15 January 2020

What powers do social inspectors have?

Social inspectors are not police officers. Their powers lie within the sphere of work, but extend much further than you might think. In this blog post we take a systematic look at the most important things that they are and aren’t allowed to do.

Inspection of documents

All social inspections are accompanied by a standard check of the basic documents. Exactly which documents are inspected depends on the inspectorate’s focus. Inspectors from the Employment Law Supervision Service, for example, will be particularly interested in the employment regulations and work schedules.


As well as checking documents, inspectors may also ask questions of the employer and employees, and of any customers and neighbours who happen to be present. This doesn’t turn into a police interview, of course, but the answers must match the documents. Everyone is expected to cooperate. Refusing to answer questions is regarded as impeding the investigation.

Can you refuse?

Questioning may take place both during the inspection and afterwards. You are not allowed to refuse to answer questions at any point, for example because you are too busy. Before you cooperate, it is a good precaution to first contact an advisor or lawyer, though.

Collection of evidence

Inspectors have the right to create photographic and film material as evidence. They can view documents required by employment law (lists of tasks, employment contracts, etc.) and also seize work laptops.

In addition, they have the right to request proof of identity from everyone present. However, they cannot require people to provide this. If someone refuses to do so, the inspection team will usually call the police. The inspector must be able to provide proof of his or her own identity. Inspectors are never allowed to search people.

Free access to the workplace

The term ‘workplace’ is understood broadly: it refers to any place where there is a reasonable suspicion that work is taking place. ‘Free access’ refers to the fact that inspectors are allowed to walk in 24/7: from Monday to Sunday, during the day or at the dead of night. This is remarkable, given that house searches by police officers, for example, are never allowed to take place between 9 pm and 5 am.

Inspection warrant versus search warrant

A social inspector who wants to enter inhabited premises must be able to produce an inspection warrant. ‘Inhabited premises’ include your garage, garden and driveway. An inspection warrant is not the same as a search warrant. It only allows the inspector to check what is visible. A more thorough search can be carried out with a search warrant: opening cupboards, opening boxes, opening closed doors and so on. Both documents must be requested from an investigating magistrate. Special justification must also be given to the investigating magistrate for a night-time inspection between 9 pm and 5 am.            

Requiring translations

If work documents have been drawn up in another language, the inspectors may require a translation into one of the official Belgian languages (Dutch, French, German) or English.

Summoning the employer

If the employer is not present, a social inspector may require the employer to attend the premises for the inspection. If he or she does not show up without good reason, this will be regarded as impeding the investigation. In this case, the inspector may ask an office manager or accountant to provide him or her with the requested employment documents. If this is not done, the social inspector may actively look for these documents him- or herself.



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