The situation in the Netherlands right now can not only be described as chaotic, but also frightening. Due to the spread of the Coronavirus, the whole world is experiencing problems with the progress of daily life. In Europe, several countries are already in a complete lock-down. Although the Netherlands is not completely 'locked down', drastic measures have been taken, causing many entrepreneurs and businesses to suffer major financial blows. Among other things, many employers are experiencing a large reduction in work.
On Tuesday evening 17 March 2020, the cabinet presented a number of economic relief measures for entrepreneurs in the Netherlands who are (or will be) feeling the financial impact of the Corona crisis. Labour law questions that emerge in this uncertain time concern the continued payment of wages during quarantine and the taking of measures in the workplace. Below is an outline of some of the sticking points.
Measures in the workplace
As a business owner, you are obliged to ensure a safe working environment. The World Health Organisation has asked every company to take measures against the coronavirus. A list of general tips has been published, which includes the following points:
Regularly clean the workplace with disinfectant;
Encourage staff to wash their hands as much as possible. For this, there should be sufficient resources such as soap and clean towels;
People with symptoms or from high-risk areas should be sent home;
Ensure adequate distance between workers;
Promote working from home.
Now, it is understandable that in some sectors it is not possible to observe all these measures, with working from home being particularly difficult. Postmen, supermarket workers and transport workers, for example. An employer is obliged - partly as part of good employment practice - to take as many measures as possible to ensure a safe working environment. If you largely stick to the above measures, a suitable working environment should be guaranteed.
Continued payment of wages to workers sitting at home
If a person shows signs of illness or comes from a high-risk area, he or she is asked not to come to the workplace. If possible, the employee should then continue working at home. As mentioned above, this is not always possible.
If an employee can no longer work because he or she is actually infected with the Coronavirus, that person is classifiable as sick. This means that the normal rules of sick leave apply just as when someone with a long-term illness is not fit to appear in the workplace. The employer is obliged to continue paying your wages. The employee is entitled to continued payment of salary. In addition, a solution can be found in working from home if the employee is able to do so, but many industries are not suitable for this.
The new Section 7:628 of the Dutch Civil Code states that an employee is still entitled to wages even if the employee did not perform the work in whole or in part, unless the non-performance of the work must be for the employee's account. In principle, the employer is obliged to continue paying wages. With the shutdown of numerous businesses in the Netherlands, this is difficult. Employers of catering businesses, for example, have to continue paying their staff but receive no income at all. The fact that the businesses are closed is not at the employee's risk. In this case, the principle of 'no work, still pay' applies.
Also, those businesses that are still open are experiencing a financial strain due to declining business. For example, in the service sector such as travel agencies, the number of new customers is rapidly decreasing and they are forced to send employees home. When there is less work, employers can reduce their employees' working hours in certain force majeure situations. Previously, the employer could then apply for reduced working hours. But due to the large number of requests within this scheme, the government has presented a temporary emergency solution: Emergency Fund Bridging Employment.
Entrepreneurs expecting at least 20 per cent less turnover can apply to the UWV for short-time working through the new NOW. If approved, the government will pay a maximum of 90 per cent of salary, which was 75 per cent under the normal short-time working scheme. The condition is that companies do not lay people off and continue to pay the rest of the wages themselves.
This way, workers will simply get their wages paid and employers will (hopefully) not go down with the Corona crisis. In addition, entrepreneurs hardest hit will receive an amount of €4,000 as emergency provision. These are companies that see their turnover disappear almost completely, such as the hospitality industry, travel agencies and sectors that can no longer carry out their activities because they have to remain at a distance (think of hairdressers).
Self-employed persons without staff
The above information was mainly relevant to anyone with an employment contract. But our country has more than a million self-employed people. Some will be able to continue their work, others will not. For those self-employed, the government is coming up with a gift. They can apply for a benefit for three months during which they have at least the minimum wage to spend. In this way, the self-employed are protected. Further specifications have not yet been announced.
In addition, the government informed that entrepreneurs will be allowed to defer payment of their income, corporate, payroll and sales tax and that no additional charges will be levied for this. Also, the State will provide a 50% guarantee if companies want to use the Entrepreneur Financing Guarantee Scheme. This will make it easier for entrepreneurs to get financing, now that banks have an extra guarantee and will be more likely to grant credit.
Temporary workers who are out of work because of the measures due to the corona virus are calling in sick en masse to avoid the unemployment benefit. They flee to the Sickness Act, as it were. Although the principle of "no work, no pay" applies to temporary workers, wages will continue to be paid if they are sick. Now this is a difficult issue in the Corona era. With a minor cold, the temporary worker would continue working normally. At this time, this is not possible. Is this then a sick call? The temp does not come to work, but not because he is unable to work due to illness. The temporary worker is forced to stay home with symptoms and the sick call arises because of infection fear of COVID-19 virus.
Temporary workers do get paid on sick leave. This is done through sickness benefit from the UWV or the agency has an obligation to continue paying wages.
In these special times, it is important to look out for each other. Are you an employer? Pay attention to your colleagues and employees. Take proper and sufficient precautions. Although the government is coming up with several measures to provide financial compensation, these are still uncertain times.
Want to know more?
If you have more specific questions in Employment Law (whether in view of the Corona virus or not) feel free to contact one of our lawyers.