Dismissal with immediate effect for serious misconduct

An employer can dismiss an employee with immediate effect if the latter has committed an offence which renders the working relationship definitively and immediately impossible.

Dismissal of an employee with immediate effect constitutes a more serious sanction than dismissal with notice and from the employer's point of view, there is generally a more serious reason behind this type of dismissal.

For this type of dismissal, the employee is not entitled to a severance package.

Furthermore, the employer can, under certain conditions, request his employee to reimburse the expenses for continuous vocational training received.

Who is concerned

In the event of dismissal with immediate effect for serious misconduct, the following are concerned:

The staff delegation, both regular and substitute staff representatives, as well as the equal opportunities officer and the safety officer cannot be dismissed:

  • during their legal term of office (5 years);
  • during the first 6 months after the expiration or cessation of their mandate;
  • 3 months before the staff elections as soon as they have submitted their candidacy.
 Any redundancy procedure against them is deemed null and void.

An employee who has been dismissed with notice and who commits an act of serious misconduct during his notice period can be dismissed for serious misconduct.

Prerequisites

An employer can dismiss an employee with immediate effect if the latter has committed an offence which is sufficiently serious to render the working relationship definitively and immediately impossible.

Examples: being repeatedly late for work, insubordination, persistent, systematic or repeated refusal to execute an order, physical and verbal aggression, theft inside the company, etc.

The seriousness of the offence will be assessed by taking into consideration:

  • the level of education/training of the employee;
  • the employee's professional background;
  • the employee's social situation;
  • all other elements which may have an impact on the employee's responsibility.

Deadlines

A salaried worker cannot be blamed for serious misconduct which took place more than a month earlier.

It should be noted that the deadline starts running from the day on which the employer became aware or was informed of the misconduct.

However, this deadline does not apply if:

  • the employee's offence has led, within a month, to criminal proceedings;
  • the employer refers to a previous offence which is added to the new offence committed by the employee.

For example:

  • if the employer became aware of the misconduct on 5 May 2014, he can no longer justify dismissal for serious misconduct after 5 June 2014;
  • if the employer became aware of the misconduct on 31 May 2014, he can no longer justify dismissal for serious misconduct after 30 June 2014.

It should be noted that the 1-month deadline is suspended in the event of absence of the worker due to sickness or accident. In this case, the salaried worker is temporarily protected against dismissal. The salaried worker is again exposed to the risk of immediate dismissal:

The notification deadlines for dismissal for serious misconduct vary according to the number of staff employed by the business:

  • if the business employs less than 150 staff, the employer can notify the termination of the contract with immediate effect;
  • if the business employs 150 staff or more, the employer must summon the employee to a pre-dismissal interview. The notification of dismissal must therefore take place:
    • at the earliest the day after the pre-dismissal interview;
    • at the latest 8 days after the pre-dismissal interview.
Steps concerning the dismissal for serious misconduct with immediate effect

Business with less than 150 employees

Business with more than 150 employees

  • Immediate notification of dismissal

How to proceed

Pre-dismissal interview

Number of staff in the business

If a business has 150 staff or more, the employer is legally required to summon the employee to a pre-dismissal interview before dismissing him.

In order to ascertain whether a pre-dismissal interview is mandatory, the total number of staff must be established, i.e. the total number of staff employed in the different companies of a group which is considered as a sole economic and social entity.

Employers who do not respect the pre-dismissal interview procedure in a business with more than 150 employees, run the the risk of having to pay the employee a compensation for irregular dismissal.

The compensation amounts to one month's salary at the most.

Summoning a member of the staff delegation, whether a regular or substitute member, or the equal opportunities officer or the safety officer to a pre-dismissal interview is void and of no effect.

Summons to the pre-dismissal interview

In order to summon an employee to a pre-dismissal interview, the employer must send an invitation letter stating:

  • the reason for the invitation, i.e. the envisaged dismissal of the employee;
  • the date, time and location of the interview;
  • that the employee can request to be assisted by:
    • either another employee in the company;
    • or a delegate of a trade union which is representative on a national level and represented by a member in the company's staff delegation;
  • that the employer can also request to be assisted by:
    • either a member of staff;
    • or a representative of an employers' organisation.

