Unfair dismissal in the Netherlands: What you need to know [2024 guide]

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✍️ Written by Seliz Demirci, employment lawyer at GMW lawyers.

Getting fired from your job is a challenge in itself, no matter what. But it’s even worse if you think you’ve been let go without a valid reason, and also live in a foreign country where you don’t fully know the law.

But don’t worry: it will all be alright. Let’s have a look at everything you need to know about unfair dismissal in the Netherlands — and where to go from here.

Losing your job is a serious matter  — so let’s treat it as one. We’ve teamed up with the experts from GMW lawyers to bring you everything you need to know about unfair dismissal in the Netherlands. Their employment lawyers will navigate you through your unfair dismissal process with care, attention, and expert advice.

What is dismissal under Dutch employment law?

Under Dutch employment law, dismissal refers to the one-sided termination of an employment contract by the employer. 

This termination can occur for various reasons, such as unsatisfactory performance, misconduct, or economic reasons like company restructuring. 

You’ve just been dismissed — now what? Image: Depositphotos

Dutch law provides specific procedures and criteria that employers must follow when dismissing an employee in order for it to be considered valid.

These include providing adequate notice periods, offering severance pay (if applicable), and ensuring the dismissal is based on valid grounds. More on that later. 

If those measures are not met, you’re dealing with unfair dismissal.

Dismissal by UWV vs by subdistrict court

Under the Dutch dismissal system, there is a so-called “preventive dismissal test”, meaning an employer needs to get permission to terminate an employee’s employment contract.

To do so, they must submit a formal request to the responsible subdistrict court or request a dismissal permit from the UWV (Uitvoeringsinstituut Werknemersverzekeringen, Employment Insurance Agency). 

What does Dutch employment law consider unfair dismissal?

Unfair dismissal occurs in the Netherlands if an employer fires an employee without standing on any of the grounds for dismissal listed in Dutch employment law.

An employer has valid grounds for dismissal in the Netherlands if:

  • The employee’s position becomes redundant due to business economic or organisational reasons;
  • The employee has been ill for 104 weeks (two years) and no recovery is expected in the next six months; 
  • The employee frequently misses work due to illness, which harms the company;
  • Their performance is not satisfactory after being given a thorough chance to improve;
  • They are involved in serious misconduct like theft or breaching confidentiality;
  • They refuse to work for a significant ethical reason, and adjusting the work isn’t possible; 
  • There is irreconcilable damage in the relationship between the employer and the employee;
  • Other serious circumstances, like not having a work permit, make it impossible to continue the employment; 
  • There’s a combination of the above-mentioned reasons (“cumulation ground”). 

Any dismissal that is not based on one of the grounds mentioned above is considered unfair. 

Not sure whether the reasoning behind your dismissal is valid? Then it’s time to get the professionals involved. GMW’s employment lawyers are here to help you out with advice tailored to your situation.

What’s more, no matter what the cause for dismissal may be, the employer must always properly substantiate the dismissal for it to be valid.

For example, if an employee’s performance isn’t up to par, the employer must give them a chance to improve, usually through a performance improvement plan (PIP) that lasts a few months. 

Often, but not always, points for improvement are summarised in a formal document. Image: Depositphotos

Even if the employee doesn’t meet the requirements of the plan, they can only be let go if it’s clear they cannot be redeployed within the organisation.

In addition to dismissals not based on one of the above-mentioned reasons, unfair dismissal occurs when the employer gives dismissal on the spot (“summary dismissal”) without stating an urgent cause

Note: A truly “urgent” reason justifying summary dismissal rarely exists, and so is a high threshold. Thus it’s almost always a good idea to have a legal professional check your case.

What is ‘dismissal on the spot’ (ontslag op staande voet) in the Netherlands?

If there truly are causes urgent enough to justify firing an employee on the spot, then this is called ontslag op staande voet (dismissal on the spot) in Dutch — that is, summary dismissal.

Summary dismissal is the most drastic form of dismissal, as it causes an employee to lose all entitlement to salary during the notice period, and the right to unemployment benefits. 

It can only be imposed in exceptional situations where continuation of the employment contract is simply not possible or desirable. 

Summary dismissal has to be given on the spot in the Netherlands. Image: Depositphotos

For summary dismissal to be granted, a dismissal must fulfil the following three requirements: 

  1. There must be an urgent reason;
  2. The dismissal must take place without delay; and
  3. The employer must immediately communicate the urgent reason.

