Dutch businesses get creative as worker leave piles up

As the Covid-19 public health crisis puts vacation plans on hold for a majority of Dutch workers, many companies are finding their employees' holiday hours have piled up. According to a report by broadcaster NOS, companies are adapting to the challenge in a variety of ways, ranging from mandating that holidays are taken before a certain date, to making holidays more attractive.

The latter is the case for employees at the national telecom giant KPN. There, workers who took their days off between April 1 and June 1 got more bang for their buck from their employers, with every six hours of leave on paper translating to eight hours being afforded in reality. The scheme was aimed primarily at new parents, for whom a full day's leave was registered as only four hours.

According to NOS, the scheme has proven successful, with a rise in the number of KPN employees taking leave over the two month period.

KPN's approach is by no means the norm among dutch companies, however. At ABN Amro, for example, employees have been asked to use up any leave days they have left before July 1 this year, while at ING, employees have been barred from reversing leave days they had previously booked. Moreover, ING employees have been asked to take off at least five of their leave days before June 15, according to NOS.

Concerning the banks, employment lawyer Hermine Voûte told NOS that the approach that they have chosen is becoming increasingly prevalent. "You see this moral appeal more often now. My experience is that most people obey this. Holiday also has a 'recuperation function', it is meant to recover. That also applies now," she said.

In the Netherlands, employees have the upper hand when it comes to planning a holiday. According to Dutch law, workers are entitled to indicate which days he or she would like to take off, and their employer is only legally permitted to refuse the request if there is a serious reason for doing so.

"If a company wants to encourage leave, a boss cannot do it alone. You must consult with the union or works council and take into account employment contracts and collective agreements," explained a spokesperson from the employer's association AWVN to the public broadcaster.

Despite this, some corporations appear to be pushing the envelope when it comes to mandating that their employees take off a certain period of time on leave. "I have never seen anything like it. In principle, the employee decides when he or she will take a holiday. But these are different times and the rules are being stretched," said Voûte.