Should meal vouchers be attributed in case of paid educational leave?

As from January 2011, an employee following a course in the framework of paid educational leave has the right to receive meal vouchers. In a circular letter of the first quarter of 2011, the national social security service (RSZ) explains that meal vouchers are due for these days in which courses actually have been attended during the normal working hours. What does this means?

Paid educational leave

Employees in the private sector who want to attend a course can make use of the system of paid educational leave. This system allows them to have normal paid leave for a course during or outside the normal working hours.
The law stipulates that the hours during which an employee is absent in the framework of paid educational leave are - for social security purposes - equated with actual worked hours. Nevertheless, the RSZ was of the opinion that no meal vouchers were due for a day of paid educational leave. In 2010 the RSZ changed its position. After protest by the federation of enterprises in Belgium the decision was withdrawn, and on 14 April 2011 a new position was published. When an employee follows a course in the framework of paid educational leave during the normal working hours, a meal voucher is due for the days in which courses actually have been attended during the normal working hours. This position is, without retroactive effect, applicable as from the first quarter of 2011.

Consequences

If you, as an employer, grant meal vouchers to your employees and you have employees on paid educational leave, it is important to know whether your employee actually attended the course, based on a certificate or declaration on honor.

If your employee takes paid educational leave to attend a course (fully or partially) during the normal working hours, a meal voucher is due.
For the days the employee takes paid educational leave to actually attend the course or has activities in the framework of the course, a meal voucher is due. But for the days the employee takes paid educational leave e.g. to study at home, no meal voucher is due.
Also no meal voucher is due if the course, attended by the employee in the framework of paid educational leave, takes place e.g. in the evening, i.e. outside the normal working hours.
If your employee takes a day off with or without pay, no meal voucher is due, even if he is attending a course at that time during his normal working hours.
If your employee works part of the working day and attends a course during the other part of the day, one meal voucher is due.

Sanctions

Meal vouchers are exempt from social security contributions and professional withholding tax, provided certain conditions are met. If not, they are to be considered as taxable income and social security contributions are due. The employer not following the instruction of the RSZ and not granting all meal vouchers due (for a day of paid educational leave on which the employee actually attends a course during normal working hours) can be liable for social security contributions.

Tax

In this respect, the tax authorities have not published their position yet. It is to be expected that their position will be the same.