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Employee protection in Netherlands

Most countries have strict laws that are designed to prevent employees from coming to harm. Employment law in the Netherlands includes provisions that protect whistleblowers from reprisals, restrictions on what employers can do with employee data, and measures to prevent harassment and discrimination in the workplace. 

By learning about the various employee protections, the Netherlands has put in place, you can better prepare to hire employees in the Netherlands while keeping your employees safe and protecting your business from liability.

Whistleblower protection act Netherlands

Whistleblowers play an important role in calling out wrongdoing within their organisations. For this reason, many countries have put in place specific laws to protect whistleblowers from reprisals or retaliation. In the Netherlands, the rules are set out in the Whistleblower Protection Act. 

Whistleblowing laws in the Netherlands

The Netherlands Whistleblower Protection Act was passed into law on 18 February 2023. It sets the requirements for companies on how to deal with whistleblowing, as well as providing employees who come forward about wrongdoing with certain rights. Specifically, it states that all companies with at least 50 employees must have a procedure in place for reporting suspected wrongdoing. This procedure has to explain how internal reports will be handled, how an employee can make a report, and who they should report to. It should also state how quickly the company will assess and follow up on reports, which can’t be longer than three months. 

What counts as whistleblowing in the Netherlands?

The idea behind whistleblowing laws is to encourage employees to come forward when a person or an organisation does something that could cause harm to people or society. That means that whistleblowing laws in the Netherlands only cover certain disclosures and can’t be used to report a personal problem between an employee and their employer. 

For example, the following things are considered wrongdoing under the Netherlands’ whistleblowing law: 

  • A violation or threat of violation of a law or (internal) rule
  • A violation or threat of violation of European Union law
  • A threat to public health
  • A threat to personal safety
  • A threat to the environment
  • A threat to the proper functioning of a public service or enterprise 

Which companies need to have a whistleblowing procedure?

In the Netherlands, whistleblowing laws apply to all companies with more than 50 employees, which means that these companies need to have a whistleblowing policy (‘notification procedure’) in place. For this purpose, ‘employees’ include: 

  • Workers with an employment contract
  • Employees the company has supplied or seconded
  • Agency workers
  • Volunteers and trainees
  • Other people the employer and the works council count as employees 

In some sectors, every company has to have a notification procedure regardless of their headcount, because of the sensitive nature of the work. These include: 

  • The financial sector
  • Civil aviation
  • Maritime labour
  • Port state control
  • Offshore oil and gas 

Protection from reprisals for whistleblowers

The Netherlands Whistleblower Protection Act states that employees who report wrongdoing can’t suffer any ‘detriment’ as a result of their report. Detriments that are covered by the act include: 

  • Being fired or suspended
  • Being demoted
  • Being held back from promotion
  • Receiving a written reprimand
  • Receiving a negative performance assessment
  • Defamation
  • Intimidation, bullying or exclusion
  • Being transferred to another location
  • Being refused a reference
  • Blacklisting 

The new rules also make it easier for employees to make a claim if they are wrongfully dismissed or otherwise disadvantaged because of whistleblowing. Whistleblowers who have been disadvantaged no longer have to prove that this was a result of their disclosure. Instead, employers have to prove that it was unrelated.

Employee data privacy in the Netherlands

The Netherlands has strict rules in place that determine what businesses can do with the personal data of their customers and employees. Generally speaking, employers can only use personal data if they have a good reason and have to abide by certain rules when it comes to storing and processing it. 

Employee data protection in the Netherlands

Employers tend to hold a lot of data about their employees for the purposes of running payroll and keeping employee records. Data privacy laws in the Netherlands mean that employers need to be careful about how they use their employees’ personal data. 

Personal employee data includes: 

  • Their name
  • Their address
  • Their phone number
  • Their citizen service number 

There are specific rules to follow when it comes to processing personal data, whether it’s of your employees or your customers. 

Processing data includes: 

  • Collecting data
  • Updating data
  • Consulting data
  • Distributing data
  • Combining data
  • Deleting data 

The rules that apply to personal data are even stricter when it comes to data that is considered sensitive. This includes data about a person’s health, political opinions, and trade union membership. 

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for employers in the Netherlands

The main piece of legislation impacting employee data protection in the Netherlands is the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. This is an EU law that sets common standards for storing and processing personal data across Europe. To ensure compliance with the GDPR, employers in the Netherlands must: 

  • Only keep the personal data that is strictly necessary
  • Limit the number of people who can access personal data
  • Not keep personal data for longer than necessary
  • Disclose the data you keep (and why) to the people it concerns
  • Perform a data protection impact assessment (DPIA) 

Data Protection Impact Assessments

A data protection impact assessment (DPIA) is an assessment of the impact and risks of storing and processing personal data. Employers in the Netherlands have to carry out a DPIA before they can start using, collecting, or sharing personal data. 

Reporting to the Dutch Data Protection Authority

Companies that process personal data in the Netherlands have to report to the Dutch Data Protection Authority (Dutch DPA). Some companies also have to appoint a Data Protection Officer, who monitors how personal data is processed within the organisation and advises employees about their obligations. 

Theft, loss, or abuse of personal data in the Netherlands

Dutch employers have to report data breaches to the Dutch DPA. They should also inform the people whose data was involved in the breach. Companies that fail to report a breach can be fined by the Dutch DPA. Surveillance and monitoring of employees Employers in the Netherlands can monitor their employees, for example by recording phone calls or using software that tracks what employees do on their computers. However, they can only do this if they comply with the relevant data privacy laws. 

