What are your rights as an international working in the Netherlands? We asked the experts

Know your employee rights 👇

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When moving to a new country, there are a lot of things you may not think about at first — even though they will greatly affect you. An example? The local employment laws.

We’re sorry for coming at you with such Dutch directness, but it’s true: the intricacies of Dutch labour law aren’t always easy to wrap your head around (especially as non-Dutch-speaking expats like us 😉).

That’s why I asked the experts! From sick leave to dismissal and from obligations to rights — I sat down with GMW lawyers to discuss the most important things to know as an international working in the Netherlands. 

Meet the experts

Founded in 1989, GMW lawyers is a law firm based in The Hague offering various legal services. 

I had the pleasure of meeting two of their best employment lawyers, Godelijn Boonman and Seliz Demirci, at their charming office to chat about Dutch labour law.

I asked all the most burning questions. Image: DutchReview

Having worked in employment law for more than 33 years, Godelijn tells me that she “prefer[s] working with internationals because it always brings me to another country.” After all, “employment law is employment law,” she smiles, “but it’s the people with whom I work that make all the difference.”

READ MORE | Everything you need to know about mediators in the Netherlands

Seliz, who also specialises in employment law, agrees: “Working with internationals is refreshing. It’s nice to get an international perspective on how we do things here in the Netherlands.” 

Now, the question is: How do they do things here in the Netherlands? What do expats need to know? What should we be wary of? I asked all the questions; here’s what Seliz and Godelijn had to say. 👇

So, what do internationals need to know about working in the Netherlands?

Naturally, working conditions, culture, and employment law vary greatly per country. That’s why it’s a great idea to read up on the local legislation before accepting a job abroad. 

When it comes to the Netherlands, you’ll be happy to hear that your working conditions will most likely be similar — or better — than those in your home country. 

“Overall, we have a very strong protection of employees in the Netherlands”, says Godelijn — “not like in the US and the UK, for example. Internationals are usually happily surprised.”

☝️ In the Netherlands, your employer can’t fire you ‘just because’

In almost all cases, your boss first has to give you the opportunity to improve. Image: Depositphotos

Firstly, you should know that you can’t get fired just because your boss’s cat got sick in their bed that morning. Your boss needs to provide a solid case for why you should be let go. 

“What makes a big difference in the Netherlands is our closed dismissal system,” Seliz explains. “We have nine legal grounds stipulated in law — and an employer needs to stand on at least one of them (or a combination of them) to be able to let someone go.”

Each of these legal grounds also comes with specific obligations for the employer. “For example, if an employee underperforms, the employer has to give them a chance to improve.” 

“That means you cannot fire someone just because you don’t like them”, she tells us. 

READ MORE | Divorces in the Netherlands: all you need to know

In general, employees in the Netherlands aren’t fired willy-nilly, and if you have a permanent contract and don’t agree with the dismissal proposed by your employer, then the only way you can be let go is in court.

The only exception to this rule is if you are a statutory director, in which case the shareholders can dismiss you without first going to court.

🤧 You can get sick pay for a very long time

Feeling sick or burnt out? As part of your employee rights in the Netherlands, you will still receive a salary. Image: Depositphotos

Another important thing to know about your work rights in the Netherlands regards your right to sick leave (ziekteverlof in Dutch). 

“The internationals I speak to are always surprised by this,” says Seliz.

Why? Well, in the Netherlands, your employer is obligated to pay you a whopping two years of sick leave if you fall ill and cannot do your job. 

By law, your Dutch employer must continue paying at least 70% of your salary (of a maximum monthly wage, which is now € 5,969 gross) — and many employers even choose to pay the full amount during the first year of illness!

Dutch labour law is elaborate and complex — but it’s good to know that, in most cases, the law is on the employee’s side. 😉 Got any questions about Dutch law or a specific situation you’d like to discuss? Geen problem!

👩‍💻 Working from home is not a right in the Netherlands

This one may come as a surprise, but your Dutch employment rights do not include the right to work from anywhere. Image: Depositphotos

I’ll be honest: For the longest time, I was convinced that the right to remote work was legally prescribed in the Netherlands — but it’s not.

