Employment and holidays in the Netherlands

Dec 1, 2020

The holidays are here and most people either want to take up free time or send their employees on a well earned break. But, some people don’t want to take up their holidays and work as much as possible. They intend to cash these in for payments later on. On the other hand, some employers want their employees to continue working during a busy season. How does this work?

Everyone deserves a well earned break. But not all agendas are always aligned between employers and employees. So in this article we’ll be looking at four conflict situations:

  1. You’re an employee and you don’t want to take a holiday, with the intention of cashing them out at a later point.

  2. You’re an employee and you want to take a holiday, but it's the busy season and your boss wants to keep you on board.

  3. You’re an employer and you want your employee to take a holiday. This may occur during a period where business is slow, and you don’t want your employee to build up unspent holidays.

  4. You’re an employer and you want your employee to keep working because it’s your busy season.

First off, some important things to consider: 

  1. Under Dutch law there are two types of holidays an employee can have : statutory holidays and contractual holidays. What’s the difference between the two?
    (i) Statutory holidays are given by law to every Dutch employee. They consist of 20 full (eight hour) holidays per full year of employment, based on full time employment. So if you’ve worked for a shorter period or shorter hours, you can calculate your statutory days pro rata parte.
    (ii) Contractual holidays are only given to employees if so agreed upon in their employment contract. They are not mandatory so many employers choose to skip these. Reasons for handing out contractual holidays are: providing competitive remuneration packages to attract employees and having a collective bargaining agreement (CAO) in place. The latter usually has the biggest impact. Certain Dutch CAO’s add 10 to 15 extra days (!) to their employees' R&R time.

  2. Collective Bargaining Agreements (CAOs) carry a lot of clout in the Netherlands. They may create exceptions to many rules, so check out whether one is applicable to your situation or not. They may even apply to your contract without anyone knowing it! That’s because some CAO’s have a cogent effect on everybody in the sector.

  3. Under Dutch law, there are also fixed “festivity days”, like for example New Year’s Day and Christmas Day. These do not count towards the statutory or contractual holidays and exist in addition to those. These days are always off for the employee, unless very specifically agreed otherwise. For example, when you’re an emergency worker or police officer.

1. Employee wants to keep working and cash out on holidays

So let’s say you're an employee far from home. You came here to work and that’s just what you’re going to do. You heard that any unspent holidays can later be traded with your boss for cash payments, or so they say. How does this work?

First you need to save up your holidays, which means not taking them up like everyone else. Taking up a holiday in the Netherlands follows this main rule : the employee requests a holiday from their employer, after which the employer needs to consent. This means you can forego this request in the first place. It also means your Dutch employer cannot force you to take up holidays, as a rule. There are exceptions to this of course (see 4. below).

Now you’ve saved up an X amount of holidays. How do you go about cashing out on these? Statutory holidays may never be cashed out during the course of an employment, except as part of a settlement or termination of employment. This means you are only able to cash out on contractual holidays, and only if this option is agreed upon in your contract or CAO. It takes two to tango here: you both need to be on board with it, and one cannot force the other into acceptance. But as an employee there is a way. If you’re a valuable employee and you have saved up a large reservoir (in Dutch: “stuwmeer”) of unspent holidays, your employer may wish to agree with this for fear of having to go without you for a prolonged period.

Be mindful, however, that holidays may expire. Statutory holidays only stick around until 6 months after the end of the year. Contractual holidays are valid for 5 years. After this they are forfeited. How do you figure out what kind of holidays you currently have left? In your contract it should state which holidays you “consume” first : contractual or statutory holidays. If nothing is mentioned, your statutory holidays are consumed first. So add all your holidays, and subtract the holidays you’ve taken. You should now be able to determine which holidays you currently have left (and how long you can have them loom over your employer’s head).

2. Employee wants to go on holiday during the busy season.

So you want to go on holiday during the busy season. How does work? First, check your contract or CAO if it mentions anything about his subject. If so, you need to cooperate with the rules for taking up holidays mentioned there. If nothing is mentioned, you revert to the rule of offer and acceptance : you propose a holiday and your employer may accept or refuse such a proposal. An employer may not refuse your request on unreasonable grounds. A request for a holiday during the busy season is an unreasonable request that your boss may refuse. So be mindful of this and plan this long ahead, otherwise you may have to cancel your holiday plans.

3. Employer wants employee to take a holiday

This actually happens a lot during COVID times : business is very slow and bosses want to send off their employees on holiday instead of having them idling round. So how do the rules work here? Normally the initiative for taking up a holiday rests with the employee. There are major exceptions, like for example teachers or construction workers, who are by their industry bound to fixed periods of holidays. Again, these exceptions are laid down in CAOs and/or employment contracts.

The current COVID period is not an exception to the rule, so it cannot be used by employers to send their employees off on compulsory me-time. Apart from CAO or contractual rules to that extent, an employer may only do so on account of urgent business reasons. COVID does not count towards this, especially when the employer is able to make use of the governmental NOW grants. These were meant to keep employees on the payroll, after all. So you cannot force to send employees on holiday, except when they agree to it. Under the current travel restrictions they will not feel so inclined very fast, and there’s very little you can do about it.

4. Employer wants to keep employees working during the busy season

This is something all professional service firms are coping with now: getting things done before the end of the year. If you’re an employer in that sector, you’ll want to keep everyone on board as much as possible. This means you will not be granting anyone holidays. Are you able to do this? Yes! Remember the rule that holidays are requested by the employee, and then granted by the employer? As an employer, you can refuse to grant such a request if you have a valid business reason for this. Working through end-of-year busy hours, you actually have a valid reason, but it is strongly advisable to insert a clause to that extent in your standard labour contracts. 

Enjoy your holidays, and get yourselves back in one piece! Do you have any questions after reading this? Don’t hesitate to reach out.

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