Dutch employment law
If you have not moved to the Netherlands with an expatriate employment contract governed by your home country laws, the Dutch employment law will become important to you. This chapter gives an overview of the most important rules: work permit, contracts, dismissal, (special) leave, diploma evaluation. Please note that this text is meant to inform you, but in case of doubt the official (Dutch) text of the law is always definitive.
Most people taking up employment in the Netherlands must obtain a work permit before they start. There are exceptions, including those working for International Organisations such as the International Court and the European Space Agency where the organisation will take care of all necessary paperwork, and the citizens of the European Union nations (except Bulgaria and Romania). Highly skilled migrants may also be exempted. A work permit can be obtained by your employer from the UWV Werkbedrijf (Uitvoeringsinstituut Werknemers Verzekeringen), which is the office for re-integration, unemployment benefits etc. (formerly the Centre of Work and Income)
The Foreign Nationals Employment Act (Wet Arbeid Vreemdelingen or WAV) requires employers to first recruit in the Netherlands and other Western European countries. This is intended to protect the Dutch and Western European labour markets. The work permit system allows the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment to regulate the intake of labour in the Netherlands. The work permit application procedure requires the employer in most cases to show that no qualified Dutch or EU nationals are available to fill the vacancy. This needs to be done after advertising for at least five weeks prior to filing the application. Applicants for work permits must be between the ages of 18-45.
The maximum length of a work permit is three years. People who have had work permits for three consecutive years, and who have not moved their residence outside the Netherlands since then, become exempt from the work permit requirement. Their residence permits can be endorsed with a note stating “Employment freely permitted” and “No work permit required”. If the residence permit is not approved (for example, the IND discovers that the applicant has a criminal record), then the work permit is automatically withdrawn when the residence permit is denied. If you are allowed to work in the Netherlands, then your spouse/partner is usually allowed to work as well.
Your legal rights and obligations differ depending on the type of employment contract you have, so you need to consider most suitable option. To help you make this decision, the basic principles of the different contractual options are explained below.
There are three common labour contractual options. These are:
- Temporary labour contract
- Permanent labour contract
- Contract with an employment agency
Any contract should include:
- Name and address of the employer and employee and where you will be working.
- Job title and job description.
- Start/end dates. Contracts can be of fixed length (should include start and end dates), or indeterminate length (contract end with notice).
- Trial period (if any). If the contract is for less than two years, the trial period is generally one month (unless agreed otherwise with the CAO, but the maximum is two months).
- Number of hours of work.
- Salary and other expenses.
- Notice for termination for both you and your employer.
- Temporary labour contract
Temporary labour contract
A temporary contract has a start date and an end date. The contract will end on the agreed date without a dismissal procedure. We strongly advise you to make sure that you get the contract in writing, although a verbal agreement is also valid in the Netherlands. The employer is obliged to inform you in writing of the main issues covered in the contract within one month after the start of the contract. Within legal limits, both employers and employees are free to decide what will be covered by the contract.
A trial period is a common part of a (temporary) contract with the employer. The trial period applies for both parties and must be agreed in writing. If the duration of the temporary contract is less than two years, the maximum trial period is one month. Exceptions can only be made when a Collective Labour Agreement (CAO) applies. The legal maximum trial period is two months, with no possibility of extension. You can be dismissed during your trial period. Your employer need not give you a reason.
Term of notice
A temporary labour contract will end automatically and legally on the date agreed. This means that there is no dismissal procedure involved. The situation changes if either parties (or one of them) want to end the contract before the agreed date. In this case, the option for termination of the contract before the final date must be part of the contract. If the employer wants to end the contract before the agreed date, he needs to follow a legal dismissal procedure. Contact the UWV Werkbedrijf (in Dutch only) for further information.
Repeated contracts with the same employer
The most important difference between a temporary and a permanent labour contract is that a permanent labour contract has no end date. This means there is no indication of any intention to limit the duration of the contract, such as ‘for the duration of the project’.
