Dealing with a problem or conflict at work is always difficult. It can feel even more challenging when you're in a new country and you don't know what the correct procedures should be. Here are some guidelines for dealing with workplace conflicts and termination of work contract in the Netherlands.
If you experience disagreements at work, either with a colleague or employer, and you cannot resolve the issue, then you may need an impartial third party to help mediate the situation. Workplace conflicts can include forms of inappropriate behaviour, harassment, sexual intimidation, discrimination or aggression.
The Working Conditions Act
Under the Working Conditions Act (Arbowet), companies in the Netherlands are obliged to protect their employees from such psychological stresses. Many companies therefore have a counsellor or confidant, known as a vertrouwenspersoon, who is specially trained to receive reports or complaints and to deal with them in a supportive and appropriate manner.
How to seek support
If there is no counsellor then you should get in contact with someone from the HR (P&O) department or the Works Council (OR, ondernemingsraad), which is a kind of employee representative committee in organisations with more than 50 people.
If you are a member of a union (vakbond) you can also ask for guidance from a union representative. You can also seek external legal advice from an employment lawyer or from het Juridisch Loket, a government service which provides free legal counselling.
Losing your job in the Netherlands
Employers in the Netherlands may not dismiss an employee at random. They must have good cause for terminating a contract and they must follow fairly strict rules of dismissal. There are several different reasons why you can lose your job (ontslagen zijn) in the Netherlands: maybe your temporary contract is not renewed, maybe your company is restructuring and your role will disappear or maybe there is workplace misconduct that your employer feels is serious enough to dismiss you.
Here is an overview of the main reasons and processes for losing your job in the Netherlands:
Expiry of a temporary contract
Since a temporary contract already has a pre-determined end date, there is not much you can do if your employer does not want to renew it beyond that time.
A temporary contract cannot be terminated early unless you and your employer are in mutual agreement, or if you have agreed otherwise in the contract. Most importantly, your employer must tell you at least a month in advance if your temporary contract will be renewed or not. If they are taking a long time to inform you then it is wise to remind them you are legally entitled to one month’s notice.
If you have had a series of three or more temporary contracts with the same employer, or you have had temporary contracts for two or more years, then your temporary contract automatically becomes permanent. If your employer wants to dismiss you in such a situation then you are entitled to the same dismissal procedure as for a permanent contract.
Termination of a permanent contract
If you have a permanent contract then your employer may only dismiss you under certain conditions, which are listed below. Additional termination conditions specific to your employer, such as period of notice, may also be listed in your permanent contract.
Redundancy through company restructure
If your employer is restructuring, or going through serious financial difficulties, then they may make your role redundant (bedrijfseconomisch ontslag). Causes for such a termination can include (partial) closure of the company, a decline in revenue, loss of customer(s), business relocation, outsourcing or loss of a subsidy.
This is the most common reason for contract termination not related to the performance of an employee, as it covers quite a broad range of reasons. A company will need to be able to prove these reasons to the sub-district court (kantonrechter) if the employee does not accept the termination contract and takes the matter to court.
Dismissal for poor performance
If you do not fulfil the requirements of your role, or if you have been behaving inappropriately, and the situation does not improve over time, then you may be dismissed for poor performance (disfunctioneren).
An employer cannot simply dismiss an employee for poor performance. They must give formal feedback to the employee, for example during a performance review meeting. They may also devise a strategy of improvement (verbetertraject), such as training or additional guidance, for the following weeks or months to help the employee overcome these issues. If the employee’s performance does not improve over time, then the employer may have reasonable grounds for dismissal.
Instant dismissal is an exceptional form of dismissal in which an employer can fire an employee on the spot for serious cases of misconduct such as theft, embezzlement, abuse, insult or refusal to work. An employer must have a compelling reason for dismissing an employee this way and must act immediately, notifying the employee of their misconduct.
If you are fired on the spot then you are not entitled to receive unemployment benefits.
Other reasons for termination
Other reasons for termination of contract can include a disrupted working relationship, due to a workplace conflict such as harassment or unresolved disagreements, or inability to work such as a long-term illness. In such cases it is wise to seek legal guidance as you may be entitled to extra dismissal protection.
Termination process and contract
If your employer wants to terminate your permanent contract then your boss or supervisor will formally tell you, often in the presence of a HR (P&O) representative.
At this time, or shortly after, they will present you with a termination contract. Depending on the circumstances, you may be expected to continue working until the termination is finalised, or you may be sent home (immediately) after the meeting and not expected to work anymore. This news can come as a shock. The most important thing to do is not make any sudden decisions.
Firstly you must carefully read and check the termination contract. The termination is not final until you agree and sign it. If you have strong reasons for disagreeing with the contract then do not sign it and instead seek legal advice.
Remember that there is no time limit for checking the contract. People usually need a few days to check the text and digest the news. If the situation is more complex then this period can stretch out to weeks or longer.
Ask if the company will provide some money to cover your legal fees to have a lawyer check the contract with you, this is fairly common practice.
When looking over the contract, you should check details such as:
- Reason for dismissal (if you are held responsible then you may not be eligible for unemployment benefits).
- Final salary (until what date?).
- Payment of outstanding holiday leave, bonuses or other benefits.
- Compensation payout (if any).
- Non-competition clause (concurrentiebeding) which may restrict you from working for competitors for a certain period.
The period of notice (opzegtermijn) your employer must give you before they want to end your contract depends on how long you’ve been working at the company.
The minimum notice period is one month, which applies to up to five years of work. If you have been working at a company for 5-10 years it is two months and for 10-15 years it’s three months. Your salary is still paid during the notice period. If you are still in your trial period (proeftijd), or you are fired on the spot, then no notice period is necessary.
Resigning from your job
If you find another job in the Netherlands, you are moving abroad or you want to do something different (e.g. start your own business or study) then you can resign from your job (ontslag nemen). Keep in mind that companies usually state the resignation period of notice in the work contract: normally one month or more. So if you plan to start a new job, be sure to inform your employer early enough to avoid delays with your job transition.
Applying for unemployment benefit
Depending on how long you were working in your job, and the nature of your dismissal, you may be entitled to receive unemployment benefits (WW-uitkering). You must apply for unemployment allowance within a certain time frame of the end your job, sometimes before the final date covered by your salary, so be sure to investigate the requirements as soon as possible.
Looking for a new job
Once you have recovered from the shock of losing your job, then you can start thinking about the future. You might first need a break to clear your mind, or you might immediately start looking for a new job. Whatever you choose to do, just remember that change, although daunting, also brings opportunity.