Germany: Workers' Rights and Responsibilities During Covid-19 Outbreak

Germany: Workers' Rights and Responsibilities During Covid-19 Outbreak

On 1 April 2020, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs released updated guidelines regarding the rights and responsibilities of workers in Germany during the Covid-19 outbreak. Read our Q&A for everything you need to know.

What happens if I become unwell with COVID-19?

If an employee becomes unwell due to contracting coronavirus and is unable to work, he/she is entitled to continued payment of wages in the event of sickness for a period of six weeks. After this six week period, those insured under the statutory health insurance scheme are entitled to receive sickness benefit, known in Germany as Krankengeld.

Do I have the right to work from my home?

Although not compulsory, the German authorities strongly recommend that employees should work from home where possible. Working from home might also be available as an option on the basis of a firm-level agreement or a collective agreement.

What happens if I still need to attend my place of work but cannot get there?

If an employee’s place of work is still open (this could include supermarkets or medical institutions), but he/she is unable to get there because of generally ordered measures (including lack of public transport) and cannon perform their work as a result, the employee has no statutory entitlement to receive his/her agreed wage.

Can my employer ask me to work overtime if many members of staff are off due to illness?

Staff members only have to work overtime if a collective agreement, a firm-level agreement or their employment contract requires them to do so. However, a secondary obligation to work overtime can also exist if the overtime will prevent the employer from suffering damage which cannot be averted in any other way. This could be the case if, for example, large numbers of staff are absent because of coronavirus.

If overtime pay is not regulated in the employment contract or a collective agreement, employees can, in principle, demand to be paid for the overtime at their basic rate, in accordance with Section 612 of the Civil Code.

Will I still be paid if my place of work experiences temporarily disruption or closure?

Employers are required, in principle, to continuing paying their employees if the employees are able and willing to work, however the employer is unable to employ them for reasons falling within the employer’s operational sphere (the “operating risk” principle, Section 615, third sentence, of the German Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch)). An example of this would be if an employer temporarily stops operations because of significant staff absences or supply bottlenecks caused by COVID-19. Therefore, employees are still entitled to be paid in these cases, even if they cannot work. Different rules may apply depending on individual contracts or collective agreements for circumstances where neither the employer nor the employee is responsible for the lack of work.

I am a cross-border worker who lives in Germany while working abroad, or who works in Germany while living abroad, what are the rules?

There are no special rules which apply to cross-border workers who work in Germany in terms of labour law. In the case of cross-border workers from Germany who work in a neighbouring country, the labour law of that country usually applies. Under German law, employees bear the risk associated with their ability to get to work. If employees cannot get to their workplace, they are unable to perform their work and do not receive any pay, unless otherwise agreed. However, employees may only be reprimanded or dismissed on grounds of conduct if they are at fault; this is not the case in an emergency.

In terms of social security law, your entitlement to benefits such as daily sickness benefits (Krankentagegeld) and the short-time allowance (Kurzarbeitergeld) is based on the law of the competent Member State, i.e. the country by whose social security system you are currently covered. That is normally the country where you are employed. Cross-border workers who work in Germany can therefore receive the short-time allowance in the event of a cut in working hours at the German company where they work. In the case of cross-border workers who live in Germany, the law of the country where they are employed applies. Working from home temporarily because of the coronavirus does not change which country’s law applies to you in terms of social security.

Further information can be found here.