Especially as a foreigner, you should ask for a written contract if one is not automatically offered to you. You may be required to submit a copy of your employment contract to local officials when applying for your residence permit, especially if you’re in a ‘protected’ category, such as an au pair.
There are three different kinds of employment contracts and it’s important that you understand which applies to you. A limited time contract is one that ends after a set period of time, such as six months or a year; contracts for specific work end when the work you’ve been hired to do is completed; indeterminate contracts are those for ‘permanent’ jobs, which can only be terminated according to the terms of the contract regarding notice periods and severance pay.
In most cases, if you don’t have a written contract by the first day you start a job, you’re assumed to be a permanent employee and subject to the privileges and obligations of all other permanent employees, depending upon the level of the job and the salary you’re being paid. Limited term contracts are often subject to restrictions, particularly concerning how often and under what circumstances they can be renewed or when the job must be converted to a permanent (i.e. indeterminate contract) position.
All employment contracts are subject to the national labour laws, and references may be made to other regulations such as collective agreements. Anything in contracts contrary to statutory provisions and unfavourable to an employee may be challenged in a labour court, but in principle you’re allowed to strike an agreement with your employer that waives some or all of your rights under the law or collective agreement. As with all contracts, you should know exactly what an employment contract contains before signing it. The legally binding version of an employment contract is normally the one written in one of the local languages (e.g. French or Flemish), but you can and should ask for at least an informal translation into your own language if you’re unsure of any of the terms or provisions.