For members


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

If you're planning any holidays, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the labour laws when it comes to paid vacation days as an employee in Germany.

Vacation days in Germany: What to know about your rights as an employee
German laws state that new employees in their first six months of work aren't entitled to their full vacation entitlement. Photo: DPA
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The right to paid vacation (bezahlter Urlaub) for workers across the country is regulated by the Federal Holiday Act (Bundesurlaubsgesetz).

The law – as its name suggests – is intended for rest and recreation.

Who is entitled to paid vacation days?

Not only are full-time employees entitled to holidays in Deutschland, but also part-time, marginal, fixed-term and temporary employees and in some cases also trainees.

How many vacation days am I legally entitled to?

Unlike in other countries such as the US and Canada, where paid vacation either isn’t guaranteed or amounts to a mere ten days, in Deutschland the number of days off you’re entitled to depends on how much you work.

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Workers with a six-day work week have the right to an annual minimum of 24 vacation days per year.

For employees who work five days a week, it’s 20 days of holiday per year and for those with a four-day week it’s 16 days per year.

People who work three days a week get 12 vacation days each year; a two-day week entitles one to eight vacation days; a one-day work week means one has the right to four days off.

But these figures are only the prescribed minimum. Depending on the collective agreement you have with your employer, you could have more vacation days than the legal minimum. In many occupations and industries across the country, for instance, 30 days annual paid leave is common.

The law additionally grants some groups of people more time off. For instance, severely handicapped employees with a five-day work week get an additional five days off per year, meaning they are entitled to 25 vacation days.

There are also a number of so-called “special holidays”, including your wedding (if it falls on a working day), birth of your child and in some cases moving house.

READ ALSO: These are the ‘special’ days when you can get paid time off in Germany

What if I’m a teenage worker?

For young people, holiday entitlement differs according to age. Legally, the minimum number of vacation days for those who are younger than 16 at the beginning of the calendar year is 30 business days.

For youth who are not yet the age of 17 at the start of the calendar year, it’s 27 business days; for young people who are under 18 it’s 25 working days. 

A person is considered an adult in the Bundesrepublik at the age of 18.

What if I’m a new employee?

New employees only acquire their full vacation entitlement after six months in their organization. In Germany a probation period (Probezeit) of six months is typical for new hires. During this time, either party can terminate the contract – usually with two weeks’ notice.

Important to note is that these six months of work can be spread over two calendar years. As well, an employee’s right to vacation isn’t dependent on whether he or she actually worked during this period.

Booking days off during the summer can be tricky if an employee needs to consider whether there’ll be a shortage of staff. Photo: DPA

If you’re a new employee, during the trial period you are entitled to one twelfth of your annual holiday per full month of work. This means that if you’ve only worked with your new company for three months and wish to take vacation, you would only have the right to proportional leave.

However, the employer and the employee may agree not to observe this probation period and its rules. If for instance a company allows it, a worker can take leave after only two months of having started in his or her new role.

I was sick and couldn’t take vacation. What are my rights?

If you were sick all throughout the calendar year and weren’t able to take your vacation days, you are still entitled to bezahlter Urlaub – and can take it in the first three months of the following calendar year.

If you happen to 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.

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Can I carry over vacation days from last year?

Remaining holidays from the previous calendar year can be carried over to the next year, but must usually be taken within the first three months of the new calendar year – unless the employer and the employee agree otherwise.

Holiday entitlement is generally limited to the respective calendar year, meaning an employee “should by no means rely on” being able to carry these days over to the following year, Ina Koplin, a lawyer specializing in labour law told der Spiegel.

Koplin added that carrying over holidays is usually only possible in the event that workers weren’t able to take these days due to personal reasons such as sickness or reasons having to do with the company, such as when holidays cannot be taken due to a significant shortage in staff. 

Some companies also allow a specific number of days, often five, to be carried over into the next year.

Employers offering employees money in place of holidays is not allowed

Employers are not allowed to grant employees money instead of time off. This is in line with the purpose of the federal law and its intention to observe a worker’s recreation and rest entitlement.

An exception exists if the worker’s leave can no longer be granted in whole or in part due to the termination of the employment relationship. In exceptional cases like these, vacation days can be paid out financially.

SEE ALSO: These German cities offer the best work-life balance

Gainful employment during holidays is a no-go

Employees on holiday may not take up gainful employment because this also works against the purpose of bezahlter Urlaub

Don’t get caught taking on a Nebenjob, or a side job, during your holidays. Photo: DPA

If an employer finds out its employee is taking on self-employment or engaged in activities in order to receive monetary compensation, it is no longer obliged to pay remuneration for the period of “leave”. If the company has already paid it, this amount can be reclaimed.

Working on a voluntary basis, such as selling sausages at your family’s food stand at a festival or undertaking unpaid work on a trip abroad, is not banned under this rule.

What happens when I disagree with my employer regarding when and how long I want to take my vacation?

Employers are generally required to consider the wishes of their employees when it comes to their requested holidays. If a significant number of staff members want to take holidays at the same time, the organization is required to find a fair solution while carefully considering its business needs.

A company moreover cannot simply cut and space out an employee’s vacation days as it pleases (e.g. one day off here, four days off a few days later and three days off in a few weeks). What most workers don’t know is that they’re actually entitled to consecutive leave; taking a minimum of twelve business days off at a time is acceptable.

If you disagree with your employer with regards to paid leave, it’s not a good idea to simply take it without approval.

In a court case involving a German man who took leave on his own initiative even though it wasn’t approved by his employer, the judges in Krefeld, North Rhine-Westphalia found his dismissal without notice to be permissible in principle. 

