Paid Leave

The system of annual paid holidays/leave will depend on whether you are an employee, independent worker or a civil servant. Apart from the annual leave the Belgian system also allows for maternity leave, paternity leave and other types of ‘social’ holidays.

Annual leave

  • Employees under the Belgian security system are entitled to a number of paid holidays (legal holidays) a year as well as a so-called holiday allowance (“pécule de vacances - Vakantiegeld”) on top of that. The amounts you receive are calculated on the basis of your activity in the preceding year – the so-called legal holidays - and on top of that you may build up supplementary paid days or amounts depending on your individual relation with your employer. If certain employees are not entitled to the full annual holiday entitlement when they start a new job, they can ask for "european holidays" (see more info below).
  • Independent workers under the Belgian security system have no paid holidays, no holiday allowance and of course no right to a holiday since they have no employee-employer relation. They do have access to maternity leave allowances though.
  • Civil servants also all have a number of guaranteed paid days and holiday allowances but the number and amounts differ depending on their administrative level and/or administration they belong to.

Maternity leave

The maternity leave is divided into two: Before the birth (prenatal leave) and following delivery (postnatal leave).

Prenatal leave (or “pregnancy leave") is 6 weeks 5 optional weeks and 1 mandatory week. The mandatory week corresponds to the 7 days prior to the estimated date of delivery. For multiple birth pregnancies, pregnancy leave is 8 weeks – 7 optional weeks and 1 mandatory week.

Pregnancy leave starts when you decide to take it but you must have notified your employer in good time.

Good to know:

  • In the case of premature births, the mandatory 7-day week (or the part not taken) cannot be made up.
  • If you give birth before the due date and you have not been able to take the full compulsory week of prenatal rest immediately preceding the due date, you will lose the days not taken from this week of prenatal rest.

Postnatal leave lasts a minimum of 9 weeks. However, on your request this leave may be extended by a period equal to the optional prenatal leave that was not taken. You are entitled to a period of maternity leave equal to 15 weeks and 17 weeks if you are pregnant with twins.

In order to calculate the postnatal leave, you use the actual delivery date rather than the expected delivery day. Therefore, there may be a change in the calculations made on the basis of the due date. The calculation of these optional leave days and carrying over is done in calendar days.

It is recommended that you inform your employer as early as possible and at the latest 7 weeks before the estimate date of delivery (9 weeks if you’re expecting twins or triplets). Effectively, maternity legal protection begins from the moment that the employer is informed of your pregnancy.

To do so, you must send the medical certificate detailing the estimated date of delivery to your employer. If the employment regulations for your workplace make specific reference, you should follow the required format for informing your employer of your pregnancy. Although, it is strongly advised that you do so in writing in order to avoid any problems of proof.

If your job involves risks from which you are required to be excluded during your pregnancy, you should inform your employer immediately.

Good to know:

  • Medical appointments : You are entitled to be absent from work for the time necessary to attend prenatal medical appointments that cannot take place outside working hours. It is necessary to inform your employer in advance except in the case of force majeure (in which case the employer shall be notified as soon as possible). By time necessary, it is understood as both the time required for the appointment or examination as well as the time required for travel to that appointment.
  • Hazardous work : If you work in an occupation that may be dangerous to your health or that of your future child, you are entitled to preventative leave also known as prophylactic leave. To obtain this leave, your doctor must draft a certificate stating that your work is dangerous for you and your child. Consequently, you will receive an allocation from the mutuelle [health insurance], the amount of which will vary depending on the type of variation (full or part).
  • Protection against dismissal by the employer : The employer cannot dismiss you for the sole reason that you are pregnant or that you are taking maternity leave. However, dismissal during pregnancy is still possible if it relates to another reason aside from your pregnancy (for example, reorganisation of the company, serious misconduct, etc.). If your employer dismisses you due to your pregnancy, they must pay you a compensatory amount in lieu of notice as well as a payoff amount equal to 6 months’ gross salary. This protection begins from the time your employer is officially informed of your pregnancy and up to 1 month after the postnatal maternity leave.
  • Prohibition of overtime and night work : A pregnant or breastfeeding worker cannot normally work overtime. However, this rule does not apply in certain cases. For example, for those occupying a position of trust (executives) or those with a management role referred to in the legislation. As regards night work (between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.), you can refuse to do it as a pregnant worker. If you usually work at night, your employer must do their best to adjust your working hours, or transfer you to daytime work.

1) Send your health insurance (« mutualité ») :

- A medical certificate stating the presumed date of childbirth

- The date on which you want to start your maternity leave

2) Stop working from the date on which you start your maternity leave.

3) Fill in the application form for maternity leave from your « mutuelle » and return it with a copy of the birth certificate as soon as possible. Only then, they will be able to determine the actual end of your maternity leave and pay your allowance.

From this point on, sick leave does not restrict maternity leave. If you do not want to take your (optional) prenatal leave and you become ill during the 6 weeks (or 8 weeks for multiple births) prior to the estimated date of delivery, the ordinary rules with regard to work incapacity shall apply until such time as you start your mandatory maternity leave (that is, one week before your due date).

More information about maternity leave on the website of INAMI and SPF EMPLOI.

