Tax Alert

Parental leave has become more flexible!

The legislation regarding parental leave has undergone some major changes. As of 1 June 2019 employees have much more freedom regarding the way in which they organise their parental leave.

Hereafter we will discuss what has changed since 1 June 2019:

1. Possible to take half a day per week (1/10th work time reduction)

In Belgium employees who become parents or who adopt a child may take full-time leave or reduce their work time to take care of their child. Employees can do this until the child reaches the age of 12 years. A higher age limit exists for handicapped children. In total employees can take up to 4 months per child (4 months in case of full-time leave / 8 months in case of 50% work time reduction / etc.) spread out over their entire career.

In the past employees could choose to either interrupt their career full-time or to reduce their work time by half or by 1/5th. A novelty under the new legislation is that employees can now also decide to reduce their work time by 1/10th.

Reducing the work time by 1/10th allows employees to have half a day off per week. This means that employees can now for instance take the Wednesday afternoon off.

It is important to note that the employer can refuse the request for parental leave by way of a work time reduction by 1/10th. If he wants to refuse it he must do so within one month in writing. This is new! With regard to the existing types of parental leave (i.e. full-time career interruption or work time reduction by half or by 1/5th), the employer cannot refuse these. He can in those situations only delay the parental leave for organisational purposes by maximum 6 months.

2. Possible to take shorter periods of parental leave

Another novelty since 1 June 2019 is that it is now possible for employees to request full-time parental leave per week. In the past employees needed to take at least one month of full-time parental leave, or a multitude of one month (e.g. 2 or 3 months).

Also, employees can since 1 June 2019 request half-time parental leave per month. In the past employees who wanted to take half-time parental leave, needed to take at least two months, or a multitude of two months (e.g. 4 or 6 months).

This means that employees have much more freedom. While in the past employees needed to take at least one month of full-time parental leave, they can now take full-time parental leave during one or two weeks, for instance during a holiday period (Christmas, Easter, …) when the schools are closed or during the annual closing of their baby’s day care, etc. Of course, employees can also use their normal vacation days to stay at home during these holiday periods.

Please bear in mind that the legislator has foreseen that the employer may refuse this short-duration parental leave. Indeed, if employees wish to take full-time parental leave per week (instead of per month) or half-time parental leave per month (instead of per two months), the employer can always refuse the request. He must do this within one month and in writing.

3. Possible to have fluctuating weekly work schedules

In the past when employees took parental leave by way of a work time reduction (e.g. work time reduction by half or by 1/5th), they would work the same number of hours each week. This has now changed since 1 June 2019.

It is now possible for employees to work some weeks a bit more and some weeks a bit less as long as they respect the percentage of the work time reduction on average during the agreed period of parental leave, if the employer agrees with this.

For instance, if an employee takes parental leave by way of a 1/5th work time reduction, he can have some weeks a work schedule with 3.5 working days and other weeks a work schedule with 4.5 working days, as long as the employer agrees with this and as long as the employee works on average 4/5th over the whole period of the parental leave.

During the period of work time reduction, the employee temporarily becomes a part-time employee. This means that the employer will have to respect the formalities that apply to part-time employees as set out in article 11bis of the Employment Contracts Act of 3 July 1978.

4. Conclusion

In conclusion, employees who wish to take parental leave have much more options since June. They can tailor the parental leave better to their specific needs, in agreement with their employer:

  1. It has become possible to take half a day per week (1/10th work time reduction);
  2. There are now shorter minimum periods for parental leave;
  3. Employees who take parental leave in the form of a work time reduction, can have a flexible work schedule if they respect the percentage of the work time reduction on average during the period of parental leave.

In our opinion, these new options might well become very popular. A lot of employees may for instance want to request a 1/10th work time reduction to be free on Wednesday afternoon.

However, this can cause problems for the employer since this makes work organisation and staffing more complicated.

Should you have any questions regarding these new options for employees wishing to take parental leave, or would you like to learn more on workforce planning, we are available to assist you with this.