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The workplace should be a safe environment, with proper working conditions. These are safeguarded by the Working Conditions Act (‘Arbowet’).
The Inspectorate SZW Social Affairs & Employment, formerly the Labour Inspectorate) monitors whether employers comply with this Act. In case of a suspected violation of the law, the Inspectorate SZW –under the supervision of the Public Prosecutor’s Office– can institute a criminal investigation. For example, in case of accidents on the job, collapsed buildings or other constructions, fires and/or explosions, calamities.
Our lawyers have extensive experience in handling these kinds of cases. Generally, we will assist companies and their management and safety experts as soon after the incident or calamity as possible. Even if the Inspectorate is merely investigating the event, with no suspicion as yet whether a criminal offence has been committed. We will carry out an internal investigation, analyse the safety policies and their compliance and we will prepare our clients for interviews by the inspectors. Of course, we do the same should a client already be involved in a criminal investigation.
As a rule, the sooner we are involved, the more effective our assistance can be. Should our client have to appear before the criminal court, we will prepare the hearing together and will accompany him/her in Court.
SZW inspectors wear two hats. They can monitor corporate compliance with the Working Conditions Act. But in suspected violations of said Act, they can also carry out criminal investigations: instead of ‘supervisor’ they then become investigating officer. Depending on the hat they are wearing, the employer under investigation has either more or in fact less rights. Beware! Always ask the SZW inspector coming by ‘for a talk’ what the purpose of his visit is: monitoring or investigating.
Consult a lawyer before making a statement to the Inspectorate SZW. In the long run, it is not always wise to start answering questions immediately, without first having carried out your own, thorough, internal investigation. It is best to issue an existing instruction to your staff to immediately refer SZW inspectors asking questions to Management, the Compliance Officer or the Legal Department, without first answering questions about any incident. It is not a bad idea to inform the Inspectorate SZW of this policy.
Should the Inspectorate SZW investigate an employer, he/she should ensure that at least two people from the company follow the investigation. This kind of investigation is often extensive and hectic and difficult to oversee for just one person. And if there are any complaints about the inspectors’ actions, two are stronger than one.
On 1st January, 2012, the Labour Inspectorate–together with a number of other inspectorates– merged with the Inspectorate SZW (of the Ministry of Social Affairs & Employment), but is still often referred to as the ‘Arbeidsinspectie’ (Labour Inspectorate).