Career break to look after your children

Belgium offers employees a system of career breaks that can be taken for a specific reason. ‘Looking after young children’ is one of the accepted reasons and you can benefit from up to 48 months of paid leave, subject to certain conditions. While the pay is low, this system can be a way to extend your time off after the birth of your baby, or temporarily stop working or reduce your working hours during your child’s early years.

Spending quality time with family thanks to a career break

The option to take a career break to look after your child should not be confused with parental leave, which is a completely separate type of leave. Every parent is entitled to 4 months of parental leave per child, which must be used before your child turns 12.

In February 2023, the government introduced a series of changes to the conditions for parents to take a career break (‘credit temps’ / ‘tijdskrediet’) to spend more time with their children – some of which impact parents who are currently on career break.

In the interest of proving accurate information as quickly as possible, this page focuses on the conditions for:

  • new applications for career break submitted after 1 February 2023; and
  • ensuring your receive payment while on career break (the conditions for unpaid career break are less strict).

On this page, you’ll find answers to the following questions:

How long a career break can I take and when can I take it?

Over the course of your career as an employee, you have the possibility to take a total of 51 calendar months of paid leave. Only 48 of these can be used to take care of your children (note that ‘care’ does not have a medical meaning here – there are other forms of career break for caring for sick family members).

To be able to take a:

  • full-time career break ‘to take care of your child’, you need to make the request before your child turns 5.
  • half-time or one-fifth career break, you need to make the request before your child turns 8.

Your actual career break may of course extend beyond your child’s 5th/8th birthday; it’s their age at the date of the request that counts.

Who can take this kind of career break?

To be able to take this kind of career break, you must have a parental link with the child in question. This generally means you are:

  • the biological mother or father;
  • in the absence of the biological father, the man who is legally recognised as the father;
  • the mother’s wife, who becomes the child’s co-mother;
  • an adoptive parent.

You must also have been working for your current employer for at least 36 months. If this isn’t the case, you can still request this kind of career break if:

  • you (will) have used up all your parental leave for all your children on the date your career break is due to start; and
  • your career break starts immediately after your parental leave ends.

There are also strict conditions related to your working time in the year before you make your request for a career break in order to be entitled to be paid during your career break – sadly, parents who work less than full-time now have fewer options when it comes to deciding how to take their career break.

How can I choose to take my career break and what conditions do I need to meet?

While some parents prefer to stop working completely for a certain period of time, others prefer to use their available career break to reduce their working hours without a complete loss of income and benefits for that time.

You can decide to take:

  • a full-time career break, where you stop work completely. You can do this if you have been working full-time for the 12 months prior to the request or part-time for the 24 months prior to the request.
    The minimum duration per request (or per extension) is 3 months;

  • a half-time career break, where you reduce your working hours to 50% of your employers’s full-time hours. You can only do this if you have working full-time in the 12 months before the request.
    The minimum duration per request (or per extension) is 3 months;

  • a one-fifth career break, where you reduce your working time by 1 full day or 2 half days per week. You can only do this if you have working full-time in the 12 months before the request. Depending on your employer, you may be able to agree to another way to adjust your working hours (e.g. leaving 1.5 hours early every day) for a maximum period of 12 months.
    The minimum duration per request (or extension) is 6 months.

In the case of half-time and one-fifth career breaks, you should receive an addendum to your contract, outlining the agreed changes to your working time.

How do I request a career break?

You first need to submit your request to your employer. If their response is positive, you then need to submit an official request to the ONEM / RVA (the national employment office).

Submitting your request to your employer

You need to notify your employer, in writing, of your request to take (or extend) a career break. In principle, you need to inform them:

  • 3 months in advance of your desired start date, if there are more than 20 workers in the company;
  • 6 months in advance, if there are 20 workers or fewer.

There is no set model or form, but you need to make sure it includes:

  • the type of career break requested (i.e. to look after a child under the age of 8);
  • the form of interruption requested (full-time, half-time or one-fifth);
  • your desired start date and duration of the career break;
  • for a half-time or one-fifth interruption, your proposal for how you want to adjust your working hours.

Send your request to your employer by registered letter or deliver it in person and have them sign a copy to confirm receipt.

How fast should I expect a response?

Generally speaking, your employer should respond to your request no later than the last day of the month following the month in which you made your request.

Do I need to provide any other documents to my employer?

Before the start of the career break, make sure your employer has a copy of the birth certificate of the child in question. If your child is adopted, provide your employer with a certificate proving the child’s adoption and a ‘household composition’ (which you can get from the commune) proving that the child lives with you when the career break starts.

Can my employer refuse my request?

This depends on the number of employees in your company. If your employer has:

  • more than 10 employees, and you meet all the conditions for the type of career break you want to take, you have the right to take a career break. However, if over 5% of your employer’s workforce is on career break, or if there are pressing reasons why you can’t take a career break when you request it, you may have to postpone the start of your career break by maximum 6 months.
  • fewer than 10 employees, taking a career break is not a right. If you meet the requirements, you can make your request, but your employer is not obliged to approve your request.

Submitting your request to the ONEM / RVA

Once your employer has approved your request, you need to submit the official request to the ONEM / RVA. This can be done electronically (in this case, it’s your employer that needs to trigger this) or via the relevant form which you can find on the website of the ONEM / RVA:

  • full-time career break: C61-crédit-temps à temps plein CCT no. 103ter – 06/17
  • half-time career break:C61-crédit-temps à 1/2 temps CCT no. 103ter – 06/17
  • one-fifth career break:C61-crédit-temps d’1/5 temps CCT no. 103ter – 06/17

You need to submit your request to the ONEM / RVA with two months of receiving approval from your employer.

How much am I paid when on career break?

The allowances paid for career break are fixed, and do not depend on your salary. For a:

  • full-time career break, you get €548.25 per month net;
  • half-time career break, you get €213.51 per month net;
  • one-fifth career break, you get between €130.56 and €222.55 per month net, depending on your family situation.

The above allowances are based on you having worked full-time in the period before your career break. See here, or ask your employer, for details of the percentage of ‘précompte professionnel’ / ‘bedrijfsvoorheffing’ that is taken on these amounts.

Frequently asked questions

Does a career break impact my paid holiday allowance for the following year?

Periods of career break do not count as worked days, so you will have fewer holidays in the year following your career break.

Can I start a side-activity during a career break?

While it can be tempting for some parents to start a new activity when taking a career break or reducing their working hours, you are not allowed to do this. If you have a pre-existing activity, such as being part-time self-employed, you can continue this, but you cannot increase this activity.

If you don’t comply with this rule, you lose the right to your career break, as well as to any allowances you received as from the date your started or extended that activity.

Can I live abroad during a career break?

Yes, you can live abroad while on a career break. However, to be able to receive career break allowances, you must be domiciled either:

  • in Belgium;
  • in another country of the European Economic Area (EEA), i.e. in one of the 27 countries of the European Union or Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein.
  • in Switzerland.