What are my rights and duties?
Searching for the proper job can be tedious- but it is fabulous when you finally get a "yes" from a company you like. Before you sign the contract and start to work, you should examine the proposed employment agreement thoroughly.
What do I need to know?
In a fixed-term employment contract, the end of the employment is set clearly at the very start. Upon the expiration date, your employment relations with the employer ends automatically- so no extra move is required. A permanent employment contract, on the other hand, does not include and end date. Therefore, your permanent employment contract will not stop unless you or your employer actively terminate it.
Please note: If you are not sure whether you will find a new job after the end of your fixed-term contract, you must notify the Employment Agency at least three months before the end of your contract. Otherwise, you risk cuts in your unemployment benefits.
Whether you are entitled to a written employment contract depends on the type of your contract:
- In the case of temporary employment contracts, you must receive a written employment contract before you start working. If you do not get a contract or receive one later, the time limit specified in the contract is not valid- which means you are entitled to a permanent employment contract.
- In the case of permanent contracts, a written employment contract is not mandatory- and an employment agreement can initially be concluded orally. But even here, your employer must provide you with written proof of your working conditions at the latest one month after you start working. Such written evidence should specify details like the start and duration of your employment, a brief description of your tasks, your wages, the number of hours you work per week, the notice period, etc.
Please note: Make sure you ask your employer for an employment contract or proof of working conditions. Otherwise, you are not going to be legally protected in case issues come up later.
Collective agreements are agreements between employers or employers' organisations and unions ("Gewerkschaften"). Unions represent the interests of workers. Collective agreements are meant to regulate the working conditions (i.e. working hours, wages, etc.) of the employees of a company or an industry such as the metal and electrical industry or the chemical industry. In principle, the working conditions laid down in a collective agreement are more advantageous for the employees compared to the circumstances in the companies or sectors without collective agreements. You can find out more about unions in our chapter "Works councils and unions".
In Germany, adult workers and many interns have the right to statutory minimum wage, which is adjusted every year. From January 1, 2024, the statutory minimum wage will be raised to €12,41 gross per hour- that means employees cannot pay their employers less for their labour.
Please note: The statutory minimum wage does not apply to the following groups:
- Interns who are doing a mandatory internship ("Pflichtpraktikum") for school or university.
- Interns who are doing an orientation internship ("Orientierungspraktikum") for their vocational training or university degree given their internship takes less than three months.
- People who are partaking in a scheme arranged by the Employment Agency or the Jobcentre (e.g. an entry qualification scheme or "Einstiegsqualifizierung").
- Workers who have been unemployed for over a year and started to work less than six months ago.
Since 2020, a minimum wage has been designated for apprentices (i.e. those who are doing an "Ausbildung") as well. Currently, the trainees must not be paid less than €649 gross per month during the first year of "Ausbilding" (as of 2024). In the second and third year, the minimum wage increases accordingly.
In principle, you are not allowed to work longer than 8 hours a day. You can also work up to 10 hours a day for a brief time. The additional hours must then be compensated for by extra free time within six months.
Please note: When you work for more than 6 hours, you have to take a 30-minute mandatory break. Your break-time does not count as working hours.
If you work more than 6 hours, you are entitled to a 30-minute break. If you work more than 9 hours, you are entitled to a 45-minute break. In case you are a minor, you are entitled to a 30-minute break after more than 4.5 hours of work and an hour-long break if you work for more than 6 hours. The break time is usually not paid.
Small breaks which take less than 5 minutes are not counted as break-time. So you can, e.g. go to the toilet or have a brief rest - without it being deducted from your working hours. Smoking breaks are not part of these short breaks, so if you take smoking breaks, you must work more to fill your hours. Your employer can also entirely ban you from smoking.
You also have the right to rest between two working days; so there must be at least 10 to 11 hours of relaxation between two working days.
If you work more than what is agreed contractually, these extra hours are known as overtime or "Überstunde".
Whether you have to work overtime depends on your employment contract or collective agreement. So if there is a regulation about overtime in your contract or "Tarifvertrag", you must abide. Otherwise, you can often reject overtime working if you choose so. Only in exceptional cases, i.e. in the event of disasters and emergencies (e.g. a flood in the company) or concerning special operational assignments (e.g. when a task is essential for the survival of the company and has to be completed in at short notice), all employees must work overtime regardless of your employment contract or collective agreement.
Whether the overtime is compensated by additional money or additional free time is often regulated in the employment contract. If your contract specifies that overtime work is not compensated (either by money or free time), the overtime work you do may not amount to more than 10% of your contractually agreed working hours. If your contract does not include any regulation regarding overtime, in principle, you will receive extra wages for the overtime work according to your hourly wages – the prerequisite, however, is that overtime work is ordered by your superiors, and you have documented your overtime(s) in writing- i.e. you need to write down your overtime(s) and have it signed by your boss.
Please note: Employees who receive higher wages (As of 2024: €7100 gross in East Germany and over €7300 gross in West Germany) do not receive extra pay for working overtime.
You will usually find a list of designated responsibilities you must fulfil in your employment contract. Your superiors may also assign you other tasks. However, these additional tasks must meet the following requirements:
- They must be legal and safe.
- They must be relevant to your actual job.
- They must match your qualifications.
In Germany, all employees are legally entitled to paid vacation. If you work full-time, you can go on paid leave for at least 20 days per year. If you work part-time (or less), your vacation entitlement is reduced accordingly. In many employment contracts, the right to vacation is regulated directly: If you have been promised more vacation in your employment contract, the number of days mentioned in your employment contract applies.
If you don't manage to take your vacation during the year, you are permitted to use your remaining vacation days next year. However, you must use up the remaining days no later than March 31- otherwise, it will be lost.
Please note: People with disabilities can have five additional days of vacation.
If you are uncertain whether you should sign an employment contract or face any problems in this regard, you can contact one of the counselling centres of the "Fair Integration" project. Their staff speak different languages and can provide you support free of charge. You can find a counselling centre of Fair Integration nearby at faire-integration.de.
In case you are discriminated against based on your origin, nationality, sexual orientation, gender or age, you can contact the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency. The employees there can be reached on Mondays (1 p.m. to 3 p.m.) and on Wednesdays and Fridays (9 a.m. to 12 p.m.) at 030-18555 1855 or per email (firstname.lastname@example.org). They speak German, English and Arabic.
Please note: You can seek advice from all of the above-mentioned agencies anonymously. No one will know about the issue if you wish to keep in confidential.
Read your employment contract thoroughly before signing it. If you are uncertain, seek help from friends or visit a counselling centre. You can search for a councelling centre nearby at faire-integration.de.