Dutch Equal Treatment Act (in Dutch: Algemene wet gelijke behandeling), discrimination on the following grounds is explicitly prohibited: religion, personal beliefs, political opinion, race, sex, nationality, hetero- or homosexual orientation and civil status. In addition, in specific employment laws, discrimination on the following grounds is explicitly prohibited: age, sex, handicap and chronic disease, temporary/permanent employment contracts and working hours (part-time/full-time).
Extent of Protection
In principle, discrimination directly based on the grounds mentioned above is never permitted, except for certain situations in which discrimination is explicitly allowed by law.
The discrimination laws also cover indirect discrimination. Indirect discrimination occurs when a neutral behaviour (e.g. a policy or practice) results in discrimination based on one of the grounds mentioned above.
Indirect discrimination – and direct discrimination with respect to age, temporary/permanent employment contracts and working hours – can be justified if objectively necessary to achieve a legitimate aim and proportionate to the aim sought.
Agreements between employers and employees contrary to discrimination laws can be void or voidable. The employee can also hold the employer liable for damages resulting from discriminating behaviour of the employer.
Protections Against Harassment
The Dutch Equal Treatment Act prohibits harassment and sexual harassment. The Working Conditions Act contains an obligation for employers to prevent harassment from occurring at the workplace. If the employer fails to do so, administrative fines can be given, and the employer can be held liable for damages resulting from discriminating behaviour of the employer.
Employer’s Obligation to Provide Reasonable Accommodations
The Dutch government encourages companies to hire disabled persons. As an incentive the government may grant financial benefits. An employer is responsible for all the employees. If an employee is disabled, his/her workplace should still be safe and accessible. The employer is responsible for this. If the workplace needs to be adapted, the employer can ask the Work Placement Branch of the Employee Insurance Agency for financial compensation to establish this.
All employees should be able to fulfil their religious duties. The employer cannot interfere with this, until a certain point. For example, the employer is not obligated to set up a prayer room for his/her employees. There are no specific laws about this subject in the Netherlands.
In employment relationships in the Netherlands, discrimination claims are not that prominent. In practice, the employer and employee as well as Dutch Courts tend to search for reasonable, pragmatic and practical solutions.
An employee can ask the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (in Dutch: College voor de Rechten van de Mens) for an opinion about discrimination. The Institute can give a (non-binding) opinion and advice, but the Institute will not award a financial compensation. An employee is not obliged to ask an opinion of the Institute before going to Court. The Court is not obliged to follow the opinion of the Institute, but the opinion of the Institute can play an important role because of the expertise of the Institute.