Also the ‘term of notice’ will be different for a permanent contract, since your legal position is different. The differences for terminating a permanent labour contract are explained as below:
Permanent labour contract
A permanent labour contract can be ended by one of the parties. The legal “term of notice” need to be respected.
The rules are different for employers and employees. The employee has the legal right to end the contract without a procedure but he must respect the legal and agreed period, which is usually a minimum of one month’s notice.
The employer needs to apply for a dismissal permit. The term of notice depends on the duration of the contract on the day the employer applies for the dismissal permit. We advise you to contact the UWV Werkbedrijf for more information if you are confronted with this situation.
Both employer and employee have the right to go to court and ask to end the permanent labour contract.
Contract with an employment agency
The contract with an employment agency (uitzendbureau) differs fundamentally from a contract with an employer described above. The employment agency is your legal employer while you work in a company that hires you from the employment agency. In particular, your protection against dismissal during a certain temporary period is not regulated. On the other hand, both you and the company you are working for can terminate your employment at any given time during the agreed employment period. Employment agencies have their own Collective Labour Agreement. There is an “Allocation of Workers by Intermediaries Act” (Wet Arbeidsbemiddeling en Allocatie door Intermediairs) that regulates issues related to employment agencies, for example:
Employment agency employers are prohibited from charging temporary workers money (or any other consideration) for being given temporary work.
Employment agencies must inform temporary workers in writing about the working conditions at the place of work in advance.
As stated above, a temporary contract ends on an agreed date or during a trial period.
In both cases there is no dismissal procedure.
An employer must have good reasons to dismiss you when you have a permanent contract.
You can be dismissed if:
- For (business) economic reasons, for example, when a reorganisation takes place or a company closes down or relocates. This could include part of the company’s activities being closed down
- If you do not perform well or are no longer suitable for the job. However, you cannot be dismissed if this is the result of illness. Note: your employer must have repeatedly pointed out that you are not performing or have performed insufficiently, preferably in an appraisal or performance interview. You must be given time to improve your performance
- If there is a conflict with your employer and the relation between you and your employer is beyond repair
- If you have serious conscientious objections to your duties and your employer is not able to offer you a different job or suitable work
- If you are occupationally disabled for a long period of time
- For improper conduct, for example if you forge certificates, threaten colleagues, endanger yourself or others or if you do not observe the duty of confidentiality
- If you steal, refuse work without good reason or come to work drunk
- If you and your employer mutually agree to the dismissal
There are a number of restrictions for dismissal. You cannot be dismissed on the grounds of your gender or when you are pregnant.
Your employer can only dismiss you:
- When he has a dismissal permit from the UWV Werkbedrijf
- If he goes to court to dissolve your employment contract
- In case of summary termination
- During your trial period
- With your consent
In case of summary termination the employment contract ends with immediate effect. Your employer does not need permission from the UWV Werkbedrijf to dismiss you in this case.
Your employer can only dismiss you with immediate effect if he has a very good reason, for example if you steal, commit fraud, refuse work without good reason or come to work drunk. He must immediately tell you why you have been dismissed.
If you have been dismissed, your employer must observe a period of notice, so you should be told in advance that you will be dismissed. The period of notice is often mentioned in your contract or CAO. If not, the following periods of notice should be observed:
- If you were working with the employer less than 5 years: 1 month
- If you were working with the employer between 5 and 10 years: 2 months
- If you were working with the employer between 10 and 15 years: 3 months
- If you were working with the employer 15 years or more: 4 months
You can also agree with your employer that you will stop work immediately. You both must consent to this. If you resign, you must observe a notice period of one month. Your employment contract may state otherwise, provided it is in writing.
Collective labour agreements (CAO)
Most companies and organisations participate in a collective labour agreement (CAO). This is a written agreement between one or more employers and one or more trades union about the labour conditions for all employees, such as wages, payment of extra work, working hours, probation period, pension, education and childcare.
The agreements in a CAO are often better than those prescribed by law, but they may never contradict the law.
