Very pregnant employee who falls sick still loses maternity leave days
At the beginning of this year one of my colleagues had to stay home for a few days due to the flu. Nothing exceptional, except that she was supposed to give birth three weeks later. As usual, she went to the doctor who confirmed that she had to recover from the flu for a few days. Just to be clear, the fact that she had to stay at home had absolutely nothing to do with the pregnancy.
However, in Belgium these days of absence do not count as normal days of invalidity, but are automatically converted into maternity leave … As you can imagine my colleague was far from happy.
How can this be?
As an employee in Belgium you are automatically entitled to 7 weeks of leave before delivery and 9 weeks after it. In addition, you have the option to convert 6 out of 7 weeks of prenatal leave into postnatal leave, so that you can stay at home 15 weeks after the delivery. It goes without saying that almost everyone chooses to continue working as long as possible in the period before the delivery so that they can spend more time with the expected baby after it’s born. However, if you catch an illness during this 7-week period of prenatal rest, your absence days are automatically deducted, even if there is no causal link with pregnancy. This means that your maternity leave can be shortened by a few days to a few weeks … to the statutory minimum of 9 weeks. It is already difficult to understand why pregnancy-related absences in the last 6 weeks before delivery should automatically lead to a reduction in maternity leave, as complications or premature births give rise to special concerns. Why a flu or other non-pregnancy related absence should lead to a reduction in maternity leave is downright absurd.
The issue was put on the political agenda in 2016, and following a number of legislative proposals to no longer deduct any days of invalidity, the Court of Audit calculated at the beginning of this year that a rectification would cost between EUR 16 and 58 million a year. Until a legislative majority is found to approve a bill, the old regulation will continue to apply.
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