The abolition of paper eco vouchers
For several years now, employers have been able to grant eco vouchers to their employees for a maximum of €250 per year. These vouchers can be awarded free of social security contributions and taxes as long as certain conditions are fulfilled. However, they can only be used for the purchase of ecological goods.
Unlike meal vouchers, eco vouchers could, up until now, be awarded on paper. That is now changing.
Some providers have already switched, and others plan to provide the electronic eco vouchers as the only option from 31 January 2021.
What steps do employers need to take?
- Reach a collective labor agreement or an individual agreement with your employees if the eco vouchers are not mandatory by your Joint Industrial Committee.
- Inform the authorized providers (Sodexo, Edenred, or Monizze) as soon as possible to inform them of the switch or new affiliation.
- Change your working regulations if you want your employees to pay for a replacement electronic card.
Birth leave is extended
Before 1 January 2021, every employee had the right, regardless of whether they were employed part-time or full-time, to be absent from work for 10 days following the birth of their child or a child to which they are a co-parent.
These 10 days will be gradually extended. Now an employee is entitled to:
- Starting 1 January 2021- 15 days of birth leave
- Starting 1 January 2023- 20 days of birth leave
Each employee is free to choose when they will take these days but must do so within 4 months from the date of delivery.
As was the case until the end of December 2020, the first 3 days are paid by the employer; the other days are paid by the health insurance fund.
Assimilation of temporary unemployment for holiday entitlement
Historically, employees accrued holiday rights based upon their performance in the preceding year, also known as the holiday reference year. A number of absences are assimilated for the holiday’s entitlement and considered as days worked.
For the absence of the employee due to temporary Corona unemployment, no assimilation was foreseen, resulting in a negative impact on the employee’s holiday entitlement in 2021.
All absences of the employee due to temporary Corona unemployment for the period between 1 February and 31 December 2020 are assimilated for the 2021 holiday entitlement and are considered days worked.
Employers who applied for at least 10% temporary Corona unemployment for their white-collar workers in the second quarter of 2020 will be compensated in the second quarter of 2021 by a reduction of the social security contributions. The amount of the reduction will be calculated based upon the percentage of temporary unemployment.
Extension of the validity of specific vouchers
Due to the shop closures during the pandemic, employees may not have used their meal – gift – or eco vouchers. As a result, the validity of these vouchers has been extended.
- The meal, gift, and eco vouchers that expire between 1 November 2020 and 31 March 2021 are extended by 6 months.
- Sport and culture vouchers that expired on 30 September 2020 – and already have been extended until 31 December 2020 – are further extended until 30 September 2021.
- Consumption vouchers that expire on 7 June 2021 are extended until 31 December 2021.
Partial exemption from withholding taxes for training
To encourage employers and employees to participate in training courses, the government has introduced a new exemption for employers to transfer part of the withholding taxes to the tax authorities.
To benefit from this withholding tax exemption, you must meet these conditions:
- The employee must have at least 6 months of seniority in the company.
- The training must cover at least 10 training days during an uninterrupted period of 30 days (or 5 days during an uninterrupted period of 75 days for small companies and associations). For part-time employees, the number of training days is prorated based upon their employment.
- The training may not be mandatory because of a legal provision or collective labor agreement.
- The training may be formal (outside the company) or informal (organized within the company), but in this case, the informal part may not exceed 10% of the 10 training days or 20% of the 5 training days.
- The training must be regarded as a professional expense for the employer.
If the conditions are met, the employer may keep part of the withholding taxes and not transfer them to the tax authorities. This part corresponds to 11.75 % of the taxable remuneration of the employee. There is a limit, however: the monthly gross remuneration of the employee is capped at € 3.500. Holiday allowances, year-end premiums, and arrears are also excluded.
COVID registration for foreign employees
The Ministerial Decree of 12 January introduces a general registration obligation for all employers or users who temporarily rely on an employee who lives or stays abroad to perform activities in Belgium.
The register must contain a number of mandatory entries and must be kept from the start of the activities until the 14th day after its end.
The employee living or staying abroad must provide proof of a negative test, which has been taken at the earliest 72 hours before the start of the employment in Belgium.
For frontier workers and employees from abroad, who stay in Belgium for less than 48 hours, neither the registration requirement nor the negative test result is applicable.
New salary thresholds for the employment of highly qualified foreign employees
Employees who are not nationals of a member state of the European Economic Area or Switzerland must possess a work permit or a single permit before the start of the employment in Belgium. One of the most common categories of employees for which a work or a single permit is applied for is highly qualified workers. They are eligible for this work or a single permit if they hold a degree of higher education and earn a minimum gross annual salary.
For 2021, the amounts are as follows:
- Flanders region – Employee > 30 years : 43,524 EUR. Employee < 30 years in service of a Belgium employer: 34,819.20 EUR.
- Brussels – 43,395 EUR
- Walloon region – 43,395 EUR