If there is no CAO, you have to make an individual agreement with your employer about the labour conditions, preferably in writing. The legal rules are the basis for this agreement.
Employees in the Netherlands are not only entitled to fully paid leave days, but also to several kinds of special leaves such as:
- Adoption leave (adoptieverlof)
- Emergency leave (calamiteitenverlof)
- Short-term compassionate leave (kortdurend zorgverlof)
- Long-term compassionate leave (langdurig zorgverlof)
- Parental leave (ouderschapsverlof)
- Paternity leave (vaderschapsverlof)
- Pregnancy and maternity leave (zwangerschapsverlof)
The sections below describe the legal regulations. A CAO might have better regulations.
More detailed information about holidays and special leave is available on the website of the Dutch government.
Every employee in the Netherlands is entitled to leave with full pay.
The right to leave days is built up during the course of a year. The minimum number of leave days to which you are entitled after one year is four times the agreed number of days you work each week (usually 4 x 5 = 20 days). If you have not yet been employed for one year by an employer, your holiday will be calculated proportionately.
You will receive full pay during your leave. In addition, you are entitled to a minimum leave allowance. The leave allowance is payable by your employer and is paid at least once a year (usually in May).
Your employer must specify the amount of your leave allowance on your salary slip. The leave allowance amounts to 8% of your income in money (basic wage, bonuses and allowances).
The CAO might include other agreements about the number of leave days, the payment and the amount of the leave allowance.
The Netherlands has one national holiday:
- 27 April: King’s Birthday
In addition, there are a number of generally observed public holidays:
- New Year’s Day: 1 January
- Easter Monday
- Ascension Day
- Whit Monday
- Christmas Day and Boxing Day
Whether you are free from work on these days depends on the agreements made between employers and employees in the CAO or those in your employment contract.
Leave entitlements can be saved for up to five years. This offers employees more scope to save up a portion of their paid leave days for longer periods in order to – for example – take a day off to tend to a sick child or any family member or to attend a study course, etc.
Adoption leave (adoptieverlof)
You are entitled to adoption leave when you adopt a child.
Both parents can take adoption leave. When you adopt more than one child at the same time, you can take the adoption leave only once. When you have foster children you are also entitled to adoption leave.
Your adoption leave may be between two weeks before to sixteen weeks after the adoption. The maximum amount of leave is four weeks, in which you will receive an allowance that matches your salary, up to a maximum amount.
Emergency leave (calamiteitenverlof)
Emergency leave is leave you can take when you suddenly and unexpectedly need to take time off, for example when the water mains in your house burst or your child becomes ill. The period should be reasonable, so the length depends on why it is needed. In some cases a few hours will be enough, in other cases you might need a few days. During the emergency leave your employer will continue to pay your salary.
Short-term compassionate leave (kortdurend zorgverlof)
You are entitled to short-term compassionate leave if you have to look after a parent, a sick child who lives at home or your partner, but this applies only when you are the only person who is able to provide the care at that time.
Unlike your partner and child, it is not necessary for your parent or parents to be registered at your address.
You are also entitled to short-term compassionate leave to look after your foster child, if he or she is ill, provided he or she lives with you and a foster care contract has been signed.
Every twelve months you are entitled to no more than twice the number of hours you work in one week. For example, if you work 36 hours a week, you can take up to 72 hours short-term compassionate leave every twelve months. During any short-term compassionate leave that you take you will continue to receive at least seventy per cent of your salary from your employer.
Long-term compassionate leave (langdurig zorgverlof)
You are entitled to long-term compassionate leave when you are employed and you are caring for your partner, child or parent who has a life-threatening illness.
Life-threatening means that the life of the person concerned is, at a serious risk over a short term. Every year you are entitled to a long-term compassionate leave for a period of up to twelve weeks, during which you are allowed to reduce the number of working hours to not less than half of normal. You will not receive any wages for the number of hours that you utilise for long-term compassionate leave.
