An employee with money problems has an impact on your business. Debt worries can cause a loss of productivity and time off due to sickness. Creditors might levy attachment on your employee’s salary. This is called attachment of earnings or ‘garnishment’. As an employer, you must facilitate this and deduct an amount from your employee’s salary. You may then have to deal with bailiffs. It is therefore important to identify staff with debts promptly.
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Identify staff with debts
Indebted employees often make no mention of their problems and make every effort to act normally at work. But there are signs which may indicate that an employee has money problems, such as:
- loss of concentration
- regular brief sick leave
- requests for an advance of salary or holiday pay
- not joining in social activities.
Sometimes major life events cause financial problems, such as divorce or the death of a partner. Recognise debt-related problems at an early stage and discuss them with your employee. Someone who registers for debt support early can solve their problems more quickly.
Use the financial problems Signal Tool
This tool (in Dutch) enables you to quickly spot signs which may indicate that an employee is struggling with debt.
Refer your employee to help with debts
If there are payment arrears or financial problems, refer your employee to the article How can I settle my debts? (in Dutch). This will tell your employee what help is available if they are having difficulty paying their bills and what rules apply to payment problems or debts.
Local authorities help employees with debts
The first port of call (in Dutch) in the event of indebtedness is your employee’s local authority. The town council will advise, within 4 weeks of a request, whether someone is eligible for assistance, and in what form. In an impending crisis, the local authority must help within 3 days, e.g. if your employee is evicted. Debt restructuring comes in various forms:
- Creditors voluntarily cooperate with a debt repayment plan: this is known as the amicable route to debt assistance.
- Your employee applies to a court for debt rescheduling: this is a route under the Debt Rescheduling for natural persons Act (Wet schuldsanering natuurlijke personen, WSNP).
Does your employee have outstanding fines? Do they want to pay these, but are they unable to do so due to problematic debts? From 1 April 2020, there is an ‘emergency stop procedure’ at the Central Judicial Collection Agency (Centraal Justitieel Incassobureau, CJIB). This procedure is intended to avoid further problems for the individual, by giving them reasonable time to respond. If your employee is granted an emergency stop, they must register with the local authority for debt assistance.
Local authorities are increasingly working with housing associations, health insurers and energy and water utilities to offer help as early as possible to people with payment arrears for regular outgoings.
Cooperate with an attachment of earnings: you are required to do so
Creditors may call in a bailiff to force your employee to settle their debts. The bailiff may levy attachment on part of your employee’s income, which is known as attachment of earnings order, but they may do so only if backed by a writ of enforcement or court order. Some government departments can bypass the courts when levying attachment. They have special powers of collection (in Dutch). For example:
- The Dutch Tax and Customs Administration for collecting arrears of payment.
- The Central Administration Office (CAK) for collecting the care premium required by administrative law.
A debt collection agency or creditor cannot themselves levy attachment on earnings. Attachment of earnings is not a valid reason for dismissal. You cannot charge your employee the costs of an attachment of wages.
Important stages in an attachment of earnings:
- 1. You receive a writ of attachment from the bailiff and check it with your employee.
- 2. You complete the bailiff’s financial questionnaire.
- 3. Check with your employee how much they are still receiving, this is ‘the protected earnings’ (in Dutch).
- 4. Transfer the correct amounts of pay to the bailiff and to your employee.
1. Receiving and checking a writ of attachment
You receive a copy of the judgment ordering attachment of earnings from the bailiff. You also receive a writ of attachment. This is an official document which states that the bailiff is levying attachment on the wages. Check with your employee whether the amount of debt in the writ of attachment is correct.
2. Complete the financial questionnaire: you are required to do so
With the writ of attachment is a list of questions about your employee’s income. Complete and sign this declaration and return it within 4 weeks. Please note: if you fail to do so, you may become liable for your employee’s debt. If you are handling several attachments of earnigs for one employee, complete all the financial questionnaires you receive. The bailiff who levies the first attachment has to process all the other attachments, so refer the second and subsequent bailiffs to the first.
3. Check the amount of protected earnings
The bailiff uses the information you supply on the financial questionnaire to calculate the protected earnings. That is the portion of the wage that your employee is allowed to keep for subsistence and regular outgoings. Therefore a bailiff can never levy attachment on the entire salary. Check with your employee whether the amount of protected earnings is correct. If the protected base is too low, this often leads to even greater payment problems. Advise your employee to object to an attachment of wages if the amount withheld is too high. They can find legal advice at the online Legal helpdesk (Het Juridisch Loket).
4. Transfer the correct amounts of pay
Your payroll accounts department needs to know that attachment has been levied on wages. Your employee is not free to spend the full amount of their salary. Transfer the protected earnings to the employee. The balance is for the creditors. You deduct that amount for the bailiff and any authorities which require you to make deductions. Continue to do this until you receive official notification that your employee’s debts have been settled. You can stop only at that point.
Some government departments take precedence over other creditors
Claims of certain government organisations receive priority over other creditors, e.g. the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration and the UWV. They hold a ‘preferential claim’.
Consider your employee’s privacy
An attachment of earnings makes you privy to sensitive personal information, so keep the documents about the attachment of your employee’s wages safely in your (payroll) accounts. What if you receive official notification that the wage attachment has been lifted? If so, destroy all documents (in Dutch) regarding it. The obligation to retain documents for 5 or 7 years does not apply to an attachment of earnings.
Take preventive action
As a good employer, you can contribute to preventing employee indebtedness. By giving timely information, you make financial problems easier to discuss. For example, arrange for a budget coach (in Dutch) to hold a workshop or prepare a flyer (in Dutch) or online document about attachment of earnings for your staff. This will let everyone at your company know where you stand on this subject. Find more tips at www.financieelfittewerknemers.nl.