Yup, although the Netherlands is often dubbed the “WFH capital of Europe”, and almost 75% of employees in the Netherlands work remotely at least some of the time, “it is not a legal right to work from home in the Netherlands, says Godelijn. 

That being said, there’s no need to worry. Especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, most employers in the Netherlands allow their workers to work from home on at least a part-time basis. 

Let op: working from home means working from home, as the lawyers tell me — unfortunately, you can’t just bog off to Thailand for 8 months and work from there. 

The Dutch government had previously proposed a “working from anywhere” law. However, this was rejected.

Good to know: If working from home is not the norm in your company, you can simply make a request to work remotely with your employer. This request must be made in writing two months ahead of time, and your employer can only reject it for valid business-related reasons.

🇳🇱 Cultural differences will affect you in the workplace 

Letting loose at the work borrel? Make sure you still behave (somewhat) professionally. 😉 Image: Depositphotos

It’s no myth that the Dutch are famously direct. “That’s the first thing internationals have to be aware of”, Godelijn laughs. At the same time, Dutch work culture is very non-hierarchical.

In the workplace, this combination can be lethal — or, well, it can end in conflict. Godelijn explains: “A lot of Dutch people need to learn that their jokes can harm people, even if they think it’s just a joke.” 

“A Dutch employer once called me about a joke that was made on the work floor. A person had made fun of an Asian employee for not being able to pronounce the English “r”-sound.” 

She adds: “The Dutch person just didn’t understand how that was a problem. To him, it was ‘just a joke’.” That’s how cultures can clash and situations can get sticky. 

“Especially Christmas parties seem to have a bad reputation.” Image: DutchReview

Seliz agrees: “Internationals often say that Dutch people make a lot of silly jokes. We want to keep things gezellig — but in other countries, jokes aren’t made that freely, especially not at work”.

At the same time, Seliz and Godelijn agree that “internationals can sometimes be a little sensitive.” 

“Yes, sometimes things should be done differently,” Godelijn says, “but a lot of the time, it’s not as serious as internationals make it out to be. Both sides need to adjust to each other.”

Did you know: Conflicts like these don’t always require a legal battle. Instead, it may be a good option to talk to a mediator or to make an internal complaint. “My tip for internationals,” says Seliz: “always communicate openly with your employer”.

📑 If your one-year contract doesn’t get extended, your employee rights are limited

Contract up? You may just have to pack your things. Image: Depositphotos

Although, in most ways, the Netherlands is a true haven when it comes to employment law, one big issue still affects many international people in the Netherlands: temporary contracts.

Especially for internationals who have moved their whole life to a different country, not knowing for how long they will be employed can be a very stressful situation.

But why are temporary contracts such a big thing here? 

“It’s probably because of the many employee-friendly clauses in Dutch employment law”, Godelijn thinks. “Because employees are protected in such a high way, employers are often wary when starting with new employees.”

She explains: “Legally, companies can offer three one-year contracts before someone has to be given a permanent contract, but decent employers usually don’t wait out the three years. They should do one year and then move onto the permanent contract.”

The bad news? If a one-year contract runs out, “there are no legal obligations because the contract ends by operation of law.” 

That means there will be no severance pay other that the statutory one, which amounts to 1/3rd of a month’s salary per worked year. Even if you are sick, your employer can simply let your contract run out. 

What is your experience with the Dutch job market? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Lyna Meyrer 🇱🇺
Lyna Meyrer 🇱🇺
Say 'hoi' to Lyna, our Senior Writer at DutchReview! Fueled by a love for writing, social media, and all things Dutch, she joined the DR family in 2022. Since making the Netherlands her home in 2018, she has collected a BA in English Literature & Society (Hons.) and an RMA in Arts, Literature and Media (Hons.). Even though she grew up just a few hours away from the Netherlands, Lyna remains captivated by the guttural language, quirky culture, and questionable foods that make the Netherlands so wonderfully Dutch.

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