Sick Leave in the Netherlands: Everything you need to know

Sofia Van Dirk

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This article aims to shed light on the concept of sick leave in the Netherlands, ensuring you’re well-equipped and informed should you ever need to take advantage of this essential employment right. Let us stand by your side, offering you an informative and supportive hand as you journey through the Dutch work culture.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Dutch system prioritizes employee well-being with a strong sick leave policy.
  • For the first two years of illness, employees receive at least 70% of their salary.
  • The Bedrijfsarts plays a pivotal role in managing and advising during sick leave.
  • Extended sick leave has built-in support mechanisms, ensuring employee rights.
  • Open communication with employers aids in seamless sick leave navigation.
  • Safeguarding employee rights is paramount, with multiple resources available.
  • Foreigners can smoothly navigate sick leave with localized tips and insights.

Understanding Dutch Employment Contracts

Embarking on a professional journey in the Netherlands is both an exciting and significant step. Yet, the foundation of this journey often begins with the employment contract—a pivotal document that seals the relationship between an employer and an employee. For foreigners in the Netherlands, it’s paramount to grasp the key aspects of these contracts, as they play an integral role in defining rights, responsibilities, and more importantly for our discussion, the terms of sick leave.

Permanent vs. Temporary Contracts

The Dutch employment landscape primarily revolves around two types of contracts: permanent (vast contract) and temporary (tijdelijk contract). Both have their unique characteristics:

Permanent Contracts: As the name suggests, these do not have a specified end date. It provides a sense of job security, and when it comes to sick leave, employees on a permanent contract can typically expect consistent benefits as detailed in the contract.

Temporary Contracts: These are for a specified duration, often used for project-based jobs or seasonal work. While they might have a predetermined end date, it’s essential to note that rights related to sick leave are by no means diminished. Every employee, regardless of contract type, is protected by Dutch labor law.

Sick Leave Rights in Employment Contracts

While every employment contract might have its nuances, there are standard rights associated with sick leave:

Notification Procedure: Your contract will likely detail how and when you should notify your employer if you’re unable to work due to illness.

Payment During Sick Leave: Most contracts will specify the percentage of your salary you’ll receive during your sick leave and for how long. While there are standard percentages set by Dutch law, some employers might offer enhanced benefits.

Duration and Terms: This section of your contract will specify how long your sick leave can last, and under what circumstances it can be extended or terminated.

Sick Leave Basics

sick leave in the netherlands

Embracing life in the Netherlands comes with adapting to a new way of work, which includes understanding the essential protocols surrounding sick leave. Your health and well-being are of utmost importance, and Dutch laws and workplace cultures often reflect this sentiment. Let’s delve into the fundamental aspects of sick leave, so you’re always prepared and informed.

Definition of Sick Leave

Sick leave in the Netherlands refers to the period an employee is unable to perform their regular job duties due to illness or medical incapacitation. This isn’t limited to physical ailments alone; mental health concerns are equally important. The goal of sick leave is to allow the employee ample time and space for recovery without the stress of workplace obligations.

Notifying Your Employer

The process of taking sick leave starts with notifying your employer. It’s essential to:

Act Promptly: Inform your employer or HR department as soon as you realize you won’t be able to attend work due to illness. This is usually expected on the first day of your sickness.

Specify Duration (if possible): While it’s not always easy to predict how long you’ll be ill, if you have an idea, it’s beneficial to share. If the duration is uncertain, regular updates are appreciated.

Stay Reachable: While you’re on sick leave, it’s advisable to remain contactable, though this doesn’t mean you’re expected to work. Your employer might need to check on your well-being or discuss return-to-work plans.

Medical Examinations and Sick Notes

Depending on the duration of your sick leave and your employer’s policies:

  • You might be requested to provide a medical certificate or sick note, especially for extended absences.
  • In some cases, if there’s any doubt regarding the legitimacy of the sick leave, employers might require an examination by a company doctor (bedrijfsarts).

Financial Aspects of Sick Leave

Let’s unravel the monetary facets of sick leave, ensuring you feel supported and reassured in moments when your health might take precedence over work.

Percentage of Salary During Sick Leave

In the Netherlands, the financial structure of sick leave is designed to ensure that an employee does not bear the brunt of medical incapacitation:

Initial Coverage: During the first two years of sickness, Dutch law mandates that employers pay at least 70% of the employee’s salary. However, this can never be below the minimum wage.

Enhanced Benefits: Many employers, in their bid to ensure employee welfare, might offer more generous terms, sometimes covering up to 100% of the salary during the initial period of the sick leave.

Duration of Payments

It’s essential to understand the timeline to ensure you’re adequately prepared:

Two-Year Rule: The stipulated 70% (or more, depending on your contract) of your salary is usually guaranteed for the first two years of your sick leave.

Extended Absence: If sickness extends beyond two years, the financial scenario might shift, potentially leading to a transition to a sickness benefit provided by the Employee Insurance Agency (UWV).

