Obtaining your rights
Knowing what right you have as an EU worker is one thing. Obtaining your rights goes beyond knowing that. Here you can find out how you can enforce your rights against your employer and where you can get support.
If the employer does not pay the agreed wage, make a request in writing for the unpaid wage to be paid. Make sure to set a deadline of 2 weeks for the payment. In this letter you should state the working hours for which you are claiming wages, the total wages and your bank account details.
Please note: When asserting the wage claim, you must observe the “preclusive period” that was established in your employment contract. A preclusive period is a period in which you have to make wage claims against the employer. After this period has expired, the wage claims expire, with the result that they cannot be asserted either with the employer or with the court. Since the preclusive period can also be regulated in the collective agreement applicable to your employment relationship, check the collective agreement.
If there is a works council in your company, you should complain to the works council or to another body responsible for this in the company (e.g. person of trust) about the outstanding wage payments. You can also get support from them with your wage claims.
If, despite all this, the employer does not respond to your request for payment within the set deadline, you can enforce the wage claim in court by means of legal action at the Labour court. If you do not speak German sufficiently to conduct the legal action, the court will automatically arrange for an interpreter.
Please note: You have to prove your wage claims in court. Therefore, write down your working hours every day. Have your boss/foreman sign your notes. If this is not possible, ask a work colleague for a signature, for example. You can use the working hours calendar, which you can download and print out. Take photos with your phone too. The more evidence you have, the greater your chances of getting your money.
Remember to keep written employment contracts or other documents about the amount of the wages as well as any pay slips received.
If your employment has been terminated , you must take legal action in court within 3 weeks after receipt of the notice of dismissal (dismissal protection suit). This period applies to all dismissals, regardless of whether they fall under the Dismissal Protection Act.
Please note: If you miss the deadline, the consequences are serious: The dismissal becomes effective at the end of the notice period and you can no longer take action against it.
You can bring the protection against dismissal action yourself at the Labour court, which means you do not have to be represented by a lawyer. Legal representation is only necessary in the 2nd instance i.e. if the labour court (1st instance) has ruled and an appeal against the judgment of the Labour court is lodged before the Regional Labour court.
With the protection against dismissal suit you pursue the goal that the labour court determines the ineffectiveness of the dismissal. If the action is successful, the dismissal will be ineffective. This means that your employment relationship continues. You then have to go to work and the employer has to pay your wages.
You can also bring an action for protection against dismissal if you do not want to continue the employment relationship but want a severance payment. However, you cannot force this result, so the action is always aimed at establishing that the dismissal is ineffective. In the course of the procedure, you can agree on a severance payment with the employer (so-called severance payment comparison).
Please note: Make use of the support of the trade unions or other advice centres as quickly as possible or hire a lawyer who specialises in labour law.
The legal action can be submitted to the Labour court in whose district the employer has his or her place of residence or business or in which the work is usually performed or was last performed. Which Labour court this is can be found out on the justice portal of the Federal and State governments (Court directory). At the Labour court there is a legal application centre that also accepts verbal complaints and applications. Remember to hand in written employment contracts, time sheets or other documents about the amount of the wages as well as received pay slips there, preferably as copies.
For court proceedings, legal costs are incurred. These usually have to be borne by the party that loses the case. If the legal action is partially won, the costs will be shared proportionally.
Please note: In the first instance, each party must bear the costs of a lawyer themselves. You will therefore have to pay your lawyer’s fees even if you win a legal dispute.
If you cannot afford the litigation costs, you can apply for legal aid. Legal aid is granted for all legal proceedings or legal advice, it is not limited to labour law proceedings. Find more information on this in the FAQs.
Employees who have been members of a trade union for at least 3 months receive free advice from the union and they are represented by them in court.
If you have difficulties with the German authorities to enforce your rights as an EU citizen, the free service of the national authorities SOLVIT can help you further, which is available in all EU Countries as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. The prerequisite is that you have not yet sued before the court in the matter and that there is some reference to EU law. SOLVIT can be activated online using the contact form on the SOLVIT Homepage.
If you feel disadvantaged or treated unfairly by the employer or other employees of the company, you can first complain to a body responsible for this in the company (e.g. person of trust). In companies with a works council, a works council member can be called in for support or mediation.
One of the tasks of the works council is to promote the integration of foreign employees in the company and, together with the employer, to promote it to ensure that all persons working in the company are treated according to the principles of justice and equity. Any discrimination against people because of their race or origin, where they come from or nationality, their religion or belief is inadmissible.
In addition, you can exercise your labour law claims
- for the cessation of any kind of bullying
- for damages due to an illness caused by the bullying if the employer is at fault for the bullying, i.e. if he or she has bullied him or herself or has intentionally or negligently failed to prevent the bullying emanating from colleagues
by filing a complaint with the competent labour court.
FAQ Enforcing your rights
You can bring an action for unfair dismissal (Kündigungsschutzklage) even if you do not want to continue working for your employer and instead want to receive a severance payment (Abfindung). However, you have no ability to force this outcome, which is why an action for unfair dismissal always seeks to have your dismissal ruled to be invalid. It may be possible for you to reach an agreement with your employer on a severance payment in the course of the proceedings.
Exception: If your employment contract, or an organisation-level agreement (Betriebsvereinbarung) or collective agreement (Tarifvertrag) which applies to your employment, states that you are entitled to a severance payment in the event of your employment being terminated for operational reasons, you can apply to have your employer ordered to pay you the severance payment if you are dismissed for operational reasons.
If you cannot afford the costs of a legal dispute (litigation costs) or the costs of advice from a lawyer or can only partially afford them or only in instalments, you have the option of applying for legal aid or advisory aid. The prerequisite for this is that the legal enforcement you intend to take has a sufficient chance of success and does not appear malicious.
The application must be submitted to the court that is responsible for the case. You can find the Court directory here. In the formulation of the application and the legal action, as well as with other formalities, the help of the so-called legal application office of the court can be used. However, the legal application office cannot provide you with legal advice. The application can be made by yourself or by a lawyer of your choice. If the application for advice or legal aid is made by a lawyer, he or she can charge € 10 to 15.
If the dispute is a cross-border dispute within the EU, the application can also be submitted to the competent authority at the applicant’s place of residence or habitual residence. The responsible authorities provide a standard EU form for this and support you with the application. You can also arrange for the entire application process and the transmission of the application in all EU languages online.
If legal aid is granted, you do not have to make any payments or only legally stipulated instalments for the court costs and the costs of your own lawyer, depending on your personal financial circumstances.
Further information on legal aid in Germany can be found here.