On 16 March 2023, a Royal Decree was published in the Belgian State Gazette aligning Belgian leave legislation with European Directive 2003/88/EC (the European Working Time Directive) and the case-law of the European Court of Justice. Employees are entitled to paid leave of at least four weeks annually. Under the new rules, the leave days of those who fall ill during the statutory leave days will be converted into sick days. In addition, the rules regarding the carryover of statutory leave days have been amended. 

  1. Leave work year and leave year

The Royal Decree does not amend the provisions on the leave work year and leave year. In Belgium, employees accumulate leave days during the leave work year, which they can then take in the following year (the leave year). In the 2023 leave work year, entitlements for annual leave in leave year 2024 are thus accumulated. The new rules, contained in the Royal Decree, will apply as of leave year 2024.

  1. Sick (or other suspension) during annual leave

At present, the rule is that if an interruption of work (such as illness) occurred before the start of the annual leave and continues during the scheduled statutory leave, these “lost” leave days can be taken at a later date. However, if an employee only becomes ill during his/her annual leave, these days are not converted into sick days and the employee thus loses these leave days.

As of leave year 2024, this will change. Days of work interruption due to ordinary illness, an occupational disease, a (labour) accident, maternity or paternity leave, birth leave, prophylactic leave, adoption leave or foster parent leave/foster care leave will no longer be allowed to be charged as annual leave, even if the cause only occurs during the annual leave. An employee facing any of the above grounds for suspension during his/her leave will thus no longer lose annual leave days.

Example: an employee has scheduled statutory leave from 3 July to 18 July 2024. However, during his annual leave period, he falls ill from Monday 8 July to Thursday 11 July 2024. The 4 sick days will not be considered annual leave. The employee will therefore be able to take the 4 lost leave days at a later date.

  1. Carryover of annual leave

The current leave legislation stipulates that employees must take their statutory leave days before the end of the leave year. Failure to do so results in these leave days being lost. The reason for this is that these days cannot be carried over to the next calendar year.

From leave year 2024, employees will be able to take remaining annual leave up to 24 months after the end of the leave year, if the remaining leave was not taken due to one of the grounds for suspension listed above in section 2.

Example: an employee has scheduled 4 statutory leave days between Christmas and New Year. However, he falls ill from 15 December to 31 December 2024. He will still be able to take the 4 scheduled leave days that he could not take because he became ill until 31 December 2026.

Concerning both blue-collar and white-collar workers, the single holiday pay for the transferred leave days will be paid in the leave year in which the annual leave should in principle have been taken. Blue-collar workers always receive their holiday pay during the leave year. For white-collar workers, the legislator has provided a similar arrangement. The employer will pay the white-collar employee the holiday pay for the annual leave carried over by 31 December of the leave year at the latest. Consequently, the employee will no longer receive holiday pay at the time of taking the transferred leave.

Key message

The amendments to the Belgian leave legislation will make it possible to carry over statutory annual leave to a subsequent calendar year in certain cases as of leave year 2024. Moreover, the right to 4 weeks of effective statutory annual leave will be guaranteed by allowing leave days on which an event of work interruption (such as illness) occurs to be taken at a later date.

Newsflash, 3 April 2023

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