Working conditions

Working conditions

The working conditions applicable in Germany are mainly shaped by laws, collective agreements, organisation-level agreements or employment contracts. Labour law lays down the most important provisions on employment relationships and shows the rights and obligations of employees and employers.

German labour law does not differentiate between domestic and foreign employees. If you are treated differently than residents in terms of labour law regulations, this is illegal and you can claim your right to equal treatment. You can refer to:

This also applies if you work as a temporary worker in a domestic temporary work agency.

1. Trial employment and probationary period

Sometimes employers are only willing to offer you an employment contract if you have previously worked for a few days on a trial without remuneration. In other words: You work on a trial basis before the decision as to whether you get an employment contract. Trial employment often lasts only one, but sometimes two to five days. The applicant and the employer should get the chance to get to know each other better. The employer can check how the work ethic of the applicant is, how h or she does the job, etc. The applicant, on the other hand, gets an insight into the work environment and the working atmosphere.

Please note: If you are registered with the employment agency or in the job centre, you must register the trial employment in advance with the clerk there and have it approved!

Tip: Since you will not receive remuneration in the trial employment, you should make sure that the offer is serious. More on this in the FAQs.

The trial employment must not be confused with the probationary period. In contrast to the trial employment, you are employed as an employee during the probationary period and receive a wage for your work.

The probationary period comes in two forms:

  • You receive an open-ended employment contract with a probationary period. If the employment relationship is not to be continued beyond the probationary period, it must be terminated within the probationary period.
  • You will receive a fixed-term employment contract only for the duration of the probationary period. In this case, the employment relationship ends automatically after the probationary period has expired. If the employer wishes to continue to employ you, a new employment contract must be concluded.

In this phase, the employer can also get an impression of whether you have the skills and competencies to perform the tasks. And you can find out if you want to work for the company or not.

In the case of vocational training, the probationary period is limited by law to a minimum of one month and a maximum of three months. The duration of the probationary period in an employment relationship is not regulated by law. It depends on how difficult your job is and should not exceed nine months.

Please note: The probationary period is not extended by the time during which you are sick and cannot work. However, a longer illness can endanger the continued existence of the employment relationship.

The notice period is shorter during the probationary period than with a permanent employment relationship. You can also use the shortened notice periods if you do not want to continue working for the employer.

You are also entitled to holiday days during the probationary period.

Please note: During the probationary period, the employer can terminate your contract without giving reasons, as the statutory protection against dismissal does not yet apply during the probationary period. Notice of termination can also be given while you are on sick leave if you are absent from work due to illness.

2. Employment contract

The employer is obligated to give you a written employment contract at the latest 1 month after the start of the employment relationship. The employment contract is signed by the employer and you.

Even if the employment contract was concluded orally, the employer must give you the essential contractual conditions in writing no later than 1 month after the start of the employment relationship. The employer must sign the document with the terms of the contract.

The employment contract or the document with the contractual conditions must contain the following information:

  • Name and address of the employer and employee
  • Start and duration of employment
  • Type of activity and description of your tasks
  • Workplace
  • Payment amount (mostly gross salary)
  • Composition of the payment (basic salary, supplements, allowances)
  • Working hours
  • Holiday
  • Deadlines for terminating the employment contract
  • Reference to applicable collective agreements or company and service agreements

The information on payment, working hours, holiday and notice periods can be replaced with a reference to a valid collective agreement or a company or service agreement.

Please note: Some employers from Germany recruit skilled workers in other EU countries by offering an apartment or a free German language course. The employment or training contracts often contain a repayment clause. The repayment clause obligates you to work for your employer for a certain period of time. If you then want to terminate prematurely or change employers, you must repay the additional services provided by your employer, for example the cost of language courses or renting an apartment. If you have a repayment clause in your employment contract, seek individual advice from a Advice centre. In many cases, such agreements are not effective. Employment contracts with a repayment clause are often jobs with poor and unfair working conditions. It can be worthwhile to look for a better job.

3. Payment

In Germany, the minimum wage is regulated by law. In all cases, the employer must pay the applicable minimum wage. This applies regardless of whether you work for a German employer or a foreign employer. Whether the employer pays the minimum wage is controlled by the State in Germany by means of the Customs Administration. If the employer does not pay a minimum wage, the employer must pay it subsequently. In addition, the employer can be sanctioned with a fine.

