5 questions and answers about the work-life balance directive and care leave

The Act of 7 October 2022 introduced the right to care leave in Belgium, implementing the EU's Work-life Balance Directive. Today, almost one year later, is therefore the perfect time to take a closer look at some of the essential elements of care leave.

What is the Work-life Balance Directive?

The European Parliament and the Council adopted the Work-life Balance Directive (2019/1158) on 20 June 2019.

It was enacted in light of concerns that it is still difficult for many working parents who take on care-related responsibilities to balance their work and personal lives. In the view of the European legislator, inadequate leave arrangements can make it difficult for many workers to balance work and family life. As such, the directive envisages a number of minimum requirements for new and existing leave arrangements, including parental leave, paternity leave and care leave. In this way, a better balance between work and family life should become possible for parents, but also for informal caregivers.

The provisions of the Work-life Balance Directive relating to care leave were transposed into Belgian law with the Act of 7 October 2022. The rules took effect on 10 November 2022.

Why care leave?
European legislators expect an increase in care needs as a result of the ageing population. With care leave, European legislators are trying to give men and women more opportunities to stay in the labour market while caring for their family members who require care.

What are the conditions for care leave?

  • Care leave may be taken by an employee for up to five days per calendar year. It is possible to take the care leave in one consecutive five-day period, but this is not mandatory. It is also possible to take five separate days of care leave.
  • There must be a specific reason for the care leave. Care leave can be taken only for the purpose of providing personal care or support to a family member or relative who has a serious medical need for significant care or support.
  • The concepts of care and support have been interpreted broadly by the Belgian legislator. It includes any form of social, family, emotional assistance or care.
  • Care leave can only be taken to care for a 'family member' or a 'relative'. These terms are not broadly interpreted by the Act.
  • By 'family member', the legislator means any person with whom the employee lives. By 'relative', the legislator means not only the employee's spouse or legal cohabitant but also the employee's parents and children.

How can an employee take care leave?

Every employee will have to notify their employer in writing of their wish to take care leave. In addition, the employee will also have to provide the employer with a certificate from the GP of the family member or relative. This certificate will need to show that the employee's family member or relative has a serious medical need for significant care or support.

Are there any consequences associated with care leave?

Employees who take care leave enjoy protection from dismissal. In principle, this protection from dismissal will begin on the day the employee notifies their employer of their wish to take care leave and no later than the day the employee actually takes the care leave. The protection from dismissal ends one month after the care leave is taken.
Please note, an employer can still dismiss an employee for reasons unrelated to the fact that the employee chose to take care leave.

It is essential to duly comply with all the conditions and formalities. If the employer is found to have failed to comply with the duration or conditions of the care leave, they may incur a penalty. Similarly, in the event of unjustified refusal of the care leave, even though the employee meets the conditions, the employer risks a penalty.

So be aware of the rules governing this special leave system, both in terms of its application and the protection from dismissal to which employees are entitled. Do you have any questions about the rules on care leave, or other questions about executing an employment contract? Our specialists are ready to help you.

Despite all care taken in the preparation of this text, imperfections remain possible and the information contained herein may be superseded by recent legislative changes. The content of this newsletter is for information purposes only and cannot be considered full legal advice. Accordingly, Crowe Spark Legal and the authors of this newsletter cannot be held liable for the legal completeness of our newsletters. For specific questions or information adapted to your personal situation, you can of course contact our office.

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