What is the purpose of a trial clause in an employment contract?

A trial clause can be inserted in any fixed term, permanent or other employment contract. The purpose of the trial period is to allow the employer to judge employees’ professional abilities and so employees can get an idea of the work they will have to do.

When and in what form should the trial period be agreed upon?

Trial periods are agreed upon and completed at the very beginning of the employment relationship. Moreover, the law expressly requires that a clause to this effect be included in the individual employment contract in writing no later than when the employee starts work.

This means that an orally agreed trial clause is void. Similarly, a trial period contained in a contract signed by employees a few days or even weeks after they have taken up their duties cannot be valid.

Where the collective labour agreement applicable to a company contains a provision stating that the employment contract of each newly hired employee will be preceded by a trial period, the inclusion of the trial period clause in the individual employment contract is not required.

How long can a trial period be?

A trial period cannot be shorter than two weeks nor exceed six months.

However, there are two exceptions to this principle:

  • the trial period may not exceed 3 months if an employee does not have a level of training of a standard technical and professional aptitude certificate (CATP – currently a professional aptitude diploma DAP);
  • the trial period may be extended to 12 months if the gross monthly salary to the employee is equal to or higher than €5 062,14 (index 944,43).

If the trial period provided for in the contract exceeds the maximum limits, it is not void in its entirety. It is only void with regard to the excessive duration.

The trial period should be stated in weeks if it does not exceed one month. In other cases, it must be stated in months.

(Last updated on 22.09.2023) 

Can a trial period be renewed?

No, in the context of one and the same employment relationship, the trial period can only be imposed once. It is not renewable.

If at the end of a fixed-term contract the employment relationship continues through to a permanent contract, this can no longer include a trial period.

Can a trial period be extended?

Although a trial period cannot be renewed, it can be extended, but only if the performance of the employment contract is suspended during the trial period (e.g. leave for family reasons, employee illness).

The trial period is then automatically extended for the time the contract has been suspended. However, the maximum extension is one month, even if the employee’s illness/leave for family reasons causes an absence exceeding this limit. 

(Last updated on 13.10.2023) 

Can a trial period be suspended?

The suspension of a trial period is provided for in one specific case: a pregnancy.

The trial period halts on day the pregnant employee submits a medical certificate to the employer attesting to the pregnancy. The employee shall nonetheless continue to work until the start of her maternity leave, although this working phase cannot be described as a trial period.

The trial period does not resume until 12 weeks after the birth.

During this suspension period, the employee is protected against dismissal.

It should be noted that the suspension mechanism only applies to trial periods for permanent employment contract.

The fixed-term contract of employment expires normally, on the date initially planned, despite the employee’s pregnancy. In this case, there is neither suspension of the trial period nor extension of the fixed-term contract beyond its term.