It is key that the employer lets you go on the spot. For instance, if you’re fired immediately after being caught stealing, then it can be valid — but you can’t be fired for it two years after the theft was found out.

Severance pay and notice periods in the Netherlands

If your employer has a valid ground for dismissal and succeeds via UWV or in court, then standard measures apply — meaning the employee receives a so-called transition payment and they are given an adequate notice period. 

In the Netherlands, the required length of a notice period given by the employer depends on how long the employee has worked for the company:

Duration of employmentLegally required notice period
Less than five yearsOne month
Between five and ten yearsTwo months
Between ten and 15 yearsThree months
More than 15 yearsFour months

The so-called statutory transition payment, which dismissed employees are entitled to, is roughly one-third of their monthly salary per year worked, prorated for partial years. 

However, if you and your employer reach a settlement agreement in a case of unfair dismissal, this payment isn’t required.

Then, the statutory transition payment sets a baseline for the minimum amount you should get as a settlement, while anything more can be discussed and agreed upon. 

How much money you will receive depends on what’s fair and reasonable in the situation. There aren’t strict rules or laws about this; it’s all about negotiation.

For example, if the employer has good reasons for letting you go, they might offer less money. But if they don’t have good reasons, you might be able to get more. 

So you think you’ve been unfairly dismissed in the Netherlands: now what?

Think you’ve been unfairly dismissed? Then it’s crucial to take action promptly. Here’s how.

First off: it is up to the employer to demonstrate that there is a ground for dismissal

The burden of proving valid reasons for dismissal always lies with the employer, and judges are very strict about this.

Only if you, as an employee, challenge your dismissal, you must argue why you believe you should be able to keep your job, and provide substantiated evidence. 

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

In that case, it depends on whether your employer has sufficient proof for your dismissal or not. Do they? Then you’re dismissed. If not, you may keep your job.

Challenging unfair dismissal in the Netherlands

To challenge your unfair dismissal, you should first formally express your disagreement with it in writing to your employer. 

If they refuse to reconsider their decision, you should initiate legal proceedings in the subdistrict court within two months of your dismissal. Here, you can request that your dismissal be annulled and your employment contract restored. 

Let op! Missing the two-month deadline means forfeiting your right to challenge the dismissal. 

Hated your boss and secretly happy to leave? Then you can opt to negotiate a fair severance payment as part of a dismissal agreement. 

Do note that the formal initiative for this should come from your employer; they are not obliged to offer you a termination agreement.

Getting professional help

If you’re dealing with unfair dismissal in the Netherlands, it’s always advised to seek legal help from a specialised employment lawyer, from GMW lawyers, for example, or a legal advisor. 

Talking to a professional will help you get some clarity about your dismissal in the Netherlands. Image: Depositphotos

They will evaluate the details of your dismissal to determine if there are grounds for a claim. 

If so, they’ll help you develop a legal strategy tailored to your situation, which may involve negotiation or litigation. 

If necessary, they can help you try to reach a resolution through negotiation or mediation. If a resolution cannot be reached, your lawyer will file a formal claim or initiate legal proceedings. 

Compensation for unfair dismissal in the Netherlands

In some situations of wrongful dismissal, employees may be eligible for additional compensation on top of the required transitional payment that they’re already entitled to. 

This could apply if the termination resulted from serious misconduct by the employer, even if the employment contract was technically validly terminated. 

The amount of such compensation depends heavily on the circumstances of the case, and is influenced by the seriousness of the employer’s misconduct and how long the employment contract might have lasted without that serious misconduct. 

Unemployment following unfair dismissal in the Netherlands

After being let go from your job — no matter the reason — take a moment to process your dismissal and to reassess your options.

It’s okay to take a moment for yourself. Image: Depositphotos

It’s good to know that if you lost your job due to circumstances that are beyond your control, you may qualify for government-provided unemployment benefits.

These can be applied for through the UWV, which will assess whether and for how long you’re entitled to the benefits based on your employment history.

However, in cases of summary dismissal or dismissal due to severe misconduct by the employee, unemployment benefits are typically not granted. In such instances, the employee is considered to be at fault for their unemployment.

Whether you have a bad feeling about what’s about to come, have just been dismissed, or are in the midst of appealing your unfair dismissal, know that with the right legal guidance, it will sort itself out.

And hey, a new exciting opportunity might be just around the corner!

Have you ever dealt with unfair dismissal in the Netherlands? Share your experience in the comments!

Feature Image:Depositphotos

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