Rules about working in The Netherlands

You’ve found a job and are about to sign your employment contract? Congratulations! The Netherlands offers a high level of protection for employees’ rights and generous employment benefits. Just make sure you clearly understand all the terms of your contract, as well as the most important Dutch and European labour laws they are based on. As these laws are quite complex and comprehensive, here is a short walkthrough.

The first important thing to know is that most contracts of employment are based on collective labour agreements (collectieve arbeidsovereenkomst, or CAO). These are written agreements that cover benefits and working conditions, like maternity and paternity leave, working overtime, childcare, education, pensions, contract termination and other employee benefits. These CAOs have been negotiated between labour unions and employers’ organizations and they apply to specific sections of an industry or a specific corporation at sector level. Its provisions are usually more generous than statutory requirements, but they can never contradict Dutch law. For a CAO to apply to you, it’s not necessary for you to be a member of a union. If no CAO exists for your sector, you’ll need to negotiate your own terms and conditions.

Employment perks
Aside from the rules laid down in the CAO, the amount of money you will earn, the number of vacation days and your benefits package, such as a company car and phone, depend entirely on your contract and negotiating skills. At (in Dutch) you can check the market rates for your particular position. Here you can also calculate your net income after tax and social security deductions. Most employers offer a standard holiday allowance of about 8-10% of your yearly salary, paid out in May, on top of the standard one month of paid leave. Other stipulations, like the Dutch minimum wage and the minimum number of vacation days, and regulations about the notice period, dismissal, equal treatment and health and safety are all regulated by law. Below is a quick overview of the most important rules about working in the Netherlands.

How many holidays?
Aside from the eleven Dutch public holidays, every worker has the right to a minimum of four times the number of hours he/she works per week. For most people that means twenty days off per year, though most employers offer 25 days (weekends excluded). If you don’t take all the vacation days that you are entitled to, you can transfer them to the first six months of the following year. If you still haven’t taken them by then, they will be annulled without compensation or payment. For your vacation days, you are paid the full salary. In some cases, such as a family emergency or bereavement, it’s possible to take extra days off, in exchange for a cut in salary.

If you make more than three times the minimum wage (which is around €21.000 annually for people aged 21 years and over, working full time), your standard holiday allowance can be reduced or annulled altogether. The only exception to this rule is if you were unable to take your vacation days due to sickness or a heavy workload, in which case you can save up your holidays for a total of five years. In any case it’s always best to communicate clearly with your employer about the best time to take a vacation.

Contract length
If your employer offers a fixed-term contract, for example for six months, this contract can only be renewed twice, for a maximum of two years in total. When the fixed-term contract exceeds the period of two years, it automatically becomes a permanent contract for unlimited time. However, a six-month interval between two contracts cancels out these terms, after which you can start over if both you and your employer so desire.

In case of a six-month contract, there can be no trial period. For a short-term fixed contract of less than two years, the trial period may not exceed one month. During the trial period, both the employer and employee have the right to end the employment contract at any time. After this time, the notice time for ending employment is usually one month and sometimes two.

Changes in employment
If you have a permanent contract for an unlimited period, your employment can only be terminated with your consent or, if you do not consent, through the Institute for Employee Insurance (UWV) or in court. Valid reasons for terminating a permanent employment contract are the economic restructuring of the company or a history of unsatisfactory performance by the employee, which in both cases must be well-documented and proven to the UWV or the court. If the employer fires an employee on the spot without good reason (good reasons include fraud, theft or dangerous behaviour), the dismissal can be nullified.

If you are a highly skilled migrant (kennismigrant) and you want to change jobs, you will have to report this to immigration services (IND) within 4 weeks, or risk a penalty. You won’t have to apply for a new residence permit, but your new employer may have to apply for a new work permit. If you worked as highly skilled migrant before, make sure your new employer falls within the highly skilled migrant regulations. If you wish to extend your work permit or residence permit, your personal circumstances will be assessed again. If you’ve worked for three years on the same residence permit, allowing you to work – such as the employee single permit or your partner’s permit –, you are no longer required to have a separate work permit for your new job.

In the Netherlands, every working resident is legally obliged to pay social security contributions. If for some reason you become unemployed after working for a while in the Netherlands, you will be entitled to receive unemployment benefits. If you’ve worked for 26 out of the 36 weeks before the employment contract ended, you will receive 75 percent of your salary for two months, and then 70 percent afterwards, for a total maximum of 24 months. On the website of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment or the UWV you can find more information on Dutch labour practices and unemployment benefits.

European legislation
Expats from the European Union should be aware that, aside from stringent Dutch employee protection laws, freedom of movement is an inviolable right, allowing Europeans to work anywhere in the Union. Other protections that have been enshrined in EU legislation include employees’ equal treatment, wage protection, working hours regulations, safe working conditions minimizing exposure to risks, protection against employment termination, the right to join unions, vocational training, and protection of employees when an employer becomes insolvent. You can find more information on European labour law on