It is possible for Dutch employees to apply for several months of unpaid leave. However, the shortage in the labour market and the aftermath of COVID-19 raise the question of whether employees can actually still go on sabbatical. Ruben Houweling, Professor of Labour Law at Erasmus School of Law, explains it to NU.nl.
Employees in the Netherlands can claim all kinds of paid and unpaid leave rules, provided they meet the conditions. Nevertheless, employees do not have the legal right to demand unpaid leave from their employer. “Some collective agreements do include sabbatical leave rules”, Houweling begins. “This mostly concerns people with higher positions who work, so to speak, 24 hours a day and for whom it is therefore wise to ‘check out’ for a certain time period. As a fact, these sabbaticals are often paid for.”.
Employers’ association AWVN indicates that the demand for sabbaticals has not increased. This is partly due to the fact that employees must be able to afford unpaid leave.
An employer can always refuse a request for unpaid leave on the grounds of compelling business interests. Houweling points out that this is mainly a matter of giving and taking: “An employee can do a very reasonable proposal to its employer for a few months off and the employer can also benefit from this. Of course, it must be possible to hand over their work to others (like temporary workers). A sabbatical can add to a more durable employability and could prevent absenteeism. If an employee, say, after two years of corona and an enormously high workload, stretched thin, it might be time to go to the company doctor instead of taking a sabbatical”.
In extreme cases, not granting unpaid leave can result in a labour dispute between employee and employer. “That is the moment when you, as an employee, really have to call it quits”, warns Houweling. “In the worst-case scenario, it could lead to a forced dismissal.”