LIVING IN GERMANY
[Part 2] 10 things about employment in Germany: the ultimate guide
Vacation, workers rights, contract termination
Germany is the fourth economy globally and the biggest in Europe. Working here is an attractive opportunity, but everything has a price. Check out the things you need to know from my 10 years of experience of employment in Germany.
Make sure you read the part 1: working permit, salary, health insurance, retirement, unemployment insurance, taxes, German IT.
German employment legislation regulates a minimum of 24 days of vacation per year. Most employers add a generous amount to it, so in IT, you can expect 25 to 30 days on average. You keep the full salary during the entire vacation.
Sick days are not limited and fully paid. If your sickness takes longer than three days, you would need a doctor’s note, but your employer can ask for it earlier. Taking a day off because of a headache is a common thing in Germany.
If you get sick while being on vacation, pick a doctor’s note so that you can reclaim the sick days back for your vacation. Not claimed vacation days would be transferred to the next year, but you would need to spend those before March of the next year; otherwise, they are gone.
Parental vacation gives you up to 3 years of time off per child. During that time, you would get up to 2/3 of your salary from the state, but a maximum of 1800 Euro per month.
Besides that, every state (Bundesland) regulates its own amount of education vacation (Bildungsurlab). This one aims to allow the employees to reeducate regularly. In Berlin, this vacation can take up to two weeks per two years. Like with regular vacation, you will keep your full salary for the whole timeframe. This vacation can be taken for a language course, learning new technology, or visiting a conference. But, like everything in Germany, getting this one is extremely bureaucratic. You can only visit courses certified for educational vacation; mostly those are of completely no use.
Be sure your Go conference is not listed.
9. Workers’ councils
Germany has a strong history of workers associations in the past, reflected in the employment legislation here. Even a small company, starting from a size of 5 employees, has a right to elect a “workers council” (Betriebsrat) — the organ educating the workers on their rights, defending their position in front of the management. The size of that organ depends on the size of the company and gets elected for four years. The council members cannot be fired and are eligible to print letters on paper and turn oxygen into carbon dioxide.
Any company can have that organ, and the workers can gather and declare it in free form. This is extremely useful when the company’s management are assholes and are about fire somebody fighting for the workers' rights.
Being in the workers' council requires excellent German skills, and not just German, but its dialect spoken by bureaucracy. Be sure that one has nothing in common with what you’ve learned at B1.1. You will have to protocol every meeting, and a couple of other things too. From now on, you are a despicable bureaucrat.
Leaving a company is mostly not a cute process anywhere, including Germany. If you are about to leave, you need to know the rules of play.
First and foremost: try not to quit yourself. The reason for it is that if you do, your unemployment insurance will start only 3 months later, and you won’t be able to get compensation for your firing.
Some employers will try to use the migrant’s ignorance and offer to sign an agreement right on the firing day, abusing their logically unstable emotional state. So second: don’t sign anything on the day you get fired, especially if you get offered a termination contract (“Aufhebungsvertrag”), stating mostly the position and terms of the parties and leaving almost no opportunity to sue afterward. Those agreements are mostly interpreted as mutual consent, meaning the unemployment insurance will penalize you like you would have quit yourself.
Mind what you sign and ask for help from your German-speaking friend or seek the help of the lawyer.
And yeah: everything must be on paper. If your employer tries to convince you that oral form is enough, they lie. From now on they are not your friends anymore.
You are fired
In case you get fired, keep calm and take sick leave. Formally inform everybody on the email that you don’t feel well and have to go home immediately. Stay at home for the rest of the day and don’t answer any calls or emails. Just turn off your phone if it helps.
Inform your manager the next day on the proper channel that you are still sick and see a doctor and do so. Tell the doctor about the psychological burden the situation caused you, the possible chronic disease complications, anxiety attacks, and sleep problems naturally caused by it. Take sick leave for as long as you can.
Remember, if your employer pushes you to disclose the diagnosis or threatens to sanction you in any way, stay calm at let them know that due to the law, you are not obligated to disclose your diagnosis and need time to recover. Therefore you won’t be answering any emails or phone calls during your sickness, and friendly inform your employer that reaching out to the employee during sickness is not allowed by the law. Be consistent and friendly, as your action's correctness will guarantee your employer have no trumps during the possible lawsuit.
