Not complying with the directives set by the RIVM (the Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment) to curb the spread of the coronavirus cost an employer a lot of money. The judge ruled the employer in question had committed a severe culpable act and was therefore forced to lighten his wallet on financial compensation.
After the coronavirus pandemic had hit the Netherlands, a discussion arose between an employee and the employer about observing the directives set by the RIVM at work. The employer argued the coronavirus was ‘just a case of flu’ and therefore it was not necessary for employees which COVID-19 symptoms to go into quarantine. The employee was concerned about the risk this posed to his health. He left a department dinner with colleagues prematurely because social distancing was impossible. Soon after, he was told he would only be paid a bonus of €2,000 instead of the regular € 20,000. The employee then called in sick.
The occupational health physician established that the employee was not unable to work for medical reasons, but that he did need to take some rest. The employer responded by suspending the payment of wages and appealed to the judge to dissolve the employment contract on grounds of culpability on the part of the employee and a disrupted employment relationship. The judge acknowledged that the employment relationship had been disrupted. However, the judge also ruled that the employer had acted carelessly and neglectfully with respect to the coronavirus directives and had not taken constructive action. As a result, the employer was forced to pay, among other things, a large sum in financial compensation to the employee. In the end, the total costs for the employer were over € 200,000!
Court of Midden-Nederland, March 15, 2021; ECLI (abridged): 1170