Specifically, employers have to show that there is a legitimate business reason to monitor their employees, which outweighs the risk to the employees’ privacy. They also need to show that there is no other way they could achieve the same goal that would be less drastic for employees. Lastly, they must inform employees about the monitoring tools they use and how they use them.

Equal treatment for temporary agency workers

Temporary agency workers are workers hired through an intermediary such as a temporary employment agency or a secondment agency. Employers in the Netherlands can use temporary agency workers to fill gaps in their permanent workforce and meet short-term needs. However, there are certain rules they need to follow concerning the treatment of those temporary workers. 

Equal pay for temporary agency workers in the Netherlands

As of 2015, temporary agency workers in the Netherlands are entitled to the same rate of pay as permanent employees performing the same or similar roles. This is due to an agreement between the Dutch Federation of Employment Agencies (ABU) and several Dutch trade unions, which aims to improve pay parity between permanent and non-permanent workers. 

The agreement states that temporary agency workers in the Netherlands have to receive the same pay as their permanent counterparts from day one of employment, not after 26 weeks as was previously the case. This rule also applies to working conditions other than pay, meaning that temporary workers in the Netherlands essentially need to be treated the same as permanent ones.

Anti-discrimination laws in the Netherlands

Discrimination is when someone is treated differently to another person in the same situation, on the basis of a protected characteristic like their race, gender, or sexual preference. It is illegal in the Netherlands. 

Anti-discrimination laws in the Netherlands

The right to equal treatment is so important to the Netherlands that it is enshrined in Article 1 of the Dutch Constitution. There are also several other key pieces of legislation that ban discrimination on various grounds. Anti-discrimination laws in the Netherlands include: 

  • The Equal Treatment Act
  • The Equal Treatment of Disabled and Chronically Ill People Act
  • The Equal Treatment in Employment (Age Discrimination) Act
  • The Equal Treatment (Men and Women) Act 

What counts as discrimination in the Netherlands?

Discrimination is when a person is treated differently because of one of a list of protected characteristics. In the Netherlands, these are: 

  • Race
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Political opinion
  • Religion
  • Beliefs
  • Disability or chronic illness
  • Civil status
  • Age
  • Nationality
  • Working hours
  • Type of contract 

Does the Netherlands have LGBT anti-discrimination laws?

Yes, the Equal Treatment Act 1994 makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of their sexual orientation. In 2019, this was extended to include discrimination based on gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics. 

Freedom of expression vs. anti-discrimination laws

Article 7 of the Dutch Constitution grants citizens the right to freedom of expression. However, this freedom can sometimes clash with Article 1, which guarantees equal treatment. Freedom of expression does not allow people to discriminate against other people based on protected characteristics. 

Protections against harassment for employees in the Netherlands

Under the Working Conditions Act, employers in the Netherlands are obligated to prevent harassment from occurring in the workplace. If they fail to prevent it, they can be fined and held liable for damages. 

There are things that an employee can do if they experience harassment. First, they could speak to their employer or check their employment policies for guidelines on what to do. There is also a national discrimination helpline that anyone in the Netherlands can call for advice. 

Employees can also

  • Ask the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights for an opinion
  • Make a report to the Works Council
  • File an external complaint if there is an industry-level procedure in place
  • Contact the Netherlands Labour Authority 

If the harassment constitutes a public interest or a breach of EU law, they could also file a whistleblower report. However, issues of harassment or discrimination are not usually dealt with this way because they are more personal in nature.

Pay equity laws

Many countries around the world have laws in place to prevent pay discrimination on the basis of sex or gender. This is when a person of one sex (usually a woman) is paid less than a person of another sex (usually a man), despite the fact that the work they perform is the same or substantially similar. 

Pay equity laws in the Netherlands

In the Netherlands, paying employees unequally for work of equal value is a violation of: 

  • The Dutch Civil Code
  • The Equal Treatment for Men and Women Act
  • The General Equal Treatment Act 

As of 2024, a legislative proposal on equal pay for women and men is pending in the House of Representatives. This legislation would aim to strengthen equal pay protections for women and ultimately reduce the gender pay gap in the Netherlands. 

It would require companies with more than 50 employees to regularly report on their gender pay gaps. Companies with 250+ employees would be required to obtain a certificate showing that they pay men and women equally for the same work, which will be granted by an independent body. 

Remedies and enforcement

Under the current rules, the burden of proof in pay discrimination cases rests with the employee. That means it is up to the employee to prove that they are being paid less than a colleague and that this is unjustified because the work they perform is the same or substantially similar. This can be difficult for employees to achieve because they don’t always have access to the relevant data. If the new Act mentioned above takes effect, the burden of proof will shift to the employer. 

How the EU Pay Transparency Directive will impact the Netherlands

In 2023, the EU Council officially adopted a new directive on pay transparency. All member states including the Netherlands now have until 2026 to put the rules into effect. That means that companies in the Netherlands will soon have further obligations when it comes to pay equity. 

The directive will require all employers with more than 250 employees to report annually on their gender pay gap. Some countries already have gender pay gap reporting in place, but there is currently no legal reporting obligation in the Netherlands. 

The directive will also require employers to provide information about starting salaries to job candidates before the interview stage and to provide transparency on their pay levels and structures. If a company’s gender pay gap reporting reveals a gap of 5% or more for any category of workers, they will have to carry out a joint pay assessment in collaboration with employees’ representatives.

Safeguard your business with our compliance expertise

Understanding what you can and can’t do as an employer is one of the biggest challenges of hiring in the Netherlands. Get it wrong, and you could face legal action and damage to your reputation. 

Our solutions protect both you and your workers, thanks to our team’s in-depth knowledge of local and international labour laws. That means you can stop worrying about compliance issues and focus on getting the job done.

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