Softworks Blog

Sickness Absenteeism at an all-time low in the Netherlands

Posted by Mairead Walsh on Thu, Oct 13, 2011

Absenteeism in the Netherlands has fallen to an all-time low of 4%. During the 1960 and 1970s Absenteeism rose steadily, driven by legislation that made it attractive for employees to take long-term sick leave.  Changes in legislation on absenteeism and disability appear to be the driving force behind the falling rates since the 1980s.  Dutch employers have also become more active in encouraging workers to return to work.


In the Netherlands the absenteeism rate fluctuated strongly with the development of social security legislation for employees, rising for 20 years and then dropping back since the 1980s. In 1929 the Sickness Absenteeism Law came into force, insuring all employees against the financial consequences of sickness. In 1967, the law was supplemented by the Law on Disability, which stated that after one year of sick leave employees would receive a disability benefit equivalent to 80% of their last earned income. This combination of laws appeared to be easy for employers to abuse, using them as a way to dismiss employees, and so between 1967 and 1978 absenteeism rose to 10%

In the early 1980s disability benefit was reduced from 80% to 70% of an employee’s last earned income. Some years later the automatic transition, after a year of partial disability supplemented by a partial unemployment benefit, to a full disability pension was dropped and becoming disabled became considerably less profitable. Employers also began to intervene to prevent absenteeism. This resulted in a drop in the absence rate to around 7% in the 1980s, but the Dutch government felt this was still too high.

Sickness absence policy changed between 1992 and 2004. Employers were now obliged to pay wages during an employee’s sick leave. In 1994 this was for two to six weeks, and by 2004 had culminated in a requirement to pay for up to two years’ of sickness absence. Workers without an employer were granted benefit for two years under the Sickness Benefit Act. Furthermore according to the provisions of the health and safety law and the 2002 Gatekeeper Improvement Act, employers are obliged to pursue an active absenteeism management policy, including the offer of counselling. The employer has to ask a certified company doctor or occupational health physician or the official Occupational Health Service for advice.

Employees have to actively cooperate with their employer and make an effort to resume work as soon as possible. They are encouraged to resume part-time work.

According to figures from Statistics Netherlands, the absenteeism rate in 1990 was 8%. In 2000 it had fallen to 5.6%. In 2004, the absenteeism rate showed a further decline to 4.3% and has remained relatively stable since. The current rate is 4.2%

For the full article published on the European Working Conditions Observatory website go to

Topics: Absenteeism