I can’t remember who said it and I might be paraphrasing, but this sentence always stuck in my head: “Money spent on a lawyer is always money well spent.” You get the idea. The law always seems such a distant and nebulous world, until you need a lawyer. When do expats need lawyers? At many different times! When you do, you suddenly take an acute interest in it. You look at examples online that match your situation. You ask around for similar examples with people you know and gather information. Then you start looking and talking to legal experts and getting advice and working out what the cost might be.
In the end, it is all about the resolution of problems. So how does it all work? We decided to look more into it and get some feedback from a local expert in the field of law with Priscilla de Leede from Russell Advocaten in Amsterdam. They have a huge experience helping expats in The Netherlands with personal and business-related legal matters.
Surprise, surprise….you need a lawyer.
Time for another quote. As John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.” With all the best will in the world, we cannot control every aspect of our lives and surprises will always occur. No one lives life in a protected bubble, free from accidents or unplanned events.
As you move through adulthood, it becomes very apparent how useful lawyers can be to your family life, business, career and ensuring your continuing health and wealth. When you are younger, the image we have of the legal profession is from television. We watch procedural police or courtroom dramas. They make for great entertainment because of all the dramatic tension! They do leave you with the idea that the law, lawyers and courtrooms are reserved for the wealthy, the famous or the criminally guilty. However, in reality, it is a lot more prosaic. It is the application of the law in specific cases.
The expat lifestyle might brush with the law and the need for a lawyer in many different and varied examples. Sadly, marriages very often come to an end and important decisions need to be made and agreed upon. Firstly, for the good of the children and for splitting the assets of the former couple. And, not forgetting the important access rights. Many expats also grow a business here. There are lots of rules and regulations for doing business in The Netherlands.
These also extend to employment law and worker’s rights. Would you know how to write a proper employment contract? In these difficult times, when employers are having to downsize their payroll numbers, employees need legal help to make sure they are getting the best legal protections. Then, you can add in all the other reasons people need and use a lawyer. So, to get more insight, here is a Q+A with Priscilla de Leede from Russell Advocaten in Amsterdam.
Thank you Priscilla for taking the time to answer our questions and for these interesting insights into how expats need lawyers and legal services in The Netherlands.
Q1. Please give us an overview of how Russell Advocaten helps expats in Amsterdam.
We help expats with legal matters concerning their work and business. For example, We usually start with checking the employment contracts of expats that are offered to them by their new Dutch employers. We assess whether a contract is in accordance with Dutch labour law.
If expats are threatened with dismissal or receive a settlement agreement to terminate their employment, we immediately come to aid. We advise them about their rights and help them with negotiations with their employer.
…Expats are immigrants
We provide support when it comes to immigration-related matters after dismissal or divorce. For example, we help expats with changing their residence permit and work permit related to the purpose of their stay. This could be as a self-employed person, regular employer, search year, for example. In addition, we help companies with the application for residence and/or work permits for the foreign employees they would like to hire, such as highly skilled migrants.
We specialise in advising expats who have a role in the management of a company or a works council. Concerning the latter, we give advice about the role of the works council in a Dutch company. For example, whether employees can request their employer to set up a works council. And we inform them about all the rights and obligations of this employee representative body.
Another thing we do is helping expats who would like to set up a company in the Netherlands. We can assist them with the setting up and incorporation process of their company, shareholder’s resolutions regarding for example appointment of directors, drafting employment contracts, application for a residence/work permit, registrations with the Dutch Chamber of Commerce, and all kinds of general legal advice with regard to setting up a company.
Quite often we get queries from expats about buying and selling real estate, issues with the owners association, or the refunding of a deposit after the termination of a lease. We deal with all legal aspects of buying and selling real estate. If questions require (other) specialist knowledge, we immediately engage specialists. For example, if we get questions about finding a place to live, we cooperate with real estate agents, appraisers, building consultants. In tax matters, we engage tax advisors. In relocation matters, we cooperate with relocation agencies. So we can say that we can help expats with most of their questions.
Q2. Employment Law is very complicated looking in from the outside. What are the main pitfalls to avoid for expats? Both as employees and employers.
The starting point is to apply for a valid residence and/or work permit to avoid working illegally and running the risk of fines. We always advise expats to start with that.
I can imagine that Dutch employment law can seem complicated. On top of that, Dutch law is very much in favour of the employee. Let me give you an example: Under Dutch law employees are entitled to minimum wages and a minimum number of statutory holidays. Also, Dutch dismissal law is quite strict. So it is only possible to terminate an employment contract of an expat if the employer has a reasonable ground for dismissal and prior approval from the Subdistrict Court or Employee Insurance Agency (UWV). Therefore, I would advise expats to always have a lawyer check whether an employment contract they are offered is in accordance with Dutch law.
Q3. In these difficult times, many companies are having to reduce staff. How can representation be useful to these expats who are losing their jobs?
We often see that there are employers who try to benefit from the fact that expats are not familiar with their rights under Dutch law. As already mentioned, dismissal is only possible if the employer has a reasonable ground for dismissal and prior approval for the dismissal. Furthermore, employers need to take into account a notice period. And they need to follow strict rules in case of collective dismissal. Also, employees are entitled to a transition compensation in case of a dismissal on the initiative of the employer. But there are still employers that try to get rid of expats as fast and as cheaply as possible. So representation by a lawyer can be very useful in such a situation.
I would also advise expats to have a corporate immigration lawyer check whether the residence permit of the expat and that of family members living with him/her needs adjusting because of the dismissal.
Q4. Many expats set up businesses. How do you help the small sole traders? And the larger BVs?
We help both small sole traders and larger BVs with the incorporation process. This includes the drafting of General Terms & Conditions and application for the permits needed for the company and the personnel. Necessary registrations with the Chamber of Commerce and the application for the permits needed for the company and the personnel is also part of it.
For larger BVs, we draw up the deeds in cooperation with a notary and we draw up contracts. Also, we draw up shareholders’ resolutions to appoint directors or employment contracts for the personnel that the company intends to hire. We also help larger BVs drafting an employee handbook in which the policies of the company are laid down. In addition, we draw up privacy policies under the General Data Protection regulation. We draft non-disclosure agreements or agreements between the company and, for example, suppliers and agency and distribution agreements. And we can also, among other things, check lease agreements for the company premises.
Q5. Sadly many married couples split. After they have children. What one singular piece of advice would you give in that circumstance?
As I said before, our expertise is in businesses, expats in the management of a company and works councils. So if we get questions about divorce-related matters, we will immediately refer expats to specialists from our network.
But, although I am not a divorce lawyer, I do advise expats to think carefully before they start legal proceedings about their divorce. A court decision is binding on both parties, even if they do not agree. A lot can be arranged in mutual consultation. In principle, all matters concerning the expat’s children (alimony, custody and visitation arrangement) are governed by Dutch law. But if both parties share the same nationality, it may be possible to settle the divorce in the country of origin.
It is also important to know that an expat with children cannot simply return to his country of origin after his/her divorce. If the expat has custody of the children, permission from the ex-partner is necessary.
Thank you Priscilla for the answers on ‘Why do Expats need Lawyers?’
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If you need more information, please make contact with Russell Advocaten.
Contact: 020-301 55 25
For more great articles like this, see our Amsterdam blog articles.