12 August 2019

When to call a lawyer about work

By Godelijn Boonman

As an employee, you may be confronted with an unpleasant situation at work, such as a conflict, demotion or change in your employment conditions.

In such circumstances, it can be difficult to know how to respond. As an expat in another country this can be even more difficult, as you may be unsure of your rights in the workplace, or the obligations of your employer.

This post was reviewed and updated on 13 July 2020

When in doubt, we advise contacting a lawyer for expert guidance and support. But what justifies involving a lawyer? Below are four situations when you would be wise to call a lawyer about your work.

Non-competition clause and (client) relations clause

When you sign an employment contract, it will often include a non-competition clause. This clause means that you are not allowed to work for a company that competes with your employer’s company for a certain length of time after the employment contract has ended. Your employment contract may also include a relations (or client relations) clause. This clause prohibits you from maintaining contact with your employer’s clients after the end of your employment.

The employer is within their rights to include such clauses in your contract in order to protect their company and prevent you from sharing valuable knowledge or relationships with the competition when your employment ends.

If you have signed the contract, the non-competition clause is generally valid – but not always. For various reasons this clause can be at least partly invalid.

If you are unsure about whether your non-competition clause is reasonable, or if your non-competition clause is preventing you from working at another company, call a lawyer to check if the clause is valid.

Possible demotion

The prospect of a potential demotion is one of the most trying situations you may have to deal with at work. Demotion is the opposite of promotion. When you are promoted you are given a higher function, but when you are demoted you are given a lower function. You may face demotion, for example, due to poor performance or because of a reorganisation in the workplace.

However, an employer is not allowed to just demote an employee unilaterally. They must meet certain criteria before they can do so.

If you do not know if the demotion proposed by your employer fits these criteria (or you do not know about these criteria), call a lawyer. A lawyer can advise you if the proposition is fair and legal, helping you to make a better decision on how to proceed.

Employment conditions

Your employment contract states the conditions under which you agree to work as an employee. These conditions include your salary and working hours. Your employer is obliged to adhere to these employment conditions.

If your employer does not abide by the employment conditions, and you cannot reach an agreement with them, call a lawyer. Likewise, if your employer wants to change your employment conditions, such as your salary or working hours, get legal advice. In principle, an employer cannot change the employment conditions unilaterally.

Performance improvement

It’s also time to call a lawyer if your employer informs you that they are not happy with your performance and they want to start a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). A PIP is a formal document that outlines specific, recurring issues with your performance, a timeframe in which you need to improve these points, and the goals you’ll need to meet.

While a PIP can be used to help an employee succeed, it can also be used for demotion or dismissal. As such, it is a signal that your employment may be at risk.

A lawyer can help you to understand the consequences of a PIP, your rights within the process and the steps that your employer must take before dismissal is possible.


Call a lawyer on time. This means that if you have been offered a new employment contract, before signing, get a lawyer to check it, so that clauses such as non-compete can be removed. Likewise, in the event of an announced possible demotion, a substantial change in employment conditions, when confronted with a performance improvement plan, or if dismissal is imminent, call a lawyer as soon as possible.

Get help you can trust

If you are facing one of the situations discussed in this article, or you have another question about employment law in the Netherlands, please contact us. Our team of experts can help you work it out.

More information? Get the whitepaper

In a new whitepaper, Godelijn Boonman gives more concrete examples of when to call a lawyer about work, from starting a new job to dealing with trouble at work and losing your job.

Learn more and get this free resource: When to call a lawyer about work whitepaper


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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