The outbreak of COVID-19 emergency in the Netherlands and subsequent measures taken by the Dutch Government and public authorities raise several challenging issues for employers. This insight includes questions and answers on how to handle the emergency from the employment law perspective.

Q: What kind of measures, relevant for you as an employer, does the Dutch government have in place?  
A: On Sunday 15 March 2020, The Dutch government have put new measures in place to limit the spread of COVID.

  • Schools and nurseries close until (at least) Monday 6 April 2020;
  • Cafes, restaurants and bars (not hotels), sports and fitness clubs are closed until (at least) Monday 6 April 2020;
  • Parents working in crucial professions (such as healthcare, police, public transport and food chain) can make use of childcare in school and nurseries, to make sure they can continue to work. There are no      extra costs related to this childcare;
  • All food and beverage outlets are closed from Sunday 15 March 2020 6:00 PM to (at least) Monday 6 April 2020.
  • Everyone is asked to keep a distance of 1.5 meters from each other where possible.
The government strongly advises to:

  • Cancel events or close locations where more than 100 people gather;
  • Stay at home and avoid social interaction in case people suffer (light) symptoms that could be a COVID-19 infection, i.e. nose colds, coughing & fever or have travelled to a high-risk country;
  • Work from home or spread the working hours;
  • Avoid large gatherings.
For healthcare personnel and personnel in vital business processes, the following guidelines apply:
  • Do not stay home unless employees suffer from symptoms and a fever. Employers should consult with their employees on whether these employees should come to work.
These measures are in place until (at least) Monday 6 April 2020.
Q: What obligations do you have as an employer with regard to the COVID-19 outbreak?
A: As an employer, you have the obligation to provide and ensure a safe and healthy workspace. Measures to be taken to provide a safe and healthy workspace could include the following:
  • Avoid large groups, for example, by using extra caution during meetings (e.g. limit amount of physical meetings) or consider introducing flexible lunch times;
  • Facilitate working from home;
If an employee has visited an affected area and/or suffers from symptoms, the general advice is to:
  • Allow the employee to self-isolate;
  • Limit contact with other persons;
  • Advise the employee to contact a doctor by phone.
In addition, it is advisable to draw the employees' and visitor's attention to the general recommendations of the Dutch government:
  • Stop shaking hands;
  • Wash hands regularly;
  • Cough and sneeze in the inside of the elbow;
  • Use paper tissues.
Q: Can you adjust the employment terms in the event of operational difficulties?
A: You could consider:
  • Requiring employees to work from home as much as possible;
  • Dividing employees in different workgroups, limit contact between them and protect business operations.
If the activities of the company are strongly affected by COVID-19, employers can apply for a permit for a reduction in working time (werktijdverkorting) at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment. This means that employees will temporarily work reduced time. Employees can receive a temporary unemployment benefit for the hours not worked, while they remain fully employed by the Employer. The permit is valid for a period of maximum 6 weeks and can be extended for a maximum total period of 24 weeks.

Employers must meet the following conditions:

  • The company has been affected by a situation that does not fall under the normal business risks (such as COVID-19);
  • It is expected that during a period of 2 to 24 weeks sales are at least 20% lower than normal due to the effects of COVID-19 and the measures taken.
Q: What do you have to do if one of your employees is diagnosed with COVID-19?
A: In the event that an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, the Municipal Health Service (GGD) will start a contact investigation and a protocol will enter into force, with certain measures to be taken by the company. The GGD/government will advise on measures to be taken. Closing the workspace could be one of those measures.

If an employee has visited an affected area and/or suffers from symptoms, the general advice is to:

  • Let the employee stay at, and work from, home;
  • Limit contact with other persons;
  • Advise the employee to contact a doctor by phone.
Q: Are you allowed keep a register of COVID-19 infected employees?
A: No. Keeping a register of COVID-19 infected employees regards the processing of health data. Employers cannot rely on an exemption to the prohibition to process this special category of information.
Q: Are you allowed to communicate to the workforce if an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19?
A: This depends on the circumstances of the case. You may communicate the fact that an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19. However, you may not communicate who the diagnosed employee is; so one should be careful in situations which might make it obvious who the employee diagnosed with COVID-19 is.
Q: Are you allowed to take employees' temperature, e.g. by means of an infrared thermometer?
A: No. The Dutch Data Protection Authority takes a strict stance on the measuring of employees' temperature by such means, even if you are not recording the outcome.

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The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.