The termination of employment and resignation
The employment contract can be terminated in various ways: notice, dismissal, resignation ... Here you will find the various options for terminating an employment contract.
In Belgium, either of the parties can decide to terminate the employment contract at any time. However, the party which unilaterally terminates the employment contract is obliged to comply with certain specific terms. We talk about dismissal when it is the employer who terminates the contract and resignation when it is the worker. In both cases, we talk about notice.
The parties have the choice of giving notice during which the employment contract is still carried out (notice period) or of immediately terminating it, with payment of a termination fee (immediate termination).
In order to determine the notice period applicable, it is important to distinguish:
- The date on which the contract started (prior to or from 01.01.2014 onwards)
- If the termination is on the initiative of the employer (dismissal) or the worker (resignation)
- If the worker is a blue-collar worker or a white-collar worker
To be valid, notification of the notice period has to be provided in writing and mention the start and length of the notice.
The notice period starts on the Monday following the week during which notice was given.
The length of the notice varies according to the worker’s length of service and as a function of the party behind the termination (employer or worker).
In a number of cases specified by law (illness, accident, annual holidays, etc.), the notice period will be suspended only in the case of dismissal. This means that, in these cases, the notice period either does not start or stops running.
During the notice period, the worker has the right not to come into work while still receiving their remuneration in order to look for a new job.
This right applies equally in cases of dismissal and cases of resignation.
Unilateral termination of a fixed-term employment contract or a contract relating to clearly defined work
A fixed-term employment contract or a contract relating to clearly defined work normally has to be carried out until the agreed date.
However, a party which terminates a fixed-term contract or a contract relating to clearly defined work without serious reason before the agreed term has come to an end or the agreed work has been completed has to pay the other party a compensation fee.
Nevertheless, since 2014, it has been possible for a fixed-term employment contract or a contract relating to clearly defined work to be terminated with notice during the first half of the contract but limited to six months.
Methods of termination common to all contracts - notice for just cause and acts equivalent to breach of contract
Notice for just cause
The employer (or the worker) may, for just cause, immediately bring working relations to an end without notice or fee.
Just cause is understood to refer to any misconduct which immediately and definitively makes any professional collaboration between the two parties impossible. The party invoking just cause must prove its existence.
Act equivalent to breach of contract
The contract must be performed under the conditions, at the time and in the place agreed; amendments can only be made to the employment contract with the consent of both parties.
The unilateral and significant amendment of an essential element of the employment contract is considered to be tacit (or implicit) notice. Such an amendment entitles the other party to a breach of contract fee.
This is what is referred to as an ‘act equivalent to breach of contract’. In each case, it is up to the judge to assess whether such an amendment indeed constitutes a desire to terminate the contract.
The end of the employment contract not only stems from unilateral termination by one of the parties. There are other conceivable ways in which the contract may be terminated: termination by mutual consent, definitive force majeure or the death of the worker.
More information on the general conditions for dismissal and resignation is available on the Termination of an employment contract part of the FPS Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue website (in French).
FPS Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue
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