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What will 2021 bring in terms of social law?

Monday 04/01/2021
Wat brengt 2021 op sociaalrechtelijke vlak

We have seen a lot of new regulations coming into being in the short term in 2020. The Corona Unemployment Act, for example, was implemented within a few days, the Corona Parental Leave Act saw the light of day, and numerous bonuses and allowances were created to cushion the effects of the Corona crisis.

Hopefully we can gradually put this Corona-filled 2020 behind us and look forward to a better 2021. What can we expect this year in terms of social law? We will zoom in on a number of innovations below.

Compensation scheme for the equivalence of holidays

In the pre-Corona era, only the days of economic unemployment, and not temporary unemployment on grounds of force majeure, were equated with benefits for the calculation of holiday pay in the following year. This was soon changed by making the unemployment period due to Corona, which is considered as force majeure, equivalent for the calculation of the holiday pay.

This equivalence initially only applied for the period from 1 February to 30 June 2020, but was later extended to 31 August 2020. On 31 December 2020, the days of temporary unemployment due to force majeure as a result of the Corona pandemic falling in the period from 1 September to 31 December 2020 were also made equivalent to days worked in order to determine the number of holidays and holiday pay in 2021.

This will entail an increase in the cost price for employers who have made extensive use of Corona unemployment. While the employer does not have to pay wages for the days of Corona unemployment, a cost price of 15.67% on the equivalent pay must be taken into account for the white-collar workers because of the equivalence for the calculation of the number of days of holiday in 2021 on the one hand, and the payment of the double holiday pay, amounting to 92% of a monthly salary in the month of May or June, on the other.

In order to compensate for this wage cost, the government agreed to compensate part of it. The employer will be able to benefit from the compensation scheme for white-collar workers. For blue-collar workers, the National Office for Annual Vacation will receive an allowance to compensate for the cost of equating the periods of temporary unemployment due to Corona.

The size of this allowance depends on the number of days of temporary unemployment of the employer in the second quarter of 2020. The more an employer has claimed Corona unemployment, the greater the compensation will be.

The employer will not have to make a specific request for this allowance. The NSSO calculates the compensation, and will deduct it from the social security contributions for the second quarter of 2021. If the compensation exceeds the social security contributions to be paid in the second quarter of 2021, the unused credit will be deducted from the following quarters.

The compensation scheme will only be calculated for companies that have had at least 10% Corona unemployment in the second quarter of 2020. In companies that had between 10% and 20% Corona unemployment in Q2/2020, the compensation is 33%. In companies that had between 20% and 50% Corona unemployment in Q2/2020, the compensation is 66%. And the compensation is companies with more than 50% Corona unemployment in Q2/2020.

This percentage will then be applied in a formula based on the total number of days of Corona unemployment during the second, third and fourth quarters of 2020.

The compensation scheme was published in the Belgian Official Gazette on 30 December 2020.

The compensation scheme currently only applies for the holiday year 2021. For the time being, Corona unemployment will remain possible until the end of March 2021. Whether this period of Corona unemployment will also be made equivalent for the holiday year 2022, and whether a compensation scheme will also apply to it, is still unclear.

Exemption from social security contributions on recruitment of first employee

For the recruitment of a first employee in Belgium between 1 January 2016 and 31 December 2020, we had an almost complete exemption from social security contributions for the employer. This was intended to encourage 'new' employers to recruit staff. The coalition agreement of 29 September 2020 provides for an extension of the exemption into 2021.

In the course of 2021, theaim is to evaluate the scheme in consultation with the social partners, which could possibly lead to an adjustment. The aim is to simplify and automate the system, but also to prevent abuse.

An interesting aspect of this target group reduction is that the recruitment of a first employee is completely exempt from employer contributions, and this for an indefinite period of time. The exemption relates to the basic rate, which is currently 25%. In addition to this basic rate, certain special and/or sectoral contributions still have to be paid. In the case of the employment of a white-collar employee, these are just a few percentages. But this can still be a lot higher in the case of the employment of blue-collar workers, depending on the sector in which they work. In any case, this is an important cost saving for the employer.

Each quarter, the employer can choose the employee for whom he would like to benefit from the full exemption. If, for example, as an employer, you hire a full-time 'more expensive' worker six months after a part-time 'cheaper' worker, you can choose to have the full exemption for the first recruitment applied to the 'expensive second' worker, and benefit from the reduction on the 'cheaper first' worker before the second recruitment.

The extension of the exemption fromfirst recruitment has not yet been enacted into law, and will therefore only be definitive once it has been published in the Belgian Official Gazette.

Extension of paternity leave

Currently, any worker who becomes a father (or second parent) has the right to be absent from work for 10 days following the birth of his child. This right to 10 days' paternity leave applies regardless of the working regime in which the employee is employed (full-time or part-time) and regardless of whether it concerns the birth of one child or a multiple birth. These 10 days may be freely chosen by the employee within 4 months from the day of the birth.

For the first three days of the paternity leave, the employee retains his salary at the expense of his employer. For the next seven days of paternity leave, the employee receives a benefit from the health insurance company.

The programme law of 20 December 2020 provides for an increase in the maximum duration of paternity leave from 10 to 15 days for children born on or after 1 January 2021. As of 1 January 2023, this will be increased once again to 20 working days.

The first 3 days remain at the expense of the employer. For the subsequent 12 days, the employee receives a benefit from the health insurance company equal to 82% of the capped salary. From 2023, the first 3 days will be paid by the employer and the following 17 days by the health insurance company.

Extension of validity of various cheques

The period of validity of the meal, eco and gift vouchers that expire between 1 November 2020 and 31 March 2021 will be extended by six months. Sports and culture vouchers thatexpired on 30 September 2020, and which have already been extended for the first time until 31 December 2020, will be extended again up to 30 September 2021. The validity of consumption vouchers will be extended until 31 December 2021.

As was the case during the first lockdown, the aim of this measure is to allow the beneficiaries of cheques to use them for longer than foreseen, in particular after the lockdown period has expired, and to allow companies to accept them for longer than foreseen.

Implementation of the coalition agreement

For the rest, we will still have to wait for the further implementation of the other commitments arising from the coalition agreement. Will we have a mobility budget for all employees in 2021,including those without a company car? Will there actually be more flexibility in the way we deal with working hours post-Corona? Only the future will show!

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Saskia Lombaerts
Saskia Lombaerts
Director Tax & Legal