Germans widely use this trick, and employers usually are well informed about its correctness and legality. Most migrants do not know about it or are afraid of confrontation and frightened of the legal consequences resulting from this confrontation. Just keep in mind that German employment legislation is very socialist, and you will probably have better cards at the end. In particular, Berlin judges are very left and usually prevail to be on an employee's side.
The next thing you have to think about is unemployment insurance. Within the three days of you being informed about your contract's termination, you have to notify the authorities about it. Otherwise, it will lead to a penalty pause. You can do it online here.
You will start getting the unemployment insurance payment (ALG1) after your notice period is over. Those are usually very long in Germany. Regular terms are 2 weeks in probation period and 3 months after you finish your probation.
Unemployment insurance functions similar to salary, meaning taxes, retirement, health insurance, care insurance, and so on will be deducted from your payment. In the end, you would get 60% of your average net salary during the last 12 months (67% if you have kids).
The duration of payments is proportional to the number of months you were employed with a minimum of 1 year and up to 2 years, reflecting 1 year of payments.
So if you worked for 1 year, you would be eligible for 6 months of payments, 1.5 years — 9 months, and 2 years — 12 months of ALG1 and this is the maximum.
When this term passes, you will be eligible for applying for the next level of social security — Hartz IV. This one is paid from the taxes and is completely a different story.
Both of those insurances, especially the Hartz IV, will have a negative impact on your visa prolongation or citizenship applications, so try not to overuse them.
A recommendation letter (Zeugnis) is what you might require for your next job. While it’s completely bizarre for the IT world, the rest of the German working market lives from it. The mechanism of recommendation letters is the par excellence of the German bureaucracy.
In the past, many employers who split their ways with the employees on a bad term took revenge on the obstinate ex-colleagues with a devastating recommendation letter. To prevent that, politics came up with a ridiculous idea to prohibit writing negative feedback about the employee, which led to the most absurd situation ever: the language of recommendation letters has developed the code phrases, meaning certain quality deficiencies.
For example, “the employee tried to fulfill the requirements” means something like “the employee could not complete any single task” or “the employee was very punctual” means “punctuality and that’s it.” The rule of thumb is:
Your recommendation letter should be as short as possible, have only certain formulation in it, and nothing more.
A recommendation letter is seen as something so important that you can actually sue on the justiciable formulation. And not only that.
In case your think you were unfairly fired, you can, of course, file a lawsuit against your former employer. If you played it right, the chance that you win is very high.
Usually, such lawsuits pursue a single point: financial compensation of the lost income, as no one can actually think of getting back working for someone who has just fired them.
The lawsuit is supplied in German to the working court (Arbeitsgericht) with a complaint (Klage), which then will be delivered to your employer. Before the actual trial, both parties have an opportunity to settle the claim, which happens most of the time (Güteverhandlung). Unlike other civil processes, you won’t be obligated to pay the court costs to the employer in case you lose. This is how the German law prevents big companies from threatening the ex-employees with bankruptcy.
The size of compensation (Abfindung) is declared by the law and depends on how much time you have worked for the company. The formula is the following:
monthly salary * amount of years worked / 2
So if you worked 5 years for the company for 5k per month, you are eligible for 12.5 years of compensation. Remember, this only works if your employer fired you or has a termination agreement stating exactly this or sue the employer for the compensation. This compensation is taxed, but you don’t pay social security payments, like retirement or health insurance on it.
If your ex-employer doesn’t want to settle, the trial can take years. Still, the compensation can also become much higher: the longer the trial, the longer the timeframe for which your ex-employer must compensate the lost salary. So in the example above, if the trial takes 2 years (regular length) and you win, you are eligible for the compensation for 24 months, 120k Euro. But the court can freely decide, and the outcome of the trial is unpredictable. You will, of course, need a lawyer, it won’t be cheap, and you would need to pay in advance. That is why usually only a few want and have the resources to push it through for so long.
All of that I had to learn from my own experience, I can’t guarantee the complete correctness of it, and before you use any of that in a legal context, make sure the data is still current. And in case of doubt, seek the help of a lawyer. Good luck!