The minimum wage is 9.50 euros gross from 01.01.2021 and 9.60 euros per hour actually worked from 01.07.2021. Nursing staff receive a higher minimum wage: Since July 1, 2020, unskilled assistants have been paid 11.20 euros in the east and 11.60 euros in the west. The minimum wage is to rise in four steps to a uniform 12.55 euros per hour by September 1, 2021. On July 1, 2021, a uniform minimum wage of 15.00 euros per hour is to be introduced for qualified nursing staff.

Please note: These minimum wages do not apply in private households. The statutory minimum wage of 9.50 Euro per hour applies there. This applies e.g. also for cleaning and kitchen assistants.

The employer must also pay the minimum wage even if he or she is not satisfied with your performance.

In most cases, the collective wages are in some cases well above the statutory minimum wage. It is therefore usually advantageous for you if your employment relationship is subject to the scope of a collective agreement.

Please note: If the employer does not pay you the agreed wage, you have different options for action. You must observe the “preclusive period” (a period after which your entitlement expires) in your employment contract. These preclusive periods can also be regulated in the collective agreement applicable to you or in your works agreement.

Detailed information about the minimum wage applicable in Germany can be found in the brochure of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) Minimum wage law in detail.

You can also call the Minimum wage hotline on 030 60 28 00 28 if you do not receive a minimum wage. Complaints and reports of violations of the minimum wage law are accepted there.

Even if you get the minimum wage, make sure that the amount of the wage does not violate the prohibition of unethically low wages. More on this in the FAQs.

On average, women still earn slightly less than men. With the Wages Transparency Act, since 6 January 2018, you have been entitled to information from your employer about the average remuneration of your colleagues who do a similar job as you. This entitlement only applies to companies and departments with more than 200 employees with the same employer.

4. Termination and protection against dismissal

There are two types of dismissals in Germany. A “dismissal by notice” and a “dismissal without notice”. The dismissal without notice does not have a time period associated. This means that the employment relationship ends when the notice is given. The termination of an employment relationship without notice is rather rare, as special requirements must be met for this termination to be effective. More on this in the FAQs.

As a rule, the employer must adhere to a deadline of four weeks to the 15th or the end of the month (dismissal by notice). The longer the employment relationship, the longer the notice period. For example, if you have been with the company for 15 years, the notice period is six months to the end of a calendar month.

If

  • Your employment relationship is older than six months at the time of termination and
  • You are employed in a company with more than 10 employees,

you are entitled to the special protection against dismissal under the Unfair Dismissal Protection Act (KSchG).

The Unfair Dismissal Protection Act states, that a dismissal by the employer must be socially justified. The employer must give special reasons that speak against continued employment of the employee in his or her company. These reasons can be due to the person or the behaviour of the employee, but can also be justified with urgent operational requirements.

If the Unfair Dismissal Protection Act is not applicable because the employment relationship is too short or the company is too small, the employer can terminate without giving reasons.
However, this does not apply if you belong to a particularly vulnerable group of people.

Please note: A dismissal is only effective if it is given in writing. Verbal dismissal, dismissal by email, fax or SMS is ineffective. A dismissal is also possible while on sick leave.

If there is a works council in your company, the employer must hear the works council about your termination. A dismissal that is given without hearing the works council is ineffective.

Tip: With this in mind, it is important that you contact the works council immediately in the event of a dismissal. The works council can object to the dismissal for certain reasons within one week.

Please note: If you want to take action against the dismissal, you must file a dismissal protection lawsuit with the labour court within 3 weeks after receipt of the written notice of dismissal. If the action is not brought in due time, the dismissal is effective. This deadline must also be observed if your employment relationship is not subject to the Unfair Dismissal Protection Act.

Further information can also be found in the BMAS protection against dismissal brochure. If you are affected by a dismissal, seek advice from a lawyer or an Advice centre as soon as possible.

5. Working hours

In Germany, the working hours are regulated by law. Working hours are the period in which employees or trainees have to make their work available to the employer. The time in which you keep yourself ready to start work is called Willingness to work. This “waiting time” also counts towards working hours.
Exception: For truck drivers, willingness to work does not count towards working hours.