Employer’s Responsibilities

Dutch employers shoulder significant responsibilities when it comes to supporting employees during sick leave:

  • They are obligated to continue salary payments as specified.
  • Employers also contribute to reintegration efforts, ensuring the employee’s smooth return to work post-recovery.
  • It’s illegal for employers to terminate an employment contract during the first two years of an employee’s illness solely due to the illness.

Related: Health Insurance in the Netherlands

Role of the Company Doctor (Bedrijfsarts)

In the Netherlands, a unique and pivotal player aids in the holistic sick leave process: the Company Doctor, or “Bedrijfsarts” in Dutch. This role may be a fresh concept for many foreigners, but it’s deeply ingrained in the Dutch work and health culture. Let’s familiarize ourselves with the Bedrijfsarts, ensuring you’re well-equipped to navigate this part of your sick leave journey with ease and confidence.

Introduction to the Company Doctor

The Company Doctor is not directly affiliated with your workplace but is usually connected to an Occupational Health Service (Arbo service). Their primary role is to:

  • Assess Medical Situations: They determine the severity of your illness and its impact on your ability to work.
  • Provide Neutral Consultation: Unlike your personal physician, a Bedrijfsarts offers an impartial perspective, focusing solely on your work capacity.
  • Recommend Adjustments: Based on your health status, they might suggest temporary changes in your work responsibilities or environment.

Visiting the Company Doctor

The process usually unfolds as follows:

Referral: If you’re on sick leave, especially for an extended period, your employer might ask you to see a Bedrijfsarts.

Initial Assessment: On your visit, the doctor will evaluate your condition and provide feedback about your ability to work and any necessary adjustments.

Follow-ups: Depending on your recovery trajectory, there might be subsequent visits to update the Bedrijfsarts on your progress.

Employee Rights During Medical Assessments

It’s crucial to understand that your rights are paramount during these interactions:

Confidentiality: The specifics of your medical condition remain confidential. The Company Doctor will only communicate your work capacity and possible adjustments to your employer.

Seeking a Second Opinion: If you ever feel uncertain about the Bedrijfsarts’s assessment, you’re entitled to a second opinion from another Company Doctor.

No Pressure: You should never feel coerced into returning to work prematurely. The Bedrijfsarts’s recommendations aim at ensuring a balance between recovery and work.

Recovery and Rehabilitation

The Netherlands champions the idea that supporting an employee doesn’t cease once they’re on sick leave. In fact, it often intensifies during the recovery and rehabilitation phase. Let’s explore this phase, ensuring you feel embraced and empowered every step of the way.

Employer’s Responsibility in Aiding Recovery

A key tenet of Dutch labor law is the proactive involvement of employers in an employee’s recovery journey:

Continuous Support: Even while you’re away, employers are expected to maintain regular contact, not as a surveillance measure, but to gauge your well-being and support needs.

Work Adjustments: Based on feedback from the Bedrijfsarts or your personal physician, employers might suggest temporary changes to your tasks, working hours, or environment to ease your transition back.

Reintegration Meetings: Periodic discussions might be held to evaluate your progress, address any concerns, and collaboratively design a suitable return-to-work plan.

Reintegration Plans and Returning to Work

It’s not just about getting back to work, but about doing so in a manner that’s considerate of your health:

Phased Return: You might start with fewer hours, gradually increasing as your health improves.

Modified Roles: Depending on the nature of your ailment, you could be assigned different tasks or roles temporarily or, in rare cases, permanently.

Feedback Loops: Regular check-ins will ensure that the transition is going smoothly, making room for adjustments as required.

Adaptations and Modifications to Job Roles

The Dutch system is adaptive, ensuring that your job doesn’t exacerbate your health:

Ergonomic Adjustments: This could be as simple as providing a special chair for better back support or adjusting the lighting in your workspace.

Flexibility: Options like working from home, flexible hours, or additional breaks might be considered.

Training: If your role has changed considerably, employers might offer training or upskilling opportunities to help you adapt.

Extended Sick Leave and its Implications

In the Netherlands, the terrain of extended sick leave is navigated with sensitivity and a deep-rooted commitment to employee well-being. Let’s delve into the intricacies and support structures in place for such situations.

Salary ProtectionEmployees receive at least 70% of their salary during the first two years of sick leave.
Protection Against DismissalCannot be terminated solely due to illness for the first two years.
Beyond Two YearsWIA assessment by UWV, potential employment considerations after prolonged illness.
Reintegration TrajectoriesFirst Track (original job), Second Track (new role in the company), Third Track (job outside the current company).
Emotional and Social SupportCounseling services, maintaining contact with colleagues, and support groups.

The Two-Year Consideration

Dutch labor law is particularly considerate for those facing prolonged illnesses:

Salary Continuation: For the first two years of your sickness, your employer is obligated to continue paying at least 70% of your salary. This period ensures that you’re not immediately faced with financial hardships.

Protection Against Dismissal: It’s crucial to know that during these two years, an employer cannot terminate your contract solely due to illness.

Beyond Two Years

If sickness extends beyond this period, a few shifts occur:

WIA Assessment: The Employee Insurance Agency (UWV) conducts an evaluation. Based on this assessment, you might be eligible for the WIA benefit, which stands for “Work and Income according to Labor Capacity.”

