Equal treatment in the workplace

In Belgium all employees are entitled to equal treatment in the workplace: employee rights are protected through different legal provisions concerning anti-discrimination. Specific regulations apply in the fight against employment inequality or to decrease the wage gap between men and women.

Discrimination on the labour market (in French) can occur at any moment during the employment process: at the time of recruitment, during the performance of the employment contract or at the time of its termination. It can be a deliberate or unconscious attempt to discriminate against or harm someone (direct discrimination) or the indirect result of a decision or procedure (indirect discrimination). Bullying, intimidation or refusal of reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities are also covered by the anti-discrimination legislation.

Within the sphere of work, the legislation on the prevention of psychosocial risks at work also applies. The law provides, amongst others, for compensation for victims of violence or of moral or sexual harassment.

Equal treatment 

In Belgium, every worker has the right to equal treatment, regardless of their nationality, descent, skin colour, national or ethnic origin, disability, gender, language, philosophical or religious beliefs, age, sexual orientation, state of health, wealth, physical characteristics, marital status, political views, trade union membership, birth and social background.

It is therefore important that companies and employers are well-informed about the anti-discrimination legislation in Belgium. Discrimination is the unequal or unfair treatment or another person based on personal characteristics. According to law, discrimination, bullying, hate speech and hate crimes against a person or a group of people because of specific personal characteristics are all criminal offences.

The anti-discrimination legislation defines not only the various forms of discrimination, but also the relevant personal characteristics. We refer to 'protected grounds of discrimination'.

19 protected grounds of discrimination

In Belgium, there are three laws that together constitute the anti-discrimination legislation: the Gender Act (Genderwet), the Anti-Racism Act (Antiracismewet) and the Anti-Discrimination Act (Antidiscriminatiewet). The regions and communities have also adopted similar regulations.

Together, they distinguish between 19 protected grounds of discrimination:

  • Gender Act: gender (also includes pregnancy, motherhood, childbirth, breastfeeding, medically assisted reproduction, fatherhood, co-maternity, adoption, gender reassignment, gender identity, gender expression and gender characteristics),
  • Anti-Racism Act: nationality, national or ethnic origin, presumed race, skin colour and ancestry (Jewish origin),
  • Anti-Discrimination Act: disability, philosophical or religious beliefs, sexual orientation, age, wealth, marital status, political views, trade union membership, state of health, physical or genetic characteristics, birth, social background and language.

The institution Unia deals with 17 of the 19 grounds of discrimination. A separate institution has been set up for the ground of discrimination based on gender: the Institute for the equality of women and men. As regards the ground of discrimination based on language, no governmental entity in Belgium has been given any specific powers.

To know more, please consult the Discrimation clarification page or the page Grounds of discrimination on the Unia website, responsible for battling discrimination.

Gender equality

In Belgium, gender equality is enshrined in the Constitution. Belgium also has specific legislation to promote gender equality. The Gender Act (Genderwet) protects people from discrimination on the basis of their gender. The protection afforded by this law applies in nearly all domains of public life: at work, in the case of goods and services, in healthcare, on public transport, in housing, education, etc.

Men and women should therefore be treated equally in the workplace and at every stage of their career. For example, they must be given equal opportunities in recruitment, they are entitled to equal pay for work of equal value and to the same working conditions, and they must be given equal opportunities in terms of training and promotion. There is also specific protection against bullying and sexual harassment at work. In the public domain, sexist behaviour or statements are also a criminal offence.

The prohibition of discrimination against women and men also offers protection to pregnant woman or parents in the workplace. They must not be treated unfavourably due to their pregnancy or because they have or want to have children.

The right to equal treatment also applies to people who may not fit the stereotypical image or expectations of women and men, such as transgender people or intersex people. They are also protected against discrimination by law.

What are your rights?

Are you being treated unfairly at work? Have you been refused the reasonable accommodation to which you are entitled? Or have you been the victim of bullying? There are several organisations in Belgium that can assist you. Their services are provided free of charge.

Who can inform you?

In Belgium, there are various organisations that can inform you about the anti-discrimination legislation.

  • If you have any questions about discrimination based on your gender, you can contact the Institute for the equality of women and men for information or legal assistance. Use the online report form  or call the freephone number 0800 12 800 to file a report.
  • Do you have questions about employees with a disability and the reasonable accommodation you should provide for them? If so, you can contact Unia. Use Unia’s online report form or call the freephone number 0800 12 800 (from Belgium) or +32 22123000 (from abroad) to report your situation.
  • Do you have questions about diversity in the workplace in connection with nationality, ancestry, skin colour, national or ethnic origin, philosophical or religious beliefs, age, sexual orientation, state of health, wealth, physical characteristics, marital status, political views, trade union membership, birth or social background? If so, you can contact Unia for help. Unia can also support companies and organisations that want to take initiatives regarding diversity and non-discrimination.

Unia has developed an online course about anti-discrimination legislation, diversity policy and reasonable accommodation in the workplace. The course is free.