Their working time may be a maximum of 8 hours per day. The working time may be extended to a maximum of ten hours if you do not exceed the daily working time of eight hours on average within six months.

There is also a ban on working on Sundays and public holidays.

For certain sectors and activities, however, there are legal or collective agreement exceptions to this working time regulation. The Working Time Act regulates the statutory exceptions. Find more information on this in the FAQs.

Please note: If you live in a household with people who you are responsible for bringing up, looking after or caring for, the statutory regulations on working hours do not apply. But that does not mean that you have to be available to your employer 24 hours a day. If you have the feeling that you are being exploited and treated badly by your employer, go to an Advice centre in your area.

Breaks and the way to and from work are not working time. For miners who work underground, breaks count as working time.

You can find further information in the brochure of the BMAS on working time.

Tip: Write down your working time and breaks every day. Have your boss/foreman sign your notes. If that is not possible, ask a work colleague, for example, for their signature. This is important in the event of a dispute because you have to prove your working time. Use for example the working time calendar which you can download and print out.

6. Holiday

Employees are entitled to paid holiday leave of at least 24 working days per calendar year. That is four weeks holiday a year, as Saturdays also count as working days. The entitlement arises only six months after the start of the employment relationship. If the duration of the employment relationship is shorter than six months, you are entitled to proportional holidays (two working days per month).

Holiday is regulated in the employment contract. For employment relationships to which a collective agreement applies, the length of holiday is usually longer. For young people the provisions of the Act on the Protection of Young People at Work apply. Depending on the age, the Protection of Young People at Work stipulates up to 30 working days holiday.

In any case, you should apply for holiday in writing to your employer. As a rule, you can freely choose the holiday time. However, there are cases in which the employer can restrict or deny your holiday requests for operational reasons. For example, if there are too few employees on site to keep operations going. Or when suddenly a lot of jobs have to be done, closing and inventory work is required at the end of the year, etc.

The transfer of the holiday to the next calendar year is only possible if you were not allowed to take the holiday or if you could not take the holiday for important personal reasons. The holiday must then be granted and taken in the first three months of the following calendar year. There is an exception if you could not take your holiday because of long-term illness.

Sick days that are proven by a doctor’s certificate during the holiday are not counted towards the holiday.

Please note: If the employment relationship ends and you have not yet taken all of your annual holiday, the employer must pay you the remaining holiday days. If the employer refuses to pay out the remaining holiday, you must claim the payment within a short time (preclusive period as with the wage claim).

7. Health and safety

The Safety and Health at Work Act obligates employers to determine which occupational safety measures are required by assessing the working conditions (risk assessment). The risk assessment must be carried out depending on the nature of the various activities and relates to all physical and psychological stresses that may be associated with the work. On this basis, the employer must then take the necessary protective measures. Employers are responsible for ensuring that occupational health and safety is integrated into operational processes and that suitable contact persons in all parts of the company ensure that occupational health and safety is observed.

As an employee, you can ask your employer to inform you about health hazards at your workplace. You need to be able to identify the health hazards and respond to them.

8. Wages without work

If you have worked in a company for more than four weeks and become sick, you are entitled to payment of your regular wages up to 6 weeks from your employer. This also applies if you are unable to work as a result of a sports accident. If, on the other hand, you have consciously endangered your health, for example by getting drunk in traffic, participating in a fight or smoking after a heart attack, the employer can refuse to continue paying your wages. The employer can also refuse to continue paying wages if you are unable to work because of plastic surgery or the removal of a tattoo.

Please note: If you are sick, you must report this to the employer as soon as possible. You need a medical certificate from the 4th calendar day of the illness.
Example: If you got sick on Friday, you must submit a medical certificate to the employer on Monday However, the employer can request that the sick leave be presented from the 1st day of the illness. Be sure to observe these time requirements, because a violation of this can lead to dismissal.

You are entitled to special leave and thus to payment of your regular wages even if you are not working because you

  • have a death (2 working days) or a birth in the family (1 working day),
  • experienced severe illness of close relatives (up to 10 working days),
  • celebrate your own wedding (1 working day).

Further information can be found in the BMAS Brochure Continued Pay.

If you need more information on labour law, read the Brochure Labour Law - Information for Employees and Employers. You can also contact the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs telephone number 030/221 911 004 (Monday to Thursday, from 8:00 to 20:00).