By 1 January 2019 at the latest, the social partners must enter into collective labour agreements stipulating that dismissed employees who are entitled to 30 weeks' notice or a corresponding severance payment in lieu should be offered a severance package consisting (as to one-third) of measures promoting the employability of the employee concerned. If, in the absence of such a sector-wide collective labour agreement, an employee performs the entire severance package in the form of a notice period or receives the corresponding severance payment in lieu, the employer and the employee will have to pay a special social security contribution as of 1 January 2019. As the social partners have not yet agreed upon any collective labour agreements in this respect, dismissing an employee will most likely become more expensive as of 1 January 2019.
Measures to promote employability
In recent years, the legislator has taken various measures aimed at offering employees, after their dismissal, the necessary skills to find a new job as soon as possible. In that respect, the Single Employment Status Act has introduced the obligation for the employer to offer outplacement to employees who are entitled to 30 weeks' notice or a corresponding severance payment in lieu.
In accordance with the Act, the social partners must take the necessary measures aimed at promoting the employability of the employees. In other words, the employer must use part of the severance package for employability-increasing measures such as outplacement, tailor-made training and individual career counselling. Nevertheless, this obligation is triggered only in the event of the dismissal of an employee with at least 30 weeks' notice or a corresponding severance payment in lieu.
The Single Employment Act states that the severance package must consist of:
- a notice period or a severance payment in lieu corresponding to 2/3 of the severance package; and
- measures enhancing the employee's employability level in the labour market corresponding to 1/3 of the severance package.
This rule on employability-enhancing measures cannot reduce the notice period or the severance payment in lieu to less than 26 weeks.
The Single Employment Act has given the sectors the task of entering into collective labour agreements on the employability-enhancing measures by 1 January 2019. The National Labour Council (NLC) will make an inventory and evaluate such agreements per sector between 1 January 2019 and 30 June 2019. For the time being, however, the social partners have not yet entered into any sector-wide collective labour agreements.
Employers confronted with the social partners' failure to enter into sector-wide collective labour agreements will not be allowed to remedy such failure by developing company-wide severance packages.
Additional social security contribution for the employer and employee
In the absence of sector-wide collective labour agreements by 1 January 2019, employers and employees will have to pay a special social security contribution when the employer terminates an employment contract. This additional social security contribution will only be due in the event of the dismissal of an employee with at least 30 weeks' notice or a corresponding severance payment in lieu.
The special contribution must be paid in addition to the standard social security contributions and consists of an employer's contribution of 3% and an employee withholding of 1%. This special contribution will be levied on the salary corresponding to 1/3 of the notice period or the severance payment in lieu.
Will the social partners reach an agreement?
As no sectoral collective labour agreements with regard to employability-enhancing measures have been entered into yet, the Group of 10 (consisting of employers' representatives and employees' organisations) has asked the Minister of Employment to discuss the matter at the level of the NLC. The underlying idea is to reach an (intra-sector) agreement in the NLC, in order to avoid higher dismissal costs. It remains to be seen whether the social partners will, in fact, reach an agreement before the end of the year. If they fail to reach such agreement, dismissing an employee will become more expensive as of 1 January 2019.