Know Your Rights if You Were Fired for Being Sick
Europe has strong labor laws in place that protect the rights of employees, including employees who have fallen ill. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, it is possible that you have been fired from your job because you were sick and unable to work. If this is the case, you need to understand your rights as an employee and know what protections are afforded to you under European labor laws. For instance, as an employee, you have the right to call in sick to work if you are ill. For reasons of privacy, you are not obligated to give your employer any details about your illness, although your employer may ask when you expect to return to work. During the period of illness, up to two years, you are still entitled to receive a percentage of your wages and, in most cases, the law says that you cannot be dismissed during this time.
Sick Leave in the Netherlands
Employees in the Netherlands who are ill and unable to work are entitled to at least 70% of their previous salary and holiday allowance during the period of illness, for a maximum duration of 104 weeks. In some cases, employees may be entitled to a higher percentage of their salary, if the employment contract or collective labor agreement includes such provisions. Employers in the Netherlands are required to report sick leave and recovery to the company doctor or health and safety agency within four working days of being notified by the employee. In some cases, employers are required to register their employees as sick with the Dutch Employee Insurance Agency (Uitvoeringsinstituut Werknemersverzekeringen or UWV). This is the case if:
- The employee is sick for 42 weeks,
- The employment contract ends during the period of sickness, or
- The employee is eligible for benefits under the Sickness Benefits Act.
Employers Dismissing Sick Employees
Dutch labor laws prohibit employers from dismissing sick employees in most cases. However, there are certain situations in which your employer can dismiss you while you are sick, including:
- During a trial period,
- If the company is facing bankruptcy, or
- If the company shuts down entirely.
Unless these circumstances apply, employers are generally barred from dismissing employees who are sick. If you are sick and unable to work, you are only entitled to receive salary payments for a maximum period of 104 weeks, or two years. After two years of sickness or disability, you may qualify for benefits pursuant to the Work and Income (Capacity for Work) Act (Wet werk en inkomen naar arbeidsvermogen, or WIA). At that time, your employer has the right to dissolve the employment contract, with the permission of the UWV, and you are entitled to receive transition pay, which must be paid within one month of dismissal.
Reintegration and Insufficient Cooperation
During the period that you are sick, your employer is required to take every possible measure to ensure that you return to work as quickly as possible in a responsible manner. If you are still unable to work after two years and your employer has not done enough for your reintegration, or your return to work after a period of disability, the UWV may impose a fine. In this situation, your employer will be barred from dismissing you and will be required to pay your wages for another year. However, if your employer consults with you about returning to work and you do not cooperate sufficiently, your employer may have the option of temporarily discontinuing the payment of wages during this time. Insufficient cooperation may even serve as grounds for dismissal in some cases.
Transition Compensation Fee Scheme
Effective April 1, 2020, employers in the Netherlands can now apply for reimbursement of transition compensation paid out to employees whose employment contract was terminated with permission from the UWV or by a termination settlement agreement due to long-term illness. The Transition Compensation Fee Scheme applies retroactively to dismissals dating back to July 1, 2015, is financed from the General Unemployment Fund (GUF), to which employers contribute, and is capped at the amount of the transition payment as calculated following the two-year period of illness. If the transition payment is higher for some reason, i.e. because the employment contract is terminated after three or more years of disability, the additional transition fee will not be compensated.
Your Right to Appeal a Dismissal
Under Dutch labor law, an employer who wishes to terminate an employee’s employment contract must request permission from the UWV or the County Court prior to the dismissal. If the UWV grants the termination of your employment contract or the County Court rules that the contract should be dissolved, you are entitled to severance pay, or a transition payment. If you disagree with the termination of your employment contract, you also have the right to appeal the UWV or Court’s decision.
In addition to prohibiting employers from dismissing employees who are sick, Dutch labor laws also protect employees against dismissal for the following reasons, known as prohibition conditions:
- During maternity leave
- If the employee is a member of the works council
- Because the employee joined a trade union
- Because the employer’s company is being taken over
- Because of the employee’s religion or political affiliation
If your employment contract is terminated and you believe the dismissal violates one or more of these prohibition conditions, you have two months to ask the court to void the dismissal or order your employer to pay proper compensation.
Challenging Your Dismissal or Receiving Your Transition Fee
Any type of dismissal from employment can be challenged by the dismissed employee in court. If your employment contract was terminated because you were sick and your employer’s company is not facing bankruptcy or shutting down entirely, you will likely be entitled to transition compensation or a severance payment. Our transition pay experts can contact your employer on your behalf and help you recover the compensation you deserve upon dismissal or discharge from employment.