Anton van Rossum 

17 December 2019

E.M. asks:

About two years ago, I took a job as a project manager at a promising, dynamic high tech start-up. With our R&D team, we face a number of major challenges. First of all, we have to get a wildly complex technology ready for market in no time. The next challenge is to recruit sufficient technical experts to develop the products.

Just a few months after I joined, the engineering manager left the company. Not much later, a couple of key engineers followed suit. Because no other candidates were available, I offered to take on the position, despite my unfamiliarity with the technology.

One of my tasks was to attract suitable experts. This has proved to be impossible. Silicon Valley is the only hotspot where engineers can be found who have the specific knowledge we require. Unfortunately, as you know, the salaries over there are so high that it would be a miracle to get people to come to the Netherlands.

As a result, my team has made little progress. No thanks to management, who didn’t support us at all in achieving our objectives. This changed a few months ago when an expensive and experienced consultant from the US was hired to solve the technical problems.

Last week, to my big surprise, I was invited to a meeting with HR. In a short conversation, they informed me that my contract would be terminated and that I was suspended. A few days later, I received a settlement proposal: contract termination within one and a half months, a 6-months supplement to the unemployment benefit and a positive reference.

What am I supposed to do with this? The team has already been informed that I won’t be coming back, so returning to them seems unrealistic to me.

The headhunter answers:

Given your short employment period, the offer isn’t that bad. However, the whole process leaves a lot to be desired. You can’t be blamed for the lack of progress. You didn’t have enough budget to attract the required experts and you yourself lacked the knowledge to lead the team technically – which was sufficiently known to management. They gave you hardly any guidance in your important task and no critical feedback whatsoever on your performance. Still, the team was in your hands.

From a legal point of view, your company doesn’t have a case. In the Dutch legal system, the court will only terminate your contract if you received notice well in advance and if you were given sufficient opportunity to improve. In addition, a dismissal for poor performance must be properly motivated and documented in order to stand a chance.

Nevertheless, I definitely wouldn’t recommend such a procedure. It will only lead to negative energy and slander. You’re better off looking forward and learning from the past. You could have gone to management and raised the issue about the lack of resources and guidance much earlier. Besides, the labor market is definitely favorable for you at the moment. With your track record, you’ll have no problem finding another job within two or three months.

Regarding the settlement, I’d consider asking for an extra month of pay – you have a two-month cancellation period. The supplement to 100 percent of your last-earned salary for a period of six months is very reasonable. Under current law, you’re not even entitled to a transition allowance within two years of starting your employment. New rules will come into effect on 1 January 2020, stipulating that from then on, you’re entitled to a gratuity payment for every six months of employment, regardless of whether you’re dismissed or you resign yourself.