A discipline in its own right
The relationship between a public-sector employee (i.e. a civil servant or ambtenaar in Dutch) and his or her employer is a special one in law. A public-sector employee is someone who is employed by a government employer and this affects their legal status. For example, civil servants are expected to uphold high standards of ethical conduct, both during and outside working hours. They are also subject to special rules, for example on outside activities and conflicts of interest.
The scope of public service law is broader than many people imagine. Anyone who is employed by a government body under either a contract of employment or a letter of appointment (aanstellingsakte) is classified as a public-sector employee, whether they work for the central government, a local authority or a government agency such as the UWV (Employee Insurance Agency) or the CBR (the Central Office for Motor Vehicle Driver Testing).
The law changed on 1 January 2020
A number of important changes were made on 1 January 2020 with the entry into force of a new act known as the Public Servants (Standardisation of Legal Status) Act (or WNRA). On the same date, the unilateral letters of appointment applying to most public-sector employees were automatically replaced by bilateral employment contracts.
The staff in question are no longer governed by the law of administrative procedure, with all its channels of objection and appeal. Instead, they are now subject to the rules on civil-law employment contracts, including the law on dismissal. The regulations on the legal status of civil servants have been superseded by a collective agreement.
Note, though, that any decisions taken before 1 January 2020 remain subject to the law as it applied prior to the entry into force of the WNRA. In other words, they continue to be subject to the administrative-law procedures under the General Administrative Law Act. This means that these situations are covered by the law on dismissal as it applies to civil servants employed under a letter of appointment.
Who is exempt from the WNRA?
The same applies to various types of public-sector employees who have retained their public-law legal status and who are exempt from the terms of the WNRA:
- political office-holders such as ministers, state secretaries, mayors, aldermen and alderwomen, etc.
- members of High Councils of State, such as members of the Upper and Lower Houses of parliament, members of the Council of State, and staff of the Netherlands Court of Audit and the National Ombudsman;
- members of advisory boards and autonomous administrative authorities;
- members of the judiciary, such as judges, public prosecutors and the procurator general;
- all Ministry of Defence staff, including both military and civilian personnel;
- all police personnel, such as police officers, detectives and administrative and technical support staff;
- notaries and bailiffs.
All the above officials and public-sector employees retained their former legal status on 1 January 2020 and remain subject to the law of administrative procedure. However, it is important to remain alert: for example, if you fail to object in good time to a ‘poor’ rating awarded in your annual performance appraisal, your staff record will automatically be updated to show that you performed poorly during the past year.
If you are a public-sector employee and have retained your former legal status after 1 January 2020, you can click here for further information on the law on dismissal for public-sector employees employed under a letter of appointment.
The WNRA does not generally affect the legal status of public-sector employees
Note that the WNRA has not altered the legal status of the vast majority of public-sector employees. However, a small number of people are affected. This is because, until 1 January 2020, all those employed ‘in public service’ (in openbare dienst) were also officially classified as public-sector employees. As of 1 January 2020, anyone employed by a government employer under a contract of employment (or – in certain cases – a letter of appointment) is classified as a civil servant.
This means, for example, that the staff of the Social Insurance Bank (Sociale Verzekeringsbank) have now become public-sector employees, even though they were not classified as such prior to 1 January 2020. The opposite applies to those employed by university medical centres and public education authorities: they lost their status as public-sector employees on 1 January 2020.
What can we do for you?
We can offer expert advice to both public-sector employees (whether employed under an employment contract or under a letter of appointment) and their employers.
Where necessary, we litigate on issues such as a public-sector employee’s legal status, as well as matters concerning redundancy, illness, suspension, dismissal, conflicts at work, liability, ethical conduct, decision-making procedures, litigation strategies, staff participation and social security. We believe in acting in close consultation with our clients in deciding on an appropriate strategy and identifying the outcome we are together seeking to achieve.
As a dynamic field of law, public service law requires a dynamic approach. That’s precisely what we can offer you.