Still, the judges ruled the employer’s actions to be too harsh and suggested instead that a settlement be reached between both parties. Ultimately, the employee was not dismissed and given a warning instead.

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For members


How to find out what your colleagues earn in Germany

If you suspect your colleagues may be raking in a bit more dough than you are, you'll be pleased to know there's a way to find out for sure. Here's what to know about Germany's wage transparency law - and how to make use of it.

How to find out what your colleagues earn in Germany

Like many countries worldwide, gender pay inequity is a persistent issue in Germany. Recent analyses show that women in Germany earn 18 percent less on average than their male counterparts – the third highest pay gap in the EU. 

In 2017, Germany adopted the Wage Transparency Law (Entgelttransparenzgesetz) to try and address this problem.

The act is designed to highlight pay discrepancies between male and female employees who do equal work. In fact, it’s designed as way to get around the non-disclosure clauses in some employment contracts and the general taboo in German society when it comes to discussing salaries, both of which makes it difficult for women to know if they are being underpaid. 

Unfortunately, making use of the law in practice can prove quite complicated – but it can be done. So if you suspect your male colleagues might be taking home a bigger salary for no good reason, here’s how to find out. 

How does it all work? 

The law, which came into effect in July 2017, has two main stipulations aimed to make pay disparities more transparent and encourage companies to address them. 

First, it enables individuals working at companies with more than 200 people to know the median pay of a group of at least six employees of the opposite sex who work at the same level as you. 

Second, the law encourages companies with more than 500 employees to regularly review their pay structures and publish details on whether they are complying with equal pay rules as part of their financial reports.

READ ALSO: ‘How much do you earn?’ New law tackles gender pay gap

OK, but how do you get hold of this information? 

If you work at a company that employs 200 people, and has at least six people of the opposite sex doing comparable work to you, you can submit a written request for pay information. In this request, you have to demonstrate that the employees whose pay information you are requesting are doing equivalent work to you. This generally means they have the same overall requirements and burdens as you. A good benchmark would be if that person can stand in for you if you miss work because of illness or vacation. 

You can formulate the request on your own, or use a form provided by the government. You should submit the request through your workers’ council (Betriebsrat) unless your company doesn’t have one, in which case, you can go directly through your employer. 

Woman working on laptop at home

A woman works on a laptop at home. The first step in finding out colleagues’ pay is to file a request. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

In addition to requesting information on the median of the average full-time annual salary for your position (with the median being the halfway between the lowest and highest salaries), you can request information on up to two other salary components, such as performance-related pay and hardship allowances. Your employer is also required to tell you how they determined your own remuneration.  

Within three months the works council is expected to collect the requested information from the employer and return it to you in written form. You are only allowed to make a request once every two years, but if you team up with other colleagues, you can get access to much more info in a shorter period of time. 

READ ALSO: Women in Germany earn nearly a fifth less than men

What do I do with this information?

Depending on what you find out, there are multiple next steps. If you discover that you earn less than the median salary of your peers, this doesn’t automatically give you the right to a salary adjustment. Instead, a good first step is to take your concerns to your works council or trade union, who should then relay them to the company and pressure your employers to review their pay structure.

If you really want to ramp things up, suing for equal pay under the General Equal Treatment Act (Allgemeines Gleichbehandlungsgesetzes) is also an option – though this route can be precarious. If you’re in a union, you might want to consult with them for legal advice about whether your case is likely to succeed. 

This is because you would have to prove that you are being paid less because of your gender. And while the legal process can be long (a recent successful lawsuit took more than four years), you have to decide quickly if you want to pursue it: after finding out about the salary discrepancies, you have just two months to file a claim. 

READ ALSO: REVEALED: Germany’s top-paying jobs and highest-earning states

What if my company doesn’t qualify? 

A main critique of the Wage Transparency Law is that a majority of women in the country don’t qualify for it, given that around two-thirds of women work in small businesses that employ less than 200 people.

For this reason, critics have called for a reform to the law so that it applies to all companies. Some politicians have embraced this position, with Green Party leader Ricarda Lang hopeful that a change could come as early as this year.

Colleagues work together at a startup.

Colleagues work together at a startup. Small businesses are currently not covered by the law. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Zacharie Scheurer

Until that point, strategies for increasing pay transparency at smaller companies include talking openly with fellow employees about salaries and collaborating with your works council to pressure your company to reveal – and potentially review – its pay structures.

Another option is to search for information on average salaries in your field at companies similar to yours, or use websites like Glassdoor to check for salary information from your company.

READ ALSO: INTERVIEW: How to get an English-speaking job in Germany

Is this law actually effective? 

All in all, making use of the transparency law can be pretty daunting. Even if an employee uses the law to reveal pay discrepancies, there is no guarantee that the company will address the gap. Indeed, critics have argued that the law unfairly places the burden on employees to act on pay discrepancies, through lawsuits or other pressure tactics, rather than companies. 

Perhaps for these reasons, the law has had an underwhelming effect, as it appears that a vast majority of employees haven’t taken advantage of it since its implementation. According to an evaluation from 2019, only four percent of employees surveyed had submitted a request for information, while about 45 percent of companies with over 500 employees have reviewed their pay structures.

Germany is not unique in its rocky rollout of its pay transparency law, as a report by Eurofund found that other countries who adopted pay transparency laws in response to the European Commission’s recommendations have also faced challenges in implementation. But the report contends that with continued dedication to the issue of equal pay, and a willingness to adjust and reform laws seeking to address this issue, these measures could prove more effective with time.