More information about legislation relating to equality and non-discrimination at work van be found on the FPS website (in French) and on the Unia website.

The principle of ‘equal pay for equal work’ has long been part of European and Belgian legislation and is one of the cornerstones of gender equality. It is against the law to discriminate against someone based on their gender. An employer must pay the same wage to two employees who carry out work of equal value with the same characteristics. Despite this principle, there is still a wage gap in practice.

Overall, the wage gap in Belgium has tended to narrow in recent years. The wage gap report from the Institute for the equality of women and men shows that, in 2017, women earned on average 9.6 % less than men per year, following correction for working hours. In 2014, this figure was 10.9 %. In this respect, Belgium is performing better than the European average of 16 %, but there is still a long way to go. This is why specific measures have been introduced by the Belgian government.

Measures to close the wage gap

In Belgium, salaries are for the most part collectively determined. This is one of the reasons why the wage gap in Belgium is relatively low. Nevertheless, there is still scope for individual negotiations, which generally lead to more favourable results for men than for women. There is much more scope for individual salary negotiations in the private sector than there is in the public sector, but even there it is possible to negotiate, for example, about whether or not work experience in other sectors is recognised. This is one of the many reasons why the gender wage gap still exists.

Specific tools

In order to address this problem of implicit discrimination, the Belgian Gender Pay Gap Law of 22 April 2012 provides for the analysis of the gender neutrality of all job classifications. There is also a checklist that personnel managers can use to check whether the job classifications they use are gender-neutral, in other words whether they are disadvantageous for women.

The objectives of this law are:

  • to take action at the level of wage determination in order to combat the wage gap in the strict sense (the fact that female workers are underpaid);
  • to ensure that the wage gap continues to receive attention in the social dialogue at the three consultation levels (interprofessional, sectoral and undertaking level), so that the social partners are involved with the issues.

In order for the wage gap to be placed on the consultative agenda, the phenomenon must be visible and open for discussion. Ensuring that the wage gap is visible and open for discussion is the common denominator of the measures introduced at the three consultation levels.

  1. At intersectoral level, the Central Economic Council’s report contains a series of details about the development of the gender wage gap.
  2. At sectoral level, the job classifications are checked with respect to gender neutrality.
  3. At company level, employers are obliged to submit an analysis report on the remuneration structure for workers to, and discuss it with, the works council or trade union delegation every two years. If this analysis report reveals a wage gap between female and male workers within the undertaking, an action plan can be drawn up to remedy this.

More information

More information on legislation fighting the wage gap between men and women and the available tools can be found on the Equality and non discrimination section of the website of SPF Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue (in French).

On the Institute for the Equality of Women en Men website please consult:

Each year, the Institute for the equality of women and men publishes the new figures on the gender pay gap in Belgium.
If you believe you have been discriminated against, you can submit a complaint to the Institute (in French) or your trade union.

The principle of non-discrimination in relation to part-time workers

The Law of 5 March 2002 introduced a general principle of non-discrimination requiring part-time workers to be treated in the same way as their full-time colleagues in terms of working conditions. Where this applies, the rights of part-time workers can be determined in relation to their working hours.

This principle of non-discrimination has a general scope: it applies to all sources of law within labour law.

Exceptions: the objective reasons

Part-time workers may be treated differently from full-time workers if this difference in treatment is justified for objective reasons. 

Remuneration

Specifically in relation to remuneration, a part-time worker must receive proportionately the same salary for the same work or work of equal value as a full-time worker, regardless of the terms of the payment of the salary.

All salary components of full-time workers must be applied to part-time workers according to the same standards, pay scales and award criteria and in proportion to their working hours in the undertaking, provided that they are employed under similar conditions and belong to the same category of workers.

Part-time workers are also entitled to an average minimum monthly income, which is calculated in proportion to their working hours in the undertaking on the basis of the average minimum monthly income of full-time workers.

More information can be found on the page Principle of non-discrimination in relation to part-time workers of the SPF website (in French).

Principle of non-discrimination for temporary employment contracts or contracts for clearly defined work

In relation to working conditions, workers with a temporary employment contract or a contract for clearly defined work may not be treated less favourably than comparable workers on a permanent contract purely because their work is of a temporary nature, unless this difference in treatment is justified for objective reasons. If this is justified, their rights can be established on the basis of their seniority or the duration of the employment contract.

Notification of vacancies

Employers are obliged to inform their workers with a temporary employment contract or a contract for clearly defined work of vacancies in the undertaking that could give them a permanent position. This information may be provided by means of a general announcement at a suitable place in the undertaking or business establishment.

More information can be found on the page Principle of non-discrimination for temporary employment or contracts for clearly defined work of the SPF website (in French).

FPS Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue – Contact Centre of the Labour Inspectorate – Supervision of Labour Legislation:

For issues regarding the wage gap in general:

For questions about the measures at the level of sectoral and intersectoral consultation:

For questions about the analysis report:

For questions about the mediator: