Dismissal with immediate effect for serious misconduct

An employer can dismiss an employee with immediate effect if the latter has committed an act of serious misconduct that renders the working relationship definitively and immediately impossible. This form of dismissal is a more severe sanction than dismissal with notice.

In case of dismissal for serious misconduct, the employee:

  • receives no severance pay;
  • but nevertheless receives compensation for:

In addition, in certain conditions, the employer may ask the employee to reimburse them for the cost of continuous professional development training.

Who is concerned

Dismissal for serious misconduct pertains to an employer and their employees on:

Staff representatives and their alternates, as well as equal opportunities officers and health and safety officers cannot be dismissed, nor can they be summoned to a pre-dismissal interview:

  • during their legal term of office (5 years);
  • during the first 6 months following the expiry or cessation of their term of office;
  • in the 3 months preceding staff elections, once they have submitted their candidacy.

Any redundancy procedure against them is deemed null and void.

An employee who is dismissed with notice, and commits an act of serious misconduct during the notice period, may be dismissed for serious misconduct.

Prerequisites

The employee must have committed an act of misconduct that renders it immediately and definitively impossible to maintain the working relationship.

Examples: being repeatedly late for work, insubordination, persistent, systematic or repeated refusal to obey instructions, physical and verbal aggression, theft within the company, etc.

The seriousness of the employee's misconduct will be assessed by taking into consideration:

  • their level of education;
  • their professional background;
  • their social situation;
  • any and all other elements which may impact on the employee's responsibility.

Deadlines

Time limit for invoking serious misconduct

The act of serious misconduct must not have occurred more than one month earlier. The time limit starts on the day on which the employer became aware of the misconduct. However, this time limit:

  • does not apply if:
    • within the one month, the employee's misconduct gave rise to criminal proceedings; or
    • the employer invokes an earlier act of misconduct to substantiate a new act of misconduct on the part of the employee.
  • is suspended if the employee is absent by reason of illness or accident. In that case, the employee is temporarily protected from dismissal until:

Example: if the employer becomes aware of the act of serious misconduct:

  • on 5 May 2020, they can no longer invoke that act of serious misconduct after 5 June 2020;
  • on 31 May 2020, they can no longer invoke that act of serious misconduct after 30 June 2020;

Time limit for notification of dismissal

The time limit for notification of dismissal for serious misconduct depends on the number of staff employed by the business:

  • fewer than 150 employees: the employer can notify the employee of the termination of their employment contract immediately;
  • 150 staff or more:
    • the employer must summon the employee to a pre-dismissal interview;
    • the letter of dismissal can only be sent:
      • at the earliest, on the day after the pre-dismissal interview;
      • at the latest, 8 days after the pre-dismissal interview.

How to proceed

Pre-dismissal interview

Number of staff in the business

Employers with at least 150 staff are legally required to summon the employee to a pre-dismissal interview before dismissing them. If this requirement is not satisfied, the employee may claim compensation, in the amount of no more than one month's salary, for procedural irregularities in the dismissal.

When determining the size of the workforce, the total number of staff employed in the different companies of a group considered as a sole economic and social entity must be considered.

Summons to the pre-dismissal interview

The employer must send the employee a letter of summons:

  • by registered mail; or
  • deliver it to them by hand against the employee's signature on:
    • a receipt; or
    • a duplicate copy of the letter of summons.

The letter of summons must specify:

  • the reason for the summons, i.e., the employer's intention to dismiss the employee;
  • the date, time and venue of the interview;
  • that the employee is entitled to be assisted by:
    • another employee in the company; or
    • a representative of a trade union with representation at the national level and represented in the company's staff delegation;
  • that the employer is entitled to be assisted by:
    • a member of staff; or
    • a representative of an employers' organisation.

If the employer opts to seek assistance or representation, even by a lawyer, that option must be:

  • mentioned in the letter of summons to the interview;
  • also offered to the employee.
The reasons for the dismissal may not necessarily be specified in the letter of summons, but must be genuine at the time the summons is issued.

Pre-dismissal interview procedure

The pre-dismissal interview must take place at the earliest on the 2nd working day actually worked after the summons was sent. The purpose of the interview is to:

  • inform the employee of the employer's intention to dismiss them;
  • explain the reasons for the dismissal;
  • provide the employee with the opportunity to explain themself.

After the interview, the employer is free to decide whether or not to proceed with the dismissal.

It should be noted that in businesses with fewer than 150 employees, the employee may be summoned to an interview if the employer wishes to do so. In this case, failure to observe the pre-dismissal interview procedure has no bearing on the validity of the dismissal since such an interview is not legally required.

Absence of the employee at the pre-dismissal interview

There are 2 possible reasons for an employee's failing to attend the pre-dismissal interview:

  • they have simply decided not to attend: in that case, the dismissal procedure continues as per normal; or
  • they are on sick leave: the employer must then take into consideration 2 possible scenarios:
    • the employee informed the employer of their incapacity for work and/or submitted a medical certificate before the letter of summons was sent: in that case, the employee cannot be legitimately required to attend a pre-dismissal interview;
    • the employee is on sick leave, and informs their employer and/or provides a medical certificate after having received the summons to interview: the dismissal procedure continues as per normal.

Exception: in the event of emergency hospitalisation, the employee has 8 days from the date of their hospitalisation to submit a medical certificate to their employer.

Suspension of the employee with pay

Before dismissing the employee, the employer may decide, first of all, to suspend the employee with pay (notified either orally or in writing), and then notify them of their dismissal at a later stage.

During their suspension, the employee:

  • is exempt from the requirement to come into work;
  • continues to receive their salary, and all other benefits to which they are entitled, until the day on which they are notified of their dismissal.

In the event of suspension, the employer must observe:

  • the pre-dismissal interview procedure if the business has over 150 employees. The interview must take place between the 1st and 8th day following the suspension;
  • the one month time limit – as of the day on which they became aware of the serious misconduct – before notifying the employee of the dismissal.

If no pre-dismissal interview is required, the employee may be dismissed:

  • at the earliest, on the day after the suspension;
  • no later than 8 days after the suspension. If the employee falls ill, this interval is temporarily suspended. In this case, the employee is temporarily protected against dismissal.
If the employee is a staff delegate, it is compulsory that they first be suspended before the dismissal procedure can be initiated.

Notification of dismissal to the employee

The employee must be notified of their dismissal in writing:

  • by registered letter;
  • by hand delivery of the letter. They must confirm receipt on a duplicate copy of the letter.

The letter of dismissal must:

  • clearly specify the serious misconduct of which the employee is accused;
  • be written in a language which the employee understands.

Remaining leave due

The employee is entitled to payment for days of leave not taken by the time of the dismissal. Thus, along with their final wage packet, they are entitled to compensation in lieu of leave not taken.

Liquidation of the time savings account

The employee is entitled to compensation for the days/hours of leave saved up in their time savings account, if they have one.

Reimbursement of continuing professional development training costs

The employer may require the employee to repay the costs of any continuing professional development training they have incurred for the employee, on condition that:

  • the training was organised as part of a training plan;
  • the employer had applied for co-financing for the training courses in question;
  • the costs apply to the current financial year and the previous 3 years.

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

The dismissed employee may be required to repay:

  • 100% of the training costs for the year in progress (y) and the previous financial year (y-1);
  • 60% of the training costs for the financial year y-2;
  • 30% of the training costs for the financial year y-3.

However, the following must be deducted from the expenses claimed back from the dismissed employee:

  • sums received by the employer for each financial year as part of a co-financing arrangement;
  • a legal allowance of EUR 1,240 for each financial year.

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