1. What options do employers have and/or what are you seeing in terms of re-opening the workplace e.g. phased returns, rotating shifts, staggered working hours, etc.?
Currently, the Dutch government still strongly advises to work from home as much as possible. An employer must comply with and facilitate this as much as possible.
The Dutch government has announced that businesses should prepare for a so-called “1.5 meter economy.”
- Employers should make arrangements to comply with social distancing and health and safety obligations. Some of the phased return options that employers could consider are the following: Office/team rotation: employees are split into two or more groups, where one group works at the office and the other group works from home, on a rotating basis.
- Staggered start and finish times, to minimise congestion on public transport and increase space in the workplace.
- Staggered returns to work, with employees being brought back in phases, with those who are unable to work from home coming back first.
- Geographical-based openings, with workplaces opening in low-risk areas first, followed by sites in more densely populated areas where employees are more reliant on public transport.
- If a company opts for a phased return to the workplace, it will need to ensure that the way in which employees are selected to return to the workplace does not raise any discrimination issues.
Spreading working hours is strongly advised by the Dutch government. This means that employers may adjust an employee’s working hours, subject to the consent of the employee.
In some sectors, protocols are put in place, which should be followed by employers to ensure they comply the Dutch Working Conditions Act.
2. Does an employer have to give notice to employees to return to the workplace?
Yes. There is no legal notice period included in Dutch law, but we think a notice of at least a few days is reasonable. This gives employees time to arrange things at home (e.g. organising childcare).
3. Is an employer obliged to consult with employees/representatives about the return to work process?
In general, we advise informing the works council or another employee representative body on the decision to let employees return to work. Depending on the temporary or more permanent nature of the measures, the works council’s consent may be needed.
4. Are there any requirements or recommendations for employees to wear or employers to provide masks or other protective equipment in the workplace?
Employers are obliged to ensure their employees’ health and safety at work and are obliged to provide for a safe workplace.
This means an employer must take all necessary measures to reduce the risk of contamination at the workplace.
Employers are, for example, required to purchase hand soap, disinfectant, paper towels and offer them at the workplace to provide a safe working environment.
Employers are allowed to require employees to wear masks or other protective equipment when at the workplace, but this is not mandated or recommended by the government (unless employees work in the medical sector).
Protective masks (non-medical) are required on public transport from as 1 June 2020.
5. When can business travel resume and what are the key considerations for employers?
As of 15 June 2020, Dutch citizens are no longer discouraged from flying to other countries in the EU/Schengen zone and to the Caribbean part of the Netherlands. The travel advice for these areas is adjusted from code orange (trips not recommended) to code yellow (trips possible, but take the risks of the specific country into account). If countries still have code orange, business travellers are advised to carefully consider whether a business trip is really necessary at this time.
Employers will also need to take into account that as of 17 April 2020, everyone flying to the Netherlands from a high-risk area must present a form, confirming that they are healthy. Only passengers who have completed the form will be allowed to board. Everyone arriving in the Netherlands from a high-risk area is also strongly advised to self-quarantine for 14 days.
6. If schools remain closed, can working parents continue to work from home?
Day cares, primary and secondary schools are fully open again. In the meanwhile, all employees are still strongly advised by the Dutch government to work from home where possible. So yes, working parents can continue to work from home, if possible.