2021: news and modifications

With the new year fully started, we want to inform you in this newsletter about some recent changes that might be important to you. 

The abolition of paper eco vouchers

For several years now, employers have been able to grant eco vouchers to their employees for a total amount of maximum € 250 per year. In some sectors (such as the Joint Industrial Committee 200) the entitlement to eco vouchers is even mandatory. These vouchers can be awarded free of social security contributions and taxes as long as certain conditions are fulfilled. They can only be used for the purchase of ecological goods.

On paper or electronically?

Contrary to the meal vouchers, eco vouchers could, up to now, also be awarded on paper.  However, the possibility to issue paper eco vouchers will disappear. The National Labour Council has been an advocate for the general use of the electronic eco-voucher for many years. However, legislative initiatives to abolish the paper eco vouchers are lacking. This did not prevent the authorized providers of these vouchers to take the initiative themselves and switch completely to the electronic system. Some providers have already switched and others plan to provide the electronic eco vouchers as the single option from 31 January 2021 onwards.

Which steps do you have to take as an employer?

  • Conclude a collective labour agreement or an individual agreement with your employees if the eco vouchers are not mandatory in your Joint Industrial Committee. Pro-Pay can provide you with a template for this agreement.
  • Inform the authorized providers (Sodexo, Edenred or Monizze) as soon as possible to inform them of this switch or new affiliation. Your Payroll Business Partner can assist you with this step.
  • Also remember to change your working regulations if you want your employees to bear the cost in the event of the loss of the electronic card.


Extension of the birth leave

For children born before 1 January 2021, every employee had the right, regardless whether he/she was employed part-time or full-time, to be absent from work for 10 days because of the birth of his child or the child of which the employee is a co-parent.

These 10 days will be gradually extended. An employee will be entitled to:

  • 15 days of birth leave for births as from 1st January 2021
  • 20 days of birth leave for births as from 1st January 2023

The employee is free to choose when he/she will take these days but must do so within 4 months from the day 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

According to the Belgian legislation, employees accrue holiday rights based upon their performance in the preceding calendar year, also referred to as the holiday reference year. A number of absences are assimilated for the entitlement to holidays and are thus 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.

As already mentioned in our newsletter of 19th June 2020, a Royal Decree has already assimilated the days of temporary unemployment due to Corona that have taken place between 1 February 2020 and 30 June 2020 for the 2021 holiday entitlement.

The Royal Decree of 13th September 2020 provided for an assimilation of the period of 1 July until the 31st August 2020 and now the last period – from 1 September until the 31st December 2020 – is also assimilated by the Royal  Decree of 22 December 2020.

This implies that 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 thus considered as days worked.  

Employers who have applied at least 10% temporary Corona unemployment for their white-collar workers in the second quarter of 2020, will be compensated by the government 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 the temporary unemployment.


Extension of the validity of certain vouchers

Due to the closure of the shops for a certain period of time, employees may not have been able to use their meal – gift - or eco vouchers. This the reason why 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 extended until 30 September 2021.
  • Consumption vouchers that will normally expire on 7 June 2021, are extended until 31 December 2021.


Partial exemption from withholding taxes for training:

In order to encourage employers and employees to follow training courses or to have them followed, 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, a few conditions must be fulfilled:

  • The employee must have at least 6 months 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 in view of a legal provision or collective labour agreement;
  • The training may be formal (outside the company) or informal (organised 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 must not transfer this part 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 do not have the nationality of a member state of the European Economic Area or Switzerland, must be in the possession of 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 permit or a single permit is applied for, are the highly qualified workers. They are eligible for this work or single permit if they hold a degree of higher education and earn a minimum gross annual salary. For 2021, the amounts are the following:

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


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