers pay white collar workers directly and the National Annual Leave Office (Rijksdienst voor Jaarlijkse Vakantie or the Office National des Vacances Annuelles) RJV/ONVA are responsible for calculating and paying blue collar workers, to which the employer contributes. This can be complicated as there are two holiday pay rates for each class of worker.
There are also 10 days paid public holidays.
Maternity / Paternity Leave in Belgium
Maternity Leave: The employed or unemployed are entitled to 15 weeks’ maternity leave, comprising two periods split between pre- and post-natal. An employee’s maternity benefit is calculated as 82% of salary (no ceiling) for the first 30 days; 75% of salary (subject to ceiling) from the 31st day onwards; a maximum €110 (US$130) per day from March 1, 2020.
Maternity benefits are paid by the employee’s mutual insurance fund. Co-parents are entitled to four months parental leave each, but the allowance is not transferrable and is lost if not used in 12 years from birth of the child.
Paternity Leave: From January 2021 paternity leave was increased from 10 days to 15 days, which can be taken consecutively, in single days or 30 half-days. In 2023 it will be increased by a further five days and applies to all workers, the self-employed and civil servants.
Leave can be taken in the first four months after birth. The first three days, the employer will pay full salary. The remainder is paid at 82% of salary by the social insurance fund, capped at €114.59 (US$135) per day.
Bonuses in Belgium
The Labor Code in Belgium mandates for a 13th month payment to be given to employees at the end of the year and generally included in the employment contract along with details about the annual salary. This bonus is called ‘prime de fin d’année / jaarpremie’ and paid at Christmas.
If an employee is in their first or last year of employment, they should receive the bonus pro rata.
Some employers even pay a 14th month. The Belgians also receive a holiday time bonus on top of their usual salary.
Some employers award staff a share of profits or productivity bonus paid at the end of the fiscal year (participation aux benefices/aandeel in de winst or prime de productivité/produktiviteitspremie).
Car Allowance in Belgium
Belgium has a policy called ‘Benefit-in-kind’ which means that some employees, managers, and executives benefit from services given instead of being part of the salary. One of these is a company car which is seen as a reward for staff and tax efficient.
In addition to free use of the car it also includes fuel. However, if this is considered employment income it incurs income tax and social security contributions.
Recent legislation has muddied the water as to the benefits. It is important the method of calculation is correct, and this is reflected in the pay slips or penalties will be applied. For a more detailed explanation of the tax implications, get in touch with global market specialist Bradford Jacob. It is a lot more complicated than it seems.
Don’t Suffer Culture Shock, Call Us!
The complexities of Belgium’s tax, payroll and employment laws are part of a unique business culture that poses questions for your international expansion. Bradford Jacobs removes the mysteries of all these issues – freeing your staff to concentrate on growing your business. Contact us today for more information!