17 March 2020

Coronavirus for employers – shorter working hours allowed

By Godelijn Boonman

The Dutch government announced on March 12, 2020 that companies affected by the consequences of coronavirus (Covid-19) are entitled to apply for a permit for reduced staff working times.

This measure is intended to support businesses during economic disruption from the pandemic.

Companies affected by the coronavirus can now appeal for shorter working time (in Dutch: werktijdverkorting, hereafter WTV).  If this permit is granted, the WTV allows employers to reduce the working time of their employees unilaterally, and through a simplified process.

Update: The WTV scheme has been discontinued with immediate effect and replaced with the NOW scheme.

Eligibility for shorter working hours

An employer is eligible for WTV when an incident of force majeure, such as the coronavirus pandemic, leads to reduced business activity. On the basis that at least 20% less work will be performed over the following 2 to 24 weeks, and that this is the direct result of an exceptional circumstance, the working hours of the employees may be shortened.

Note that WTV only applies to employees to whom you as an employer have an existing obligation to pay wages.

Exceptions to shorter work times

No WTV permit will be granted:

  • If the reduced business activity is expected to last less than 2 weeks.
  • If the reduced business activity is expected to last longer than 24 weeks.
  • If the reduction in business activities is related to a company or industry strike action.
  • For any period prior to the date of the application for WTV.
  • If you are a self-employed professional (zzp-er)
  • For workers on zero-hours contracts, on-call employment contracts and temporary workers via an employment agency (secondment agreement) – all may be excluded from eligibility for WTV.

How to apply for shorter working hours

Employers must apply to reduce their staff’s working hours using the online form “Application reduction in working hours” from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment’s website. As part of the application, you must submit a list of employees. You may also be asked to substantiate that you meet the requirements of the WTV permit.

Each WTV permit is issued for up to 6 weeks, and for a maximum of 24 weeks in total. After the initial 6 weeks, if business is not improved, then you may request an extension to the permit. The extension must be submitted before the end of the initial 6 week period.

Throughout the period of shorter working hours, you as an employer should continue to pay staff salaries as usual.

Unemployment benefits

If the WTV is granted, then the employer must notify the Employee Insurance Agency (UVW) directly. Within the following week, the employer may then apply for unemployment benefits for the employees. If the conditions are met, then the UVW will transfer the unemployment benefits to the employer.

Note that sick employees may not claim unemployment therefore you as employer must continue to pay sick employee’s wages as normal.

The benefits of applying for shorter work times

This measure has been implemented to assist companies in surviving the current unforeseen challenges. The WTV enables companies to retain their staff, so that business can be more easily resumed once the pandemic has passed. It also facilitates the employer’s legal obligation to continue paying staff wages. The impact on employees is also minimised as, while their working hours are reduced, they continue to receive their salary as usual.

As such, the WTV lessens the need for hasty redundancies and helps companies with the cash flow needed to continue paying salaries, while setting the foundation for the best possible business recovery.

Get help you can trust

If you are uncertain if your staff qualifies for WTV, or if you need assistance with the application, or you’re seeking advice about a related employment law topic, please contact us.

 

The above advice is based on current employment law of the Netherlands, and excludes employees working in essential services professions.

Godelijn Boonman

Godelijn Boonman

Lawyer / partner

Godelijn Boonman has focused entirely on employment law for over 20 years, with international employment law playing an increasingly important role in her practice.

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