At first glance, the hiring process in Belgium can seem complex. There are worker policies and strict laws to get your head around which can seem overwhelming at the best of times.
But, while it can feel like there’s red tape everywhere, it’s actually very manageable if you know what you need to do. Once you’re set up and you have your employment infrastructure in place, it’s not too difficult to keep things ticking over as they should be – as long as someone in your organisation knows what to do.
The regulations and red tape are intended to protect first and foremost the employees, but also to some extent the employer, and are said by their proponents to create benefits like wage cost control and an increase in workforce productivity.
There can be a lot of admin overhead not only at the start where you’re setting up your organisation, but also each time you hire someone or an employee leaves.
Here’s how you can make sure you’re sticking to the rule book.
So how do you get started?
Get Legal: Social Security and Social Secretariats
The very first thing you need to do to make sure you’re working within the law is to get your business affiliated to the national social security administration (known as an ONSS in Belgium) and hire the services of a social secretariat.
Why You need Social Security
As soon as you start a business (regardless of whether you plan on hiring employees in the immediate future or not), you have 90 days to affiliate to the national social security fund via one of the administrating agencies. The money you pay into this umbrella fund will fuel benefits like family allowances, pensions, sick pay, and bankruptcy.
All business owners must pay their social contributions on the 1st April, 1st July, 1st October, and 1st January. It’s important that you pay a couple of days early, though, as it can take a while for the payment to show up.
Key advice for business owners and leaders of organisations:
Do. Not. Mess. With. The. ONSS!
Organisations that miss or are late on ONSS social security payments on their staff salaries can face severe consequences that can even hamper their ability to operate. Should you, heaven forbid, ever have cash issues, make sure you can at least meet your ONSS payments!
What Is a Social Secretariat?
As soon as you start hiring employees, you are at the mercy of the complex social security system and even more complex wage payment and taxation rules in Belgium. Navigating this is basically impossible which is why you need a you need a “social secretariat” to do it for you.
Essentially, a social secretariat is an organisation that ensures you’re abiding by all the necessary employment legislations. They act as your official representative for any statutory bodies related to social security and tax, and are well-versed in the intricate details of the Belgian hiring process.
Your secretariat will help you do many of the things listed in the next section:
- Register with the National Office for Social Security (O.N.S.S)
- Affiliate your business to a child benefit fund (this is mandatory even if none of your employees have children)
- Affiliate your business to an annual holiday fund
- Register with the local direct tax office
- Draw up employee contracts
- Create and develop your staff register
- Manage paperwork, including payslips and holiday sheets
- Provide pension numbers for brand new workers
Affiliating with a social secretariat isn’t free (in fact, they tend to charge between 3.5% and 4.7% of your contributions along with an initial subscription), but it can save you paying out for legal fees in the future.
Hiring Staff: The First Steps
When you first start hiring employees, the social security system in Belgium requires you to sign up and affiliate with a number of departments. These include:
- Registering with the national social security office (where you must immediately declare the employment of a new work)
- Affiliating with the family allowance fund
- Affiliating to an occupational health service (this is mandatory for all workers, even if they don’t require a medical examination). If you have less than 50 employees, you can get an internal medical service. If you have more, you must be affiliated with an inter-company medical service
- Affiliating to an annual leave fund (some industries have their own annual leave fund, but if yours doesn’t, you must sign up to the Office National des Vacances Anuelles)
- Registering with a tax collection authority. As an employer, it is your responsibility to collect withholding tax directly from the gross remuneration of your workers
- Signing up for accidents-at-work insurance
Filing a DIMONA Declaration
Every time you hire (or fire) a member of staff, you have to let the Belgian administration know by filing what’s known as a DIMONA declaration to the O.N.S.S. The acronym loosely stands for the “Declaration immediate de l’emploi” and basically shines a light on all workers in all sectors to eliminate any illegal goings on.
How the DIMONA Declaration Works
Every worker has their own unique DIMONA code that makes it possible for the social security bodies to identify said worker and check out their employment history. While it might sound like a heavy responsibility, filing a DIMONA declaration actually makes things a whole lot easier for you.
This is because when you file the declaration, the social security office immediately make all the other social insurance funds aware of your new employee.
The declaration can easily be made for free online or you can give the task to your social secretariat for a small fee. You’ll need the following information regardless of which method you choose:
- Your employer O.N.S.S number
- The new employee’s worker ID number that’s found of their SIS card (if they don’t have one of these, you’ll need their name, place and date of birth, and main address)
- The new employee’s social ID card number
- The start date of their employment
Once you’ve filed the declaration, the O.N.S.S will give you a confirmation number that you’ll need to keep handy as proof. Following that, you’ll receive the new employee’s DIMONA number within 10 working days, and you’ll need to keep hold of this for at least 6 months).
Employment contracts are an important part of the recruitment process in Belgium. They are needed to clearly lay out the mutual rights and obligations of the employer and the worker so everyone is protected.
To abide by regulations, your employee contracts should cover:
- The identity of both parties (that’s you and your employee)
- Your employee’s start date
- The role the employee will be taking on and any key tasks they will be performing within that role
- The remuneration the employee will get for the role and the payment method that will be used
- The length of the employment
- Any specific obligations of both parties
Hiring Staff from Abroad
Sometimes you might find the best candidates for a role come from outside of Belgium. In these cases, there are a couple more hoops you have to jump through to make sure your operating within the law both in Belgium and the EU.
