Q&A Coronavirus and human resources issues

We all have to deal with the social and economic consequences of the coronavirus. After the shutdown of the schools earlier this week, on 17 March 2020 the Dutch government came up with a substantial emergency package for organisations and their employees. We receive a lot of questions from our clients, in which we would like to support you as much as possible.

Below you will find the most frequently asked questions:

WHAT KIND OF (SPECIAL) LEAVE OPTIONS DO WE HAVE WITH REGARDS TO EMPLOYEES IN ORDER TO ARRANGE CHILDCARE

For working parent(s) last Monday (16 March 2020) can be marked as emergency leave so they could take care of arranging childcare. By law the employee is entitled to paid leave for a short period of time, to be calculated in an equitable manner. Whether an employee can claim emergency leave for last Tuesday (17 March 2020) depends on the individual situation. If the employee subsequently needs a longer period of time to arrange childcare, a request for annual leave has to be made. Or, in consultation with the employer, unpaid leave can be agreed upon.

In addition to the possibilities mentioned above, employer and employee can make other arrangements by mutual agreement. These should, of course, not be in conflict with the law and regulations.

WHAT ARE THE POSSIBILITES IF THE EMPLOYEE HAS TO TAKE CARE OF A SICK CHILD OR A CHILD WHO HAS A COLD?

In case the child is sick, or needs to be kept at home in accordance with RIVM guidelines, it is possible to claim short-term care leave for a maximum period of 2 weeks. In that case, 70% of the salary will continue to be paid, unless the collective labor agreement (CLA) prescribes otherwise.

WHAT IF THE WORK INCREASES AND THE EMPLOYER WANTS TO WITHDRAW SCHEDULED ANNUAL LEAVE?

This is a possibility, but only if there are important reasons for the employer to take this measure. There really must then be insufficient capacity and it must not be possible to deal with this in any other way (for example hiring extra staff). If the annual leave is withdrawn, the employer will have to reimburse the employee for the costs of, for example, a booked trip.

WHAT IF THE EMPLOYEE WITHDRAWS SCHEDULED ANNUAL LEAVE AND WANTS TO COME TO WORK, DOES THE EMPLOYER HAVE TO AGREE WITH THIS?

The employer is not obliged to cooperate with this. The law only provides in situations that the employer can withdraw the annual leave for important reasons. If there is sufficient work, the employer can, for the sake of being a good employer, let the employee come to work and have the planned annual leave withdrawn.

HOW TO ENSURE A SAFE WORKPLACE AS AN EMPLOYER?

As an employer, you are required to provide a healthy and safe workplace/work environment. This also applies to the workplace at home. Based on the right to instruct employees, the employer may oblige his employees to follow certain hygiene measures, to work at home or to postpone/cancel a business trip. Employees must follow such instructions.

WHAT IF MY EMPLOYEES CAN’T WORK FROM HOME OR CAN’T COME TO WORK ON LOCATION

If it is not possible to have employees work from home, then as an employer you are obliged to take measures and create a workplace that is as safe as possible. Give your employees instructions and information about health and safety at the workplace and facilitate this as an employer as much as possible. Examples are: extra hygiene measures, rules regarding distance from each other and how to deal with external ((customer) contact).

If your employees work at an external location and are no longer able to come back here as a result of coronavirus measures and are therefore unable to do their work, read on to the following point for more information about the possibilities offered by the government for compensation.

Work to work voucher 

DOORZAAM is the new foundation where STAF (Stichting Arbo Flexbranche) and STOOF (Stichting voor Opleiding en Ontwikkeling Flexbranche) have merged. They provide "From work to work" vouchers with a value of €500. These vouchers are for temporary workers who lost their job due to the corona crisis. The voucher can be used for a course, training, but also for training on the job, induction period or on-boarding at the hiring organisation or regular employer. Per large organisation you can apply for 100 work to work vouchers and per SME organisation you can apply for 50 from work to work vouchers. Only those organisations take pay contribution to the SFU may apply for these vouchers.

COMPENSATION SCHEME FOR AFFECTED SECTORS

Entrepreneurs / employers in the sectors that are hit hardest by the coronavirus measures will be able to apply for a compensation scheme. The hospitality and beauty salons for example that are forced to cease most of their activities. The one-time set compensation amounts € 4,000.- for a period of 3 months. The conditions for the compensation scheme are currently being worked out and will be updated if necessary. A list will be made available of all the sectors that can apply.

WHICH GOVERNMENT MEASURES CAN I USE AS AN EMPLOYER? EMERGENCY FUND ‘NOODFONDS OVERBRUGGING WERKGELEGENHEID (NOW)’

As an employer, you may have less work for your employees because, for example, the supply of products stagnates. It depends on the employment contracts and the conditions included in them whether you can send your employees home if there is no work or less work.

As announced in the government press conference of 17 March 2020, it is no longer possible to submit new applications for the reduction in working hours. Due to the number of applications received by the government, it was decided to introduce a new temporary measure, an emergency fund called ‘Noodfonds Overbrugging Werkgelegenheid (NOW)’. The way in which an application for this regulation must be made is still subject to consultation with the UWV and the government.

