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Working in Germany

Do I have the right to work in Germany?
If you have a residence permit, specifying that you are entitled to work (“Erwerbstätigkeit erlaubt” / “employment permitted”), you have the right to work or to undergo training. If your permit does not contain a working permit, economic activities can be permitted in certain cases. If the permit is restricted to a specific activity and employer, the permit may be transferred to another employer (provided the prerequisites are met). If you do not have a work permit, you and your employer risk punishment.

Do I need a written employment contract?
An oral employment contract is legally effective and enforceable. You have the right to demand a written employment contract from your employer. In case your employer wants to employ you only for a limited period of time, he is legally obliged to give you a written fixed-term employment contract. After signing the contract, you will receive a copy of it.

An employment contract must contain the following information:
  • Name and address of the employer as well as your name and address
  • Beginning date and term of employment
  • Type of work to be performed and a description of your duties
  • Location of the workplace
  • amount of wages (gross wage)
  • working hours
  • leave
  • mandatory advance notice periods for termination of employment
  • references to applicable collective bargaining agreements or other agreements of relevance to the employment relationship
Your employer is obliged in all cases, to provide all this information. Even if you only have an oral contract. If you are unsure whether the contract is in order, you can submit it to the responsible trade union for examination.

 

Is there a legal minimum wage in Germany?
Yes. Currently the statutory minimum wage for employees age 18 and above was set at 8.84 Euro per hour. There might be a higher (or in a few sectors even lower) minimum wage for your job, if the working conditions are regulated by a collective agreement. The responsible trade union or the General German Trade Union can provide more information and details. If necessary, your counselling center can help you to find contact persons.

 

How am I paid for my work?
Your employer is obliged to pay you for your rendered work. As a rule your wages will be paid by bank transfer to your bank account, therefore you have to open an account at a bank of your choice. All you need is valid identification. The bank details have to be communicated to the employer.
Please examine carefully what you sign when you open your account, especially if you do not understand the german language very well yet. Banks often hand out additional documents when opening new accounts, such as applications for insurance or credit card, which may cause costs for you.
Your employer is required by law to issue a wage and tax statement every month. This document shows how much you have earned and indicates all amounts deducted for taxes and insurance contribution. Income taxes are always deducted by the employer and forwarded directly to the Finanzamt (Tax Authority).
 
What is the difference between gross wage and net wage?
In Germany, we distinguish between gross and net pay.
Gross pay is the amount of wages specified in the employment contract. Various amounts are deducted from gross pay
  • income tax
  • church tax (for members of Christian churches)
  • solidarity surcharge (contribution allocated to the German unification fund)
  • social security contributions (health insurance, pension insurance, unemployment insurance, nursing care insurance)
Employees and employers each pay 50% of contributions to pension insurance, unemployment insurance and nursing care insurance. The same applies to the basic health insurance contribution.
The net wage is the total amount that is transferred to your bank account (amount of pay remaining after deduction of all taxes and insurance contributions).
 
What are my options, if my employer fails to pay my wages?
Your employer is legally obliged, to pay you for your work, even if you do not have a written employment contract. If your employer fails to pay your wages, you must claim the unpaid wages yourself. Start by demanding payment of outstanding wages from your employer in writing. The letter must contain all the necessary information (a list showing how many hours you worked for him, where and in what capacity you worked, the exact amount of wages your employer owes you, your bank details). Set a deadline of e.g. two weeks for payment. Do not forget to sign the letter before mailing it to your employer. Retain a copy of the letter and a post-office receipt as proof that you have actually sent the letter.
If your employer fails to meet the deadline, your next step should be to file a suit against him with a German labor court.

 

Are the working hours regulated by law?
Yes. You are permitted to work a maximum of eight hours per day. In some industries there are special seasonal arrangements for the working time (e.g. in construction). The trade unions can provide you with further information.
 