Employment Considerations: After the two-year mark, if you’re still unable to resume work, employers might discuss potential termination. However, this step is taken with numerous checks and balances to ensure fairness.

Reintegration Trajectories

Even with extended sick leave, the focus remains on reintegration:

First Track (Eerste Spoor): Efforts are made to reintegrate you into your current job role with the necessary adjustments.

Second Track (Tweede Spoor): If returning to your original position is unfeasible, the focus shifts to finding a new role within the same company.

Third Track: In rare situations where neither of the above options is viable, external reintegration efforts might be pursued, potentially guiding you towards a new job outside your current organization.

Emotional and Social Support

Beyond the tangible aspects of employment and benefits, extended sick leave can have emotional implications. It’s essential to:

Seek Counseling: Many Dutch companies offer counseling services or can direct you to external resources.

Stay Connected: Maintaining contact with colleagues or joining support groups can help combat feelings of isolation.

Safeguarding Your Rights

While the Netherlands is renowned for its comprehensive employee protection, understanding and asserting your rights ensures a balanced, respectful, and supportive experience during your sick leave. As a foreigner, this may seem daunting, but rest assured, the Dutch system is constructed with transparency and fairness. Here, we’ll guide you through the essential rights you possess and how to safeguard them during times of illness.

Know Your Rights

Awareness is the first step towards empowerment. Familiarize yourself with these key rights:

Salary Protection: For the initial two years of sick leave, you are entitled to at least 70% of your salary, with some contracts even offering up to 100%.

Protection Against Dismissal: Your employment cannot be terminated solely due to illness during the first two years.

Medical Confidentiality: While your employer may require updates on your recovery status, the specifics of your medical condition remain between you and your healthcare provider or Bedrijfsarts.

Maintaining Open Communication

Your rights also include being heard and understood:

Regular Updates: While it’s crucial to keep your employer informed about your health status, ensure the communication is comfortable and respectful.

Feedback Loops: If there are aspects of the reintegration process that you find challenging, don’t hesitate to share and discuss them with your employer or HR.

Seeking Legal Counsel

In the rare event of disputes or misunderstandings:

Legal Assistance: The Netherlands boasts a robust legal framework for labor rights. If ever in doubt, seeking guidance from a legal professional or labor union can be beneficial.

Employee Insurance Agency (UWV): They can be consulted if there are disputes regarding the validity of your sick leave or disagreements about reintegration trajectories.

Participating in Mediation

For minor disagreements or misunderstandings:

Internal Mediation: Many Dutch companies have internal mediation processes to address concerns before they escalate.

External Mediation: Third-party mediators can also be considered for an impartial resolution if both parties agree.

Embracing Support Networks

Your rights extend beyond the workplace:

Support Groups: Connecting with fellow expats or local support groups can offer valuable insights and emotional support.

Dutch Labor Unions: Joining a labor union can provide a plethora of resources, guidance, and assistance, especially tailored for situations like sick leave.

Tips for Foreigners on Sick Leave in the Netherlands

For our expat friends finding their footing in this process, here are some tailored tips to make your sick leave journey both informative and supportive.

  • Stay Informed: Familiarize yourself with the Dutch labor laws relevant to sick leave. Websites like the Dutch Chamber of Commerce or the Employee Insurance Agency (UWV) can offer valuable insights.
  • Open Communication is Key: Always keep your employer updated about your health status. Transparency fosters trust and mutual understanding.
  • Leverage the Bedrijfsarts: This unique feature of the Dutch system is your ally. Their impartial advice ensures your well-being is always at the forefront.
  • Document Everything: Especially in cases of prolonged illness, keeping a record of medical documents, company correspondence, and any sick leave related paperwork can be beneficial.
  • Seek Local Guidance: Engaging with fellow expats or local colleagues can offer first-hand insights and practical tips on navigating sick leave effectively.
  • Mind Your Well-being: Beyond physical health, take time to cater to your emotional and mental well-being. The Netherlands has a plethora of counseling services and support groups that can assist.
  • Utilize Language Resources: If language becomes a barrier, seek out English-speaking doctors, or consider translation services for medical documents.
  • Stay Proactive: Regularly engage with your employer, especially during the reintegration phase. This proactive approach ensures a smoother transition back to work.
  • Know Your Limits: While it’s commendable to want to get back to work promptly, prioritize your health. The Dutch system values genuine recovery, so there’s no need to rush.
  • Explore the Dutch Work Culture: By understanding the broader Dutch work culture and its values, you can better align with practices like sick leave and reintegration.

Related: Private Hospitals in the Netherlands: A (2024) Guide for Expats

ABOUT Sofia Van Dirk

Sofia van Dijk is our resident Relocation Expert at Born and raised in the Netherlands, Sofia possesses extensive knowledge of Dutch culture, local customs, and the practicalities of living in this unique country. She studied International Relations at the University of Amsterdam and spent several years working for an international relocation company before joining our team.

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