Employers who have decided to be assisted must indicate this in the invitation letter to the pre-dismissal interview.

It should be noted that the law does not prohibit employers from being represented or assisted by lawyers during the pre-dismissal interview. In this case, the same rights are granted to the employee concerned

The offences the employee is accused of must exist at the time he or she is summoned to the pre-dismissal interview.

However, the employer is not required to indicate the motives for dismissal in the invitation letter. They will be explained during the interview.

Pre-dismissal interview procedure

The pre-dismissal interview must take place at the earliest on the 2nd working day after the invitation was sent. The interview's purpose is to:

  • inform the employee that his dismissal is taken under consideration;
  • explain the reasons;
  • provide him/her with the opportunity to explain him/herself.

After the interview, the employer can freely decide whether he or she will proceed with the dismissal.

Although the pre-dismissal interview is not mandatory in businesses with less than 150 staff, employers can always decide to invite the employee to such an interview if they so wish.

Employers are not exposed to sanctions in the event of immediate notification of dismissal after a pre-dismissal interview. The dismissal remains valid as the obligatory character of the dismissal procedure only applies to businesses with more than 150 staff.

Absence of the employee at the pre-dismissal interview

There are 2 reasons which can explain the absence of an employee from the pre-dismissal interview to which he or she has been called:

  • either the employee has decided not to react on the invitation: this decision does not stop the dismissal procedure from following its normal course;
  • the employee is on sick leave: in this case, the employer must take into account 2 possible scenarios:
    • if the employee has informed the employer of his inability to work and/or provided him with a medical certificate before the employer sent the invitation, the employee cannot be validly summoned to the interview;
    • if the employee is on sick leave and has informed the employer and/or provided a medical certificate after having received the summons, the dismissal procedure is not stopped from following its normal course, except in the case of emergency hospitalisation, in which case the employee has 8 days from the day of his hospitalisation to provide his employer with a medical certificate.

Notification of dismissal procedure

The employee may face 2 situations:

  • either the employer informs the employee directly (after the preliminary interview, where applicable) of the dismissal in writing:
    • by registered letter;
    • by handing the letter to the employee in person, who must acknowledge receipt by counter-signing a copy of the letter.
      The notification must indicate the detailed descriptionof the acts of serious misconduct that the employee is accused of and which constitute the grounds for his dismissal;
  • or the employer places the employee on gardening leave (orally or in writing) and notifies the dismissal at a later date. Gardening leave implies that the employee is exempted from work. During the period of gardening leave, the employer must continue to pay the employee's salary as well as all other benefits the employee is entitled to, up to the day of notification of dismissal.

In this case, the employer is required to follow the pre-dismissal interview procedure if the business employs more than 150 staff. The interview must take place and respect 2 deadlines:

  • within 8 days from the beginning of the gardening leave;
  • within 1 month from the day the employer became aware/was informed of the serious misconduct.

If no pre-dismissal interview will be held, the notification of dismissal can take place:

  • at the earliest the day after the beginning of the gardening leave;
  • no later than 8 days after the beginning of gardening leave.
    The 8-day deadline will be suspended in the event where the employee is on sick leave. In this case, the salaried worker is temporarily protected against dismissal.

It should be noted that if the employee is a staff delegate, it is mandatory to first pronounce the gardening leave before the dismissal procedure can be initiated.

The dismissal letter must be written in a language which the employee understands.

Reimbursement of continuous vocational training costs

The employer may request that the dismissed employee reimburses the costs for continuous vocational training received, on condition that:

  • the training was organised within the framework of a training plan;
  • the employer submitted a co-financing application for the training courses in question;
  • the costs apply to:
    • the current financial year;
    • the 3 previous financial years.

This mainly applies to training courses such as a Master, an MBA, etc.

The dismissed employee may face a request for reimbursement up to a total of:

  • 100 % of the training costs incurred during the current and the previous year;
  • 60% of the training costs incurred for the second previous year.
  • 30% of the training costs for the third previous year.

The following will be deducted from these costs:

  • sums received by the employer for each financial year in the context of a co-financing application;
  • a reduction of EUR 1.240 stipulated by law for each financial year.

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