In a recent British experiment introducing a change in the working time (4-day workweek), employees reported being less stressed and having a better work-life balance. The employer was also positively impacted as there was less absenteeism and less staff turnover. Another study established that adapting and working part-time do not have a negative impact on your company’s productivity. Working less is becoming more popular in order to maintain a health work-life balance.
What if your employee also wants to work less? Are you required as an employer to accept this?
What is the rule ?
As a rule, neither party in the employment contract is allowed to unilaterally change the working time that was agreed upon in the employment contract. After all, the working time is an essential part of the employment contract. The employer cannot reduce this essential element unilaterally, nor is an employee automatically entitled to a part-time employment. As always, there are exceptions and nuances to the rule…
What the exceptions are?
Exception 1: thematic leave or time credit
In Belgium, several options exist to reduce working time temporarily for specific reasons such as child care while receiving a small interruption allowance from the government. Basically, two systems exist next to each other: thematic leave (for example parental leave) and time credit (to take care of a child, to care for a seriously ill family member etc.). In some cases (for example 1/5 reduction for parental leave), the employee is entitled to this type of leave meaning that the employer cannot refuse the working time reduction in that case.
Exception 2: the 4-day workweek (*new*)
Since 20 November 2022, the 4-day week allows a full-time employee to spread his weekly working time over 4 days instead of 5 days. The employee is entitled to request a 4-day week in writing. The employer may accept or refuse this within 1 month. The refusal must be motivated.
! The employee who has requested this regime, temporarily benefits from special protection against adverse treatment and dismissal.
Exception 3: right to request a flexible working arrangement (*new*)
Since 1 October 2022, an employee with an employment contract of at least 6 months has the right to request a flexible working arrangement for up to 12 months (renewable) to take care of a child / family member. In that framework, the employee can request among others a reduction in working time.
The employer may accept, postpone, refuse or propose an alternative solution, within one month of the employee’s request. If he refuses, the employer must justify his refusal to the employee.
! The employee who has requested these measures, temporarily benefits from special protection against adverse treatment and dismissal.
Beware of the pitfalls!
- Make sure you comply with the necessary formalities and procedures and modify the working regulations if necessary.
- Establish the necessary arrangements in an annex to the employment contract.
- Think about the impact on the employee’s salary package.