The Limosa Declaration
If you want to work in Belgium on a temporary basis or send an employee from another country to work there for a limited period of time without setting up a legal entity, you need to declare it in advance via a Limosa declaration.
This is a simple declaration that can easily be made online. If you also plan on hiring foreign interns or apprentices to carry out some of their training in Belgium, you need to let social security know in advance with a Limosa declaration. Note that you need to get the Limosa declaration before the employee, intern, or apprentice arrives in Belgium.
Once you’ve made the declaration, your employee must carry their certificate with them when they travel into Belgium.
Hiring Staff From EU Member States
You don’t need to go through any additional regulations to hire people from EU member states, as residents from these countries don’t need a work permit to live or work in Belgium.
Recruiting Non-EU Nationals
Foreign workers who come from outside of Belgium and the EU member states must have a work permit to be legally employed in Belgium (this excludes people from European Economic Area countries).
This only really applies if you’re planning on bringing someone into Belgium to work for you as opposed to a non-citizen who is already living and working here. Before they start working with you, though, you’ll need to get an authorisation to legally employee them.
There are three types of work permit for foreign workers in Belgium:
- Work permit A – this is for non-EU nationals who have held a ‘B’ permit for up to 4 years and who have legally resided in Belgium for 10 years
- Work permit B – this is the most common and is valid for 1 year and for one particular employer. This will only be given out under specifications, like if there is no other worker in the Belgian job market who can do the job
- Work permit C – this is given to specific categories of foreigners who’s reason for staying in Belgium is linked to their initial entry (like students and asylum seekers)
Managing Employees in Belgium
Once you’ve hired your employees, there are certain things you need to maintain to ensure you’re operating within the law as an employer.
First Things First: Keeping Records
As an employer, there are a number of documents that you need to draw up, maintain, and keep a hold of. Your social secretariat will be able to do most of this for you, but it’s down to you to make sure you comply with all the rules.
We recommend having a tightly organised filing system that’s easy to use because, as you can imagine, you’re going to be using it regularly.
Let’s go over the documents you need to establish as an employer.
You’ll need to get yourself a general register of employees if not all of your workers have a DIMONA declaration, and you’ll need to have a paper copy of it kept at your workplace.
A special register is needed if you have employees working at different sites around Belgium. This can be kept in either digital or paper form.
It’s mandatory for all employers in Belgium to issue monthly payslips to employees. These can be digital or in paper form, and needs to contain compulsory information about tax and net salary. For a small fee, your social secretariat can draw up your monthly payslips and even send them out directly to your employees.
On top of these monthly payslips, you also need to create annual statements for every employee (this is known as a compte individuel) to be handed out on the 1st March. This must include the number of days worked, the total pay received, and any deductions that have been made.
Like most official social documents in Belgium, you’ll need to keep hold of these annual summaries for 5 years.
As an employer, it’s compulsory for you to have staff regulations. You can ask your secretariat to draw this up for you, or you can copy a template used by another employer in your industry.
The main thing to note is that your staff regulations document must be in the language of where the company is established, not English – if it’s in English, it could be rendered null and void.
Whether you get your secretariat to create the document or do it yourself, your staff regulations must include:
- Working hours
- Mode and frequency of payment
On top of that, you can add in some non-compulsory elements that work as a guide for new employees. These might include what to do if you get sick, what happens if you want to take an extra holiday, or where the fire hydrants can be found.
Your staff regulations should be available to view at your workplace, and you’ll also need to hand out a copy to each and every employee and receive confirmation that they have looked over the document.
Health and Safety in the Workplace
As an employer, it’s mandatory that you have a health and safety at work department or contractor (even if your company consists of just you and one other employee).
If you have less than 20 workers, you can affiliate yourself to an external service to cut costs. Again, your social secretariat can sort this out for you, but it basically consists of buying into a service to get an inspection of your workplace and advice on any occupational hazards that your employees might be exposed to.
After this, you will simply need to file an annual report at the end of each year for a small fee.
Training in the Workplace
As any business knows, it’s important to continually strive for more. This includes adding to your employees’ skills base by providing regular and relevant training. There are a whole host of official training bodies in Belgium, as well as a range of private organisations that offer training to all levels.
If you plan on training your staff, you might qualify for subsidies from the public authorities.
When Employees Leave
Often, you’ll get so wrapped up in the hiring process, that you’ll forget to think about what happens when an employee decides to leave your company or, worse, you need to let someone go whether that’s through redundancy or breach of contract.
In Belgium, a contract can be ended by:
- Mutual agreement, where you and your employee both decide to terminate the contract
- Expiry, which usually relates to a fixed-term employment contract with a designated end date
- End of a one-off task for which the employee was hired specifically for
- Death of the employee, which leads to an automatic end to the contract
- Force majeure, which is where the contract must come to an end through irremediable obstacles, like the employee being permanent unable to work
- Legal dissolution, where you or your employee defaults against the other party in relation to the contract
When an employee leaves (for whatever reason), you need to declare this on the first working day after they’ve left at the absolute latest.
Having a Positive Hiring Experience
When you look at it in its entirety, the hiring process in Belgium is complex. But, once it’s broken down into sections and a step-by-step process, you can see that it’s actually quite manageable.
The legislations in place ensure that both you and your employees are kept safe throughout the duration of their contracts – and that can only be a good thing.
Get in touch with us to find out how we can help you with your employment processes and practices.