Belgium’s law on paid educational leave (PEL) was introduced in 1985 as a compromise between the country’s political authorities and its social partners. PEL’s introduction represented a convergence of social, cultural, and economic interests: employees would have the opportunity to take time off work to advance their professional skills, knowledge and interests, while Belgium itself would gain a more diverse, capable, and happier national labour force. The law applies only to employees in the private sector and predominantly to full-time workers (certain part time workers are also eligible).
Since employers must continue to pay wages and salaries as normal for employees who take PEL, payroll administrators should understand how the law works, and how it will apply in their organisation. As a new school year gears up, if your business needs a refresher on Belgium’s PEL law, now is the time to check out our list of frequently asked questions…
What does PEL actually entail?
PEL allows employees to take leave from work for the purposes of education - specifically, a range of government-approved training courses - without giving up their entitlement to pay. Training courses must involve a minimum of 32 hours study a week but other than that, the choice of course is entirely up to the employee - and doesn’t need to be related in any way to their employer or current professional field.
Employees on PEL spend their time away from work studying, with the goal of passing an examination at the end of the academic session. Approved courses can be found on the regional authorities' websites below:
- Flanders: https://www.werk.be/online-diensten/betaald-educatief-verlof
- Brussels: http://werk-economie-emploi.brussels/nl_BE/betaald-educatief-verlof
- Wallonia: https://emploi.wallonie.be/home/formation/conge-education-paye.html
How do employees qualify?
PEL is available only to employees in the private sector, working full time - although in specific cases part-time employees can also take part. Employees must select the course (or courses) they want to study, enroll in an educational institution, and present their employer with proof of enrollment. Since PEL is a right for all private sector workers, employers can’t refuse employees’ requests but the leave must be planned in advance as a mutual agreement between employer and employee.
When does PEL take place?
PEL must take place from the date on which a course starts, to the date of the last exam of the first examination period. If the employee is participating in a second examination period, leave may be extended to cover that, too. Prior to actually taking PEL, employees must present proof of enrollment to their employers prior to October 31 of the new school year - and from that point must demonstrate ongoing participation in the training course by handing over a certificate of attendance every 3 months.
How long can PEL be?
The duration of an employee’s PEL depends on the type of training course in which they’re enrolled and how much time they’ll need to study. Courses fall into two categories:
- General courses - which allow for 80 hours of PEL
- Professional courses - which allow for 100 hours of PEL
There are exceptions to the amount of leave offered in either category but since it needs to be arranged by mutual agreement with employers, it’s worth checking long in advance to make sure chosen courses come with appropriate PEL accreditation.
How should payroll handle PEL?
Employees who take PEL continue to receive their wages as if they were at work - up to a limit of €2,871 per month (for the 2018/19 academic year). The relevant tax and social security obligations continue to apply. Importantly, employers can claim back €21.30 for every hour of absence their employee takes for the purposes of education - and funding for these reimbursements is provided by the government of the region in which the employee’s work takes place.
Payroll departments (and employers) should be aware of the deadlines for filing PEL reimbursement claims, since the rules differ by region across Belgium:
- Brussels: Applications must be filed between 1 September and 31 December of the school year following the one for which the reimbursement is requested. Practically, this means reimbursements for the 2017/18 academic year must be filed no later than 31 December 2018.
- Flemish Region: Broadly similar to Brussels in that applications must be filed from 1 September to 31 December in the following school year. Be aware that the Flemish Region is due to significantly alter its PEL regulations: from 2019, PEL will be changed to training leave and allow for 125 hours of paid leave per year for employees pursuing training schemes.
- Walloon: Unlike the Brussels and Flemish regions, the Walloon region offers a wider window for filing reimbursement - up to 31 March of the school year following the reimbursement request. This means that applications for the 2017-18 school year may be filed up until 31 March 2019.
How should I implement PEL into my payroll solution?
PEL doesn’t have to be a headache for your payroll in Belgium - so long as both employee and employer understand what their responsibilities are, and a process for giving sufficient notice is implemented. Filing for reimbursements from regional governments can, however, involve a certain amount of administrative effort: if you feel your business isn’t prepared to handle the process, it is of course possible to engage a payroll service provider to do so on your behalf.
To find out more about Belgian payroll and tax regulation, and your PEL obligations, browse activpayroll’s Global Insight guide to Belgium.