Main aspects of this new regulation:

  • The new regulation is separate from the short-time working exemption and the Unemployment Act (in Dutch: Werkloosheidswet);
  • As an employer, you can apply for a substantial contribution towards the wage costs and receive an advance payment for this from the UWV;
  • This allows employees with a fixed and a flexible contract to continue to be paid as usual;
  • Employees should continue to receive their full salary, not just the part paid by the government;
  • This regulation also applies to temporary workers, flex workers and employees for who it is not compulsory to continue to pay wages;
  • The compensation can be requested for 3 months with the possibility of extension for another 3 months;

Conditions:

  • With this application you commit yourself as an employer in advance to the obligation not to apply for dismissal for economic reasons for your employees during the period for which the compensation is received.
  • As an applicant you expect at least 20% loss of turnover.
  • Application is valid for a period of 3 months and can be extended once for another 3 months (other conditions may apply).
  • Regulation covers decreases in turnover as from 1 March 2020.
  • The amount of the contribution to the costs depends on the drop in turnover, up to 90% of the wage sum. Examples of how the relationship between the drop in turnover and the amount of the allowance works:
    • If 100% of the turnover is lost, the compensation amounts to 90% of the wage sum of an employer;
    • If 50% of the turnover is lost, the compensation amounts to 45% of the wage sum of an employer;
    • If 25% of the turnover is lost, the contribution is 22.5% of the wage sum of the employer;
    • On the basis of your application, the UWV will provide an advance payment equal to 80% of the expected compensation;
    • Afterwards, the actual decrease in turnover will be determined;
    • An auditor's report is required for applications over and above an amount to be determined;
    • An adjustment will be made when the compensation is definitively determined if there has been a reduction in the wage sum (this may lead to the obligation to reimburse);

One of the most important conditions for applying for the NOW is that, as an employer, you may not apply for dismissal on the grounds of business economic reasons for employees during the period that you receive the benefit from the UWV. In addition, in principle you will receive an allowance from the UWV for three months; this period can be extended once by three months.

Our (payroll) specialists can, of course, tell you more about the exact requirements for the NOW. As soon as it is known how the applications can be submitted, we can of course also assist you with this.

WHAT ABOUT CONTINUED PAYMENT OF EMPLOYEE’S WAGES?

In the case of sickness due to the coronavirus, the employee will receive his/her salary in accordance with the agreements in the employment contract or collective labour agreement. If an employee is not sick, but is unable to work due to, for example, a mandatory quarantine or an entry ban, the employer must continue to pay the full salary during that period.

If you as an employer decide to send employees home as a preventive measure, the employer must continue to pay the wages.

IN WHICH SITUATIONS IS MY EMPLOYEE NOT ENTITLED TO RECEIVE SALARY?

If an employee stays at home on his or her own initiative, for example for fear of infection with the coronavirus or to take care of the children, he or she must take annual leave. If an employee does not come to work without a valid reason, this may under certain circumstances be regarded as a rejection of work, in which case the employer may impose a wage penalty as a means of exerting pressure, but only after the employee has been warned in writing. Of course, we recommend that you talk to your employees, show understanding for their concerns and come to good agreements together.

WHAT ARE THE POSSIBILITIES WITH REGARD TO EXPIRING TEMPORARY EMPLOYMENT AGREEMENTS?

The employer is free to not extend temporary contracts or to dismiss the employee during the probationary period. Of course, the conditions for a valid probationary period remain the same. 

Under certain circumstances, the probationary period clause can also be invoked before the employment contract has started (if this does not constitute a misuse of authority). The decrease in the amount of work due to the coronavirus could be a reason to invoke the probationary period clause. This may be different if the employee can prove that the employer could have known in advance that the work would decrease to this extent.

Dismissal by means of the probation clause must be done carefully. It is therefore advisable to seek advice from your Mazars contact person.

With regard to temporary contracts and the NOW: to the best of our knowledge, it is not a condition for the NOW not to extend temporary contracts before you can apply for the NOW.

I HAVE ALREADY MADE MY EMPLOYEE AN OFFER FOR THE RENEWAL OF THE CONTRACT, CAN I WITHDRAW THIS OFFER?

The moment at which the employer communicates to the employee that the temporary employment contract is being extended is considered as an offer to continue the employment contract. The moment at which the employee accepts the offer leads to the conclusion of a new employment contract. In this situation, the principle is that the employer cannot unilaterally withdraw this offer. Of course, the employer can consult with the employee and together decide not to continue the employment contract.

If the employee has not yet responded to the offer and the employer has not set a period within which the employee must respond to the offer, the employer may withdraw the offer. If a period has been set (for example 7 days), the offer cannot be withdrawn within this period.

DOES THE ADDITIONAL USE OF EMPLOYEES AFFECT THE WW PREMIUM?

The measure, which exists since 1 January 2020 for a high WW premium for flexible contracts, will be adjusted. Employers will not be confronted with the high WW premium afterwards if they initially applied the low WW premium, but after the end of the year it turns out that they worked more than 30% of the number of hours agreed in the contract. Because this provision can now lead to unintended effects in industries causing the coronavirus to require a lot of extra overtime (for example healthcare), this regulation will be adjusted.

Employers will also have more time (until 30 June 2020) to prepare a permanent employment contract in writing; this is necessary in view of the new rules of the Wab (Balanced Labour Market Act) in order to be able to apply the low WW premium. This period was first set on 31 March 2020 and is now extended by three months.

These measures are now being further elaborated.

Want to know more?

Does this not fully answer your question or do you want to discuss your specific situation? Please contact the specialists of Mazars HR services or send your question to hrdienstverlening@mazars.nl

Please note that this page is regularly updated with recent information and frequently asked questions.

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Your challenges during the coronacrisis

These are special times where we face major challenges. The impact of the coronavirus is significant and the situation is constantly changing. We will inform you about new developments and measures and are of course at your disposal to support you where necessary with your current challenges. Do you have questions? Please contact your trusted Mazars adviser or use the contact form.