Am I entitled to paid leave?
Yes. For a six day work week you are entitled to 24 workdays of paid leave per year. Those who work 5 days per week are entitled to 20 workdays of paid leave per year. If there is a higher entitlement granted in a respective collective agreement in your sector, the latter applies. Your employment contract may specify more leave days, but not fewer. If you work part-time, the holiday entitlement is adjusted.
 
Am I entitled to my wages if I am sick?
Yes. If you are sick or incapacitated for work and you have been working for your employer longer than four weeks, you are entitled to payment of your full wages for up to six week during this period of illness. If it is a longer illness, you can be supported by the health insurance. In order to qualify for payment of wages during periods of illness, you must submit an Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung (certificate of incapacity for work) issued by your doctor to your employer.
 
What happens in case of termination?
In labor law, there are stipulated periods of notice. Only a termination in writing is legally effective. There are several reasons, why a termination by your employer might be permitted; however stating the reasons for terminating an employment relationship in notices of termination is not required.
Women are protected by law against termination during pregnancy and until the end of the fourth month following the birth of the child. If you receive a notice of termination you are unwilling to accept, you have the right to protest it. You can request that a court determine whether the notice of termination is valid and enforceable or not. As a trade union member, you can receive support and legal advice.
 
Is an employer allowed to request work on probation?
Yes. An employer may demand that you work on probation for several days before he decides whether to offer you an employment contract. He is legally entitled to do so. But this work has to be payed and must not take longer than one week.
 
Self-employment - Beware of pseudo-self-employment!
This term is used to describe an employment status in which you are self-employed and acting like an independent entrepreneur, but you are actually not employed by yourself but instead by another employer. Employers in Germany often use this approach in order to circumvent payment obligations and employees’ rights (tax and social security insurance). If responsible authorities determine that you are working under a pseudo-self-employment status, you will be required to pay all outstanding taxes and charges. In addition it is possible that you will be subject to a fine for a misdemeanor. You could be fined up to 500,000 Euro.
You can protect yourself from being pseudo-self-employed by not signing any contract (especially service and fee contracts) or document you do not understand. Trade unions can give you advice and support.
 
What is a mini-job?
An employment relationship, in which you do not earn more than 450 Euro per month, is defined as a mini-job. Given a statutory minimum hourly wage of 8.84 Euro, you are allowed to work a maximum of 51 hours per month.
Caution: Although employers pay flat-rate social security insurance contributions, you, as an employee, are not covered by health, nursing-care or unemployment insurance and are not entitled to claim benefits. You are entitled to paid leave and your employer is obliged to pay your wages for up to six weeks if you are unable to work due to illness.
 
What is temporary agency work (Leiharbeit) and how does it work?
Companies known as Leih- or Zeitarbeitsfirmen (temporary employment agencies) lend workers to other firms (known as client or assignment companies) for specified periods of time. The client companies pay a corresponding fee to the temporary employment agencies. Your wages will be paid by the temporary employment agency, which is also responsible for such matters as your working hours and leave entitlement. However, specific instructions regarding your actual duties will be given by the client company to which you are assigned.
There are union wage agreements for temporary agency workers. The minimum gross hourly wage is currently (August 2016) 8.80 Euro.
If the company, to which you are assigned, does no longer require your work, the temporary employment agency is obliged to continue paying your wages and to seek work for you with another client firm.
Please note: A residence title for the purpose of employment (Aufenthaltstitel zum Zwecke der Erwerbstätigkeit) is not granted by the Zentrale Arbeitsvermittlung (ZAV, general employment agency) in the case of temporary agency work.
 
What rights do I have in an internship?

An internship is not an employment relationship. Its purpose is the acquisition and enhancement of skills and qualifications. As a rule, interns are also entitled to payment of the statutory minimum wage of 8.84 Euro per hour. Exceptions apply to mandatory internships required by schools, colleges or universities, for internships that do not take longer than three months. Trade unions can give you advice even on this topic.