How to deal with illness?

When is an employee sick?

According to Dutch law, an employee is sick if they cannot perform their work fully, meaning that if there is only a small part of the work they cannot do, they are sick. For example, an employee who works at a gardening store and whose job does not include any heavy lifting except when unloading a truck once every 2 weeks, is sick if he is unable to do any heavy lifting.

What happens when an employee is sick?

An employee calls in sick. Following that, it is up to the employer to notify the company doctor. Only the company doctor can determine whether the employee is actually sick and what they can and cannot do. Confirming illness is not up to the employer. 

The company doctor will also determine whether illness is short-term or long-term. If it is expected to last for more than 4 weeks, we speak of long-term illness. In the case that the employee refuses to see the company doctor to confirm the illness, the employer can suspend their salary payments until they comply with their obligation to visit the company doctor.

Obligations of the employee

During their illness, the employee is obligated to work on his recovery and prohibited from worsening their condition. The employee is also required to cooperate towards their reintegration. This includes performing fitting work and visiting the company doctor.

If the employee is not meeting their obligations, the employer may, after a written warning, stop their salary payments. Eventually, the employer can under circumstances resort to summary dismissal.

Obligations of the employer

The employer should continue paying the sick employee’s salary for at least 70% during the first two years of illness. During the first year of illness, this may not be less than minimum wage. It is common for employers to continue paying 100% of the salary during the 1st year. This may also be required by the collective labour agreement or included in the employment contract. Furthermore, the employer should take measures to re-integrate the employee. 

If after 2 years of illness, the UWV judges that the employer has not taken sufficient measures to re-integrate the employee, they may impose a wage penalty. This means that the obligation to continue paying the sick employee’s salary and the corresponding re-integration obligations may be extended up to a year. 

What is re-integration?

Re-integration means taking measures to help a sick employee return to their own (adjusted) position or to perform another (adjusted) position within the employer’s company or another company. The starting point for re-integration is for the employee to return to their own position. Adjustments may have to be made regarding the workplace, the tasks or the hours. Only if this is not possible, should the employer look for another fitting position within their own company. Under circumstances the employer can be required to offer the employee schooling to make the other position fitting for the employee. For example, a construction worker with a bad back may no longer be able to do any construction work, but may be able to perform a desk job. The employer can offer the employee schooling to make the desk job fitting for the employee. However, maybe the employer does not have any fitting desk jobs available. In that case, the employer may have to start looking at re-integration at another company. This is called the second track (in Dutch: tweede spoor). Generally, the second track is not started before one year of illness, but under circumstances it can be required from the employer to start the second track much earlier than that. 

The following steps should be followed during re-integration.




  1. Problem analysis

After 6 weeks

Company doctor

The company doctor makes an analysis of what is necessary for re-integration. The analysis is sent to both the employer and the employee.

2. Action plan

After 8 weeks

Employer and employee

The employer and employee make an action plan in which they write down which measures they will be taking to help the employee return to their work. This may include all kinds of measures, like adjusting the work or workplace, adjusting the schedule or amount of hours, therapy, education or coaching.

Every 6 weeks

Employer and employee

The employer and employee conduct progress meetings in which they discuss the progress of the re-integration.

3. Reporting the employee as sick to the UWV

After 42 weeks


The employer informs the UWV that the employee is sick.

4. First-year evaluation

After 1 year

Employer and employee

The employer and employee discuss whether they are on the right track to get the employee to return to work. The action plan may have to be adjusted. Maybe second track re-integration needs to be started.

5. Requesting a WIA-benefit

After 91 weeks


The employee requests a WIA-benefit from the UWV.

6. End evaluation

After 2 years

Employer and employee

The employer and employee evaluate the Action plan. 

7. Ending the employment contract

After 2 years


After 2 years the employer can, if no wage penalty is imposed, end the employee’s employment contract. This can either be done by mutual agreement or by termination .

When is re-integration successful?

Re-integration is successful if the employee is performing fitting work with a structural character. The work should be as close to their own position as possible. 

Disagreements concerning illness or re-integration

The re-integration may strand. In that case, both the employer and employee have the option of requesting an expert opinion from the UWV (in Dutch: deskundigenoordeel). 

An expert opinion can be requested to answer the following question:

  • Can the employee fully perform their own position?
  • Has the employee or employer taken sufficient efforts towards re-integration?
  • Is the adjusted or other work fitting?
  • Can the employee’s sickness absenteeism decrease within the coming 26 weeks if their work is adjusted or they are offered other fitting work?

Issues for foreign employers or expats

Dutch employment law gets exceptionally complicated if it comes to sick employees, making it easy to get lost in all the rules and obligations. At Wessel Van der Lans Advocaten we can help advice you during the process.