Find more info about daycare, vaccination and first child administrative formalities in our chapter early childcare.

Childbirth leave

Persons with a legal parent/child relationship with the child (father or non-birthing mother) or a co-parent who does not have a parent/child relationship with the child (subject to certain conditions) may benefit from leave for birth of a child for 20 days to be taken in the 4 months following the birth. It is not obligatory to take all 20 days at one time. Indeed, these days can be spread over the 4 months following the birth of the child.

During the first three days of childbirth leave, the employee retains full pay at the employer's expense. During the following days of childbirth leave, the employee does not receive any pay, but an allowance will be paid via the health and indemnity insurance payment institutions (mutualités). The amount of this allowance is set at 82% of the gross salary lost. The worker must request this benefit himself from his health insurance fund, on presentation of the birth certificate.

To claim your allowance, request a birth leave application form from your health insurance (« mutuelle ») and return it with a copy of the birth certificate. Then follow the steps they will indicate. You will be paid as soon as you have taken all your paternity leave, in a single payment.

Also, employees wishing to take childbirth leave must give their employer prior notice. This notice may be given orally or in writing, but it is advisable to inform the employer in writing in order to avoid any problems of proof. Advance notice means that the employee must inform his employer that he is going to take the day of birth leave at the latest before the start of his working day. The necessary proof must be provided for instance the birth certificate of the child.


  • This childbirth allowance cannot be combined with other income (e.g. redundancy pay).
  • Childbirth benefit is taxable replacement income and is automatically subject to 11.11% withholding tax.

GOOD TO KNOW: if you are not married ("legal cohabitation" is not taken into account), consider prenatal recognition of the child to prove the link of paternity or co-paternity. It takes place before the child is born to create a link of paternity or co-paternity between a person and a child. It will simplify the administrative procedures immediately after the birth. For instance, this will save the mother having to travel to the commune to register the child immediately after birth. Without this document, the father or co-parent cannot go without the mother. The prenatal acknowledgement certificate is a document issued by your municipality. For more info, ask your commune of residence.

Click here for more practical information about childbirth leave.

Parental leave

In addition to statutory maternity leave, there is also parental leave, which can be taken directly after your maternity leave, for example, or at other times under certain conditions.

Parental leave allows you to temporarily suspend or reduce your working hours to look after your child(ren) under the age of 12.

There are 4 forms of parental leave: full, half-time, 1/5 and 1/10.

During your parental leave, you receive an interruption allowance paid by the ONEM. More information on parental leave on the ONEM website.

European holidays

Since 2003, an European directive entitles every worker to 4 weeks' holiday a year. In Belgium, however, holiday entitlement is conditional on the previous year's work performance. In 2012, Belgium therefore had to introduce a new holiday system: so-called "European or additional" holidays. These supplement our existing holiday system, guaranteeing all workers 4 weeks' holiday a year. The system is different from the "young people's holiday" system, but the aim remains the same: to guarantee the right to 4 weeks' holiday a year.

Who is it for ?

You'll want to take a European holiday if you're just starting out in paid employment. For example, if it's your first job. They will also be of interest to people who are returning to paid employment. For example, after a period of unemployment, sickness, time credit, unpaid leave, etc. They will also be of interest if you are moving from self-employment to employment, or from the public to the private sector, or if you are working in Belgium after a period working abroad. They may also be of interest to you if your working hours have increased (for instance going from part-time to full-time).

N.B.: the right to "european holidays" cannot be combined with the right to youth or senior holidays. The employee must therefore make a choice. Find more info on "youth" and "senior" holidays here.

What are the conditions?

In order to qualify, the worker must meet the 3 criteria:

  • Start or return to work for one or more employers. The type of contract is irrelevant;
  • Have worked for at least 3 months in the same civil year (between January and December of the same year);
  • Have used up their statutory/ordinary holiday entitlement.

Do I get paid for this holiday?

During your holiday, you will continue to receive your usual remuneration. This pay is paid by your employer. But in reality, you finance your European holidays yourself. The following year, when you normally receive your double holiday allowance, the remuneration you received during your European holidays will be deducted from this double holiday allowance. Taking a European holiday therefore means that you receive the extra double holiday pay in advance. But your simple holiday allowance, i.e. your "normal" pay, will never be touched. If the double holiday pay for the following year is not enough, deductions will also be made from the double holiday pay for subsequent years. If the employee leaves before this deduction has been made, the deduction will be made from the leaving pay.

How can I benefit from European holidays?

There are no special steps to take to apply for your European holidays. All you have to do is ask your employer. European holidays are a right and your employer cannot refuse them if you meet the conditions set out above. However, as with any holiday, you should refer to the rules of your sector and your company for the way in which the dates of leave are determined.

If you are entitled to European holidays, you are free to take them or not. Unlike ordinary holidays, you are not obliged to use all your European holiday days.

Visit this webpage to find out how to calculate the amount of additional holiday.

Young people's holidays or European holidays: which formula should you choose ?

If you are eligible for a young person's holiday, it may be more worthwhile to opt for the latter. The ONEM allowance you receive as part of a young person's holiday is not claimed back from the worker the following year. With a youth holiday, you retain your right to the full double allowance the following year.