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Working in Germany: A weekly roundup of the latest jobs news and talking points

Working in Germany: A weekly roundup of the latest jobs news and talking points
Do you work more overtime at home? Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Uwe Anspach
Every week The Local brings you a roundup of the latest jobs news and talking points related to working in Germany. Here we look at unemployment rate, wages and the old question of work life balance.

Quarantine order while on vacation from work

Picture the scene: you book some time off work, you’re ready to enjoy some beers, good food and catch up with friends. But then you test positive for Covid-19 and have to quarantine. Can you get the lost days back so you can actually enjoy your vacation at a later date after the quarantine ends?

The Labour Court in Bonn recently gave a ruling on a similar case, reported Spiegel. 

In the case, the plaintiff had contracted Covid-19 in November and lost her vacation days due to a state ordered quarantine. She demanded that her company grant her five days of holiday back to make up for it – but her bosses were unwilling to do so.

The woman sued, but the court ruled in favour of the employer at the beginning of July.

The Federal Vacation Law (Bundesurlaubsgesetz) says that if you fall ill during your vacation, the number of days you are ill aren’t counted as paid time off so long as you report it to your employer and hand in a doctor’s note by the third day of sickness.

But the court in Bonn said that an official quarantine order alone is not sufficient. That’s because being diagnosed, ill with Covid – or just having to quarantine – does not directly lead to an inability to work.

The ruling can be appealed at the Cologne Regional Labour Court. But the lesson that we can take form the initial ruling is: have a doctor certify that you are unable to work if that is the case rather than presuming a quarantine order shows that.

READ ALSO: Vacation days in Germany: What to know about your rights as an employee

Germany’s unemployment rate improving after shutdown 

The pandemic is undoubtedly still affecting business and people’s livelihoods. But Germany’s unemployment rate is falling.

A restaurant in Berlin that opened after the shutdown in May. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Soeder

The latest figures from the federal labour agency showed it dropped to 5.7 percent in July.

Seasonally adjusted figures showed the number of unemployed people had dropped by a dramatic 91,000 during this month, with the unemployment rate falling from 5.9 percent in June.

Detlef Scheele, head of the BA federal labour agency, told AFP that the jobs market situation is “continuing to improve”.

Germany was in various states of shutdown from November 2020 until May 2021. Several businesses and facilities – including gyms, cinemas and restaurants had to close or partially shut. 

READ MORE: German unemployment rate drops after Covid restrictions relaxed

Many German companies still want to allow ‘home office’

More than 70 percent of firms surveyed in a recent study want to allow their staff to work from home after the Covid crisis. 

The survey, conducted by the Leibniz Center for European Economic Research in Mannheim (ZEW) and made available to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, found that 74 percent of firms want to keep allowing the possibility of home office at least once a week. 

ZEW asked 1,200 firms in June 2020 whether they intend to let their employees work from home after the pandemic in some form, and 64 percent said yes. 

A year later, ZEW asked the same group and the proportion in favour of allowing staff to do home office had risen to 74 percent. 

By comparison, before the crisis, only about half of companies able to do so had allowed some of their employees to work from home at least once a week.

“The results suggest that home office will not disappear, and that employers will continue to enable more flexible working in the long term,” said Daniel Erdsiek, a researcher at ZEW.

Germany’s rules that forced companies to allow working from home in the pandemic were lifted on July 1st 2021. 

Employers can now decide whether they continue to let their employees work from home, or if they call them back to the office.

READ ALSO: Are employees in Germany ready to return to the home office?

Where do German wages stand compared with other countries?

With an average net income (after tax) of €22,388, Germany ranked eighth in a comparison of the amount employees earn across Europe. According to the most recent survey by “GfK Purchasing Power Europe 2”, employees in Liechtenstein earn the most with a net income of €64,240.

The study, from 2020, analysed the per capita purchasing power of 42 European countries. 

Switzerland was in second place with €41,998, followed by Luxembourg where full-time employees receive an average net salary of €34,119.

Further down in the rankings was Poland in 28th place, where the average employee had a net income of €7,143 a year in 2020. Bringing up the rear with €1,703 net per year was Ukraine.

This put the eastern European country far below the average per capita purchasing power in Europe, which stood at an average of €13,894. It means that although 16 countries are above the European average, according to the study, people in 26 European countries also have below-average incomes.

Together, Europeans had around €9.5 trillion at their disposal for the year 2020. This means that per capita purchasing power in 2020 was down just under 5.3 percent on the previous year.

The main reason for this is the Covid pandemic and economic slump. As a result, each resident in Europe had an average of €773 less at his or her disposal than in 2019.

For more trends on salaries in Germany, check out our story here:

REVEALED: What do employees really earn across Germany’s states?

Do Germans really have a good work-life-balance?

Germans may be known for having a good work-life-balance (at least compared to workers in the US), but did you know that half of employees in the Bundesrepublik regularly work overtime?

Overall, Germans clocked up more than two billion hours of overtime in 2017, German government figures show. 

And according to the Working Time Monitor 2019 study by the consulting company Compensation Partners, 54 percent of employees regularly work overtime, with an average of three extra hours per week. Men are affected slightly more often than women.

The study showed that employees with a salary of €91,000 to €100,000 worked 5.16 hours of more than the agreed weekly hours in their contract.. For top earners taking home more than €120,000, the amount of overtime climbed to 6.83 hours.

In general lower-income earners work less overtime. Those who earn less than €20,000 a year work an average of 1.9 hours a week more than agreed, according to the study.

However, there are also professions where overtime is almost part of the job description. A 2018 survey by the German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA) showed that full-time employees in the hospitality industry work 47.6 hours a week – significantly more than in most other industries.

In May 2019, the European Court of Justice ruled that all overtime hours worked within the EU should be logged and paid. 

It’s yet to be determined exactly how the ruling will be carried out in Germany as every individual member state can decide how exactly the system will be implemented.

The issue of working from home more due to the pandemic has also come into play.

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