Parental leave (ouderschapsverlof)
You are entitled to parental leave when you have been working for the same employer for at least one year and are caring for a child that is younger than eight.
Both parents are entitled to parental leave. If you have more children, you are entitled to parental leave for each child separately. You are also entitled to parental leave for your adopted children, foster children or stepchildren, provided the child is living with you. Your parental leave is entitled to up to 26 times your weekly working hours. The normal arrangement is that for six months you work half of your normal hours. For example, if you work 32 hours per week, then for six months you will work 16 hours per week together with taking 16 hours parental leave per week. Parental leave is an unpaid leave.
Paternity leave (vaderschapsverlof)
After your partner has given birth you are entitled to up to two days of paternity leave. Paternity leave is a paid leave.
Pregnancy and maternity leave (zwangerschaps en bevallingsverlof)
Pregnant employees are entitled to pregnancy and maternity leave, for at least sixteen weeks.
Babies are seldom born on the date they are due. The period of leave depends on the due date and on the date the baby is actually born. You can take pregnancy leave from six weeks before the date the baby is due. The pregnancy leave should start no later than four weeks before the baby is due. After giving birth you are always entitled to at least ten weeks of maternity leave, even if the baby is born later than it was due.
A few examples:
You stopped work six weeks before the baby was due. The baby is born one week early. You will then have five weeks of pregnancy leave and eleven weeks of maternity leave, totaling sixteen weeks of leave.
You stopped work six weeks before the baby was due. The baby is born two weeks after it was due. You are then entitled to eight weeks of leave before giving birth and ten weeks thereafter, totaling eighteen weeks of leave.
You stopped work four weeks before the baby was due. The baby is born two weeks after it was due. You are then entitled to six weeks of leave before giving birth and twelve weeks thereafter, totaling eighteen weeks of leave.
During your leave you will receive an allowance which matches your salary up to a maximum amount.
If you gained your diploma in any other country and you want to work or continue your studies in the Netherlands, you need to know what a particular certificate is worth in terms of the Dutch system.
In the Netherlands, two centres of expertise work together on evaluating foreign diplomas (IDW): Nuffic and Colo. They have set up an Information Centre for Credential Evaluation (IcDW) www.idw.nl
There are three possible situations:
- You have a foreign diploma and you want to study in the Netherlands
- You have a foreign diploma and you want to work in the Netherlands
- You have a foreign diploma and you are interested in what it is worth in the Netherlands. You do not know yet if you want to work or study in the Netherlands.
You have a foreign diploma and you want to study in the Netherlands
You should first contact the institute where you plan to study. They will arrange for your diploma to be evaluated. Ask the institute if there are any costs related to the evaluation. If diplomas are evaluated at the request of one of the regularly subsidised educational institutions, there is normally no charge. However, if the request comes from a private organisation or individual, a fee is charged.
You have a foreign diploma and you want to work in the Netherlands
If you are unemployed and are looking for a job in the Netherlands, you should go to the UWV Werkbedrijf (previously Centre for Work and Income), www.werk.nl. The UWV Werkbedrijf will request a diploma evaluation on your behalf and tell you which documents you need to supply. They will pay the fees for the evaluation.
If you have a job in a non-regulated profession and are looking for another, you can apply to the IcDW for a diploma evaluation (www.idw.nl). In this case you will have to pay the evaluation fee yourself.
If you wish to practice a regulated profession in the Netherlands, you will have to get in touch with the official body that grants admission to the profession in question. You can contact the Dutch National Contact Point (email@example.com) to enquire whether your profession is regulated in the Netherlands and, if so, which organisation you need to contact. You can also visit www.professionalrecognition.nl if you need more information about practicing a regulated profession in the Netherlands. You have to pay any fees associated with the evaluation.
You have a foreign diploma and you are interested in its value in the Netherlands. You do not know yet if you want to work or study in the Netherlands
You can request a diploma evaluation from the UWV Werkbedrijf (www.werk.nl). If your diploma has been evaluated through the UWV Werkbedrijf, then there is no charge applicable.