Your employment contract may determine specific payment and work conditions, but Dutch law determines your rights as an employee in the Netherlands. There are a great many Dutch laws that apply, but some are especially relevant to international workers. Here are some expert tips on evaluating your employment contract under Dutch law.
Dutch labour law overview
Labour (employment) law varies per country, and while the differences may seem small, they can significantly affect your rights with regard to trial periods, vacation days, notice and dismissal, the minimum wage, health and safety and equal treatment. Godelijn Boonman, international employment law expert, details some of the key points to consider in Dutch employment law:
Does Dutch law apply to my employment?
Yes, if you work in the Netherlands, Dutch labour law is partly and often fully applicable to your employment, even if the law of another country is declared applicable in your contract of employment.
Maximum number of contracts
The number of succeeding employment contracts for a fixed term is limited to three, but can also not exceed a limit of two years for the total duration of fixed-term contracts. If the duration of the contracts or the number of fixed contracts exceeds either legal limit, the contract of employment will automatically become a permanent contract for an unlimited term. An interval of six months between contracts, however, breaks the chain of consecutive temporary contracts.
If the contract is for fewer than two years, the trial period cannot be longer than one month. The maximum duration of a trial period is two months. Trial periods in an employment contract for fewer than six months are invalid. During the trial period, both employer and employee are allowed to terminate the employment contract with immediate effect.
The notice period for the employee is usually one month. If the notice period for the employee to end a contract of employment is extended, the notice period for the employer should be double the notice period of the employee.
The Dutch labour law system for dismissal is particularly unusual, as it is very protective of employees. In most cases, the employer needs permission from the labour office (UWV WERKbedrijf) or the court to fire you.
A permanent contract with an unlimited term can only be terminated by the employer with the consent of the employee, UWV WERKbedrijf or the court. The court and labour offices assess whether there are grounds for a valid termination. If an employer gives notice of termination without obtaining prior approval, the employee could nullify the termination.
This rule is not applicable in the case of summary dismissal (such as fraud or theft by the employee). Courts are, however, very reluctant about accepting summary dismissals under Dutch labour law. It is therefore very important to contact an employment lawyer immediately if you are fired on the spot.
The legal minimum number of holidays per year is four times the weekly working time. This means 20 holidays in the case of full-time employees working five-day weeks, although it is common practice for full-time employees to be granted 25 holiday days per year, on top of Dutch national holidays.
In the Netherlands’ employment law, there is an expiration date of six months for taking the legal minimum number of holidays. Employees therefore must take all their holidays within six months after the year in which the holidays were accrued. Should the employee not take the holidays on time, the holidays will lapse without any compensation or payment. The expiration date of six months is not applicable to holidays that the employee is entitled to on top of the legal minimum number of holidays. These extra holidays will not lapse until after a period of five years.
It is mandatory in the Netherlands to get extra wages (usually 8 percent of your yearly salary) as a ‘holiday allowance’ (normally paid in May) plus four weeks of paid leave.
Employment contracts under Collective Labour Agreements
A CAO (collectieve arbeidsovereenkomst) is a written agreement covering working conditions and benefits, which is drawn up by employers, employers’ organisations and employee organisations (such as unions). A CAO operates at company or industry sector level and the provisions (number of holidays, for example) are often more generous than statutory requirements. It should state in your contract of employment whether a CAO is applicable. You don’t have to be a member of a union to benefit. If no CAO applies then you will need to negotiate your own terms and conditions.
Changing jobs vs. residence permits
Any changes in your work or partnership status must be reported to the IND within four weeks. You or your ‘sponsor’ (such as an employer) can be penalised by the IND if changes aren’t reported, including contributions to repatriation costs.
If you change jobs, you don’t necessarily need a new residence permit, but the same rules will apply as for the first permit you were granted. So if you worked with a separate work permit, your new employer needs a new work permit, too.
If you worked as a highly skilled migrant, your new employer needs to be eligible to apply under the highly skilled migrant scheme, and will need to prove to the IND that you still meet the requirements of the highly skilled migrant scheme, for example, sending in your contract of employment to show you earn the required salary.
If you are applying to extend a residence or work permit, your circumstances will be assessed again in reference to the original application. The main exception is that after five years working on any given residence permit that allowed you to work (such as a partner’s permit or employee single permit), you no longer need a separate work permit to sign a contract of employment.
Highly skilled migrants can also change their purpose of stay into ‘labour’ after five years, which allows them to work without a work permit and without meeting the requirements for the highly skilled migrant scheme.
Unemployment benefits (WW) Netherlands
Typically all working residents in the Netherlands must first pay Dutch social security contributions in order to receive any benefits. Your employment history determines the amount and duration of unemployment benefit payments. For the first two months, you will receive 75 percent of your last earned salary, and thereafter 70 percent. You must have worked 26 out of the previous 36 weeks before the first day of terminating your contract of employment (or fewer for those not in regular employment), although benefits can be restricted if other benefits are in operation.
Do you need advice?
Godelijn experienced an international upbringing and education as an expat child living in Africa and England. Back in The Netherlands, she studied law at the University of Utrecht (1990). She then embarked on her legal career as a lawyer by working 10 years for the well-known law firm of ‘Wladimiroff en Spong Advocaten’. In 2000 she joined GMW lawyers as a partner and is the head of the Labour law and Pension section.
Godelijn specialises in international employment law and has extensive experience in dealing with both non-contentious and contentious international employment matters including (collective) redundancy packages and dismissal. She works for both companies and individual employees, enabling her to keep an open mind to both sides of a case. Naturally she helps her clients when a problem has arisen, but prefers to act before an escalation has taken place. Advice on a fair Human Resource policy is an essential part of her work.
Godelijn Boonman is considered to be the undoubted employment specialist for the expat community because she is bilingual, has a large international clientele and a wealth of experience in international employment law matters. She is therefore frequently asked to be the key note speaker at international seminars.
Godelijn has a keen interest in the international community and has been a member of the advisory board of ACCESS and the Women’s Business Initiative International since its beginning.