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Netherlands – Court rules on employer liability for independent contractors

28 March 2012

The Supreme Court (Hoge Raad) in the Netherlands has ruled in a recent case that an employer who had hired an independent or self-employed contractor (referred to as a ZZP’er in the Netherlands) is liable for their safety, as the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant reports.

This comes after a court ruling in 2005 where an independent contractor had a severe accident at work which resulted in his partial leg amputation. Because the said contractor had no insurance, he held the company that had hired him responsible for his accident. Back then, however, the company refused to admit liability and the Court decided that the employer was not liable.

But the recent decision now overturns this prior ruling. In the future it could hold employers responsible for ensuring the correct health and safety measurements are in place for not only full-time employees, but also for independent contractors. If an employee can prove that their accident happened at work, the employer would then have to demonstrate that they have not broken any safety regulations that could have averted an accident. 

This decision is expected to affect particularly construction workers who are often working as independent contractors. There around 800,000 self-employed people in the Netherlands.

The employers’ organisation VNO-NCW has challenged the decision by the Supreme Court, arguing that independent contractors are in effect entrepreneurs because they are self-employed. Some employers have also said that the decision was “premature” and is likely to cause upset amongst the business community in the Netherlands.   

A spokesman of VNO-NCW also told Staffing Industry Analysts that it was too early to say what impact this court decision will have but said it was important to recognise. He doubted it would become general practice in the Netherlands but emphasised that if an independent contractor has been put in a life-threatening situation due to negligence on the employer’s part, the Court’s decision is certainly justified. 

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