‘Employees have a right to work from home’: Calls for German heatwave action plan

The mercury is rising and experts believe extreme temperatures will become more frequent in future. How should the country deal with it?

'Employees have a right to work from home': Calls for German heatwave action plan
Greens are calling for 'home office' on hot days. Photo: DPA

As record-breaking temperatures take hold, people in Germany are trying to get through the uncomfortable weather.

But one political party says the country should be better prepared for heatwaves – especially as researchers believe they will be more common (and even hotter) in future.

The Greens say that during extreme heat employees should be able to work from home and those who have to do their job outdoors should be given “hitzefrei” (free from the heat) leave. They also say elderly and sick people need more attention.

It's part of their so-called “heat action plan”. “We must prepare ourselves for the fact that heatwaves will continue to increase with the ongoing climate crisis,” the party said.

The plan, seen by Spiegel, was drawn up by Anton Hofreiter, leader of the Green parliamentary group, and Bettina Hoffmann, the Greens' environmental expert. 

Among other things, Hofreiter and Hoffmann call for a “right to 'home office' for all employees, “unless there are operational reasons” that don't allow that.

Employees who work outdoors, for example on construction sites, in agriculture or cleaning buildings, must be granted a “right to be free of heat in the event of heat hazardous to health”.

However, employers' groups slammed the demand, saying it was unrealistic, reported DPA.

READ ALSO: Climate crisis: Berlin to be 'as hot as Australia in 30 years'

The paper claims that the coalition, made up of Angela Merkel's conservative party (the CDU and sister party the CSU) as well as the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), is not doing enough to protect people from the heat.

So far, the federal government has published non-binding recommendations for action, but has not initiated a joint action plan by the federal and state governments on how to deal with rising temperatures.

“Heatwaves are a serious problem for elderly and sick people,” Hofreiter told Spiegel.

READ ALSO: Is it ever legally too hot to go to work or school in Germany?

'Germany should look to France'

The Greens cite France as a role model. The government there is already implementing a multi-stage heat action plan.

“We urgently need a coordinated heat action plan to prepare our society for the extreme heat and protect our health,” Hofreiter said.

According to figures from the Robert Koch Institute, more than a thousand people died in the states of Berlin and Hesse alone during the summer of 2018 as a result of the heat.

People cooling down in Passau, Bavaria. Photo: DPA

The Greens want to see nationwide “monitoring of heat-related deaths” so more lives can ultimately be saved.

“The topic of climate change and health must be given much greater consideration in medical studies,” Hoffmann said.

People who are particularly susceptible to heat, such as the elderly, “should be protected from heat exposure”.

The party suggests a network of professional and neighbour support services be launched where volunteers would take care of people at risk. Meanwhile “cool rooms” could be set up in health care facilities.

As part of their plan, the party also demands more green spaces in cities.

“Trees, parks, green open spaces and walkways” act like “large cooling air-conditioning systems,” say Hofreiter and Hoffmann. 

Within the framework of urban development funding, the government is already set to provide financial support for the installation of free drinking water stations in the inner cities and heat hotspots, as well as at bus stops and train stations.

Useful rain

And even if thunderstorms come with the heat during the summer months, the Greens believe this could be useful.

They want to see more water from “heavy rainfall” be stored in underground water reservoirs that allow rainwater to seep away.

“At the same time, it can be used to cool our cities and relieve the burden on the sewage system,” they said.

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7 tips for how to survive as a freelancer in Germany

Taking the decision to go it alone and freelance in Germany can be a daunting prospect. But, if you do it right, it can be an exciting and liberating path. Here are some of our top tips on how to survive.

7 tips for how to survive as a freelancer in Germany

1. Get a tax advisor

The German tax system is complicated, even for Germans. All the associated paperwork uses the Amtsprache (authority language) which is more like legalese than ‘normal’ German, and mistakes when filling out tax forms can cause you, at best, a massive headache and, at worst, a costly fine. So it’s best that you employ someone who knows what they’re doing to help you out.

That person is called a Steuerberater (tax advisor) in Germany. They will help you register with the tax office, correspond with them and submit your tax declarations.

Be aware that, in Germany, different deadlines apply for tax returns depending on whether you employ an official tax advisor or not. If you are doing the tax return on your own, the deadline for submitting your annual tax return is earlier than if you use a tax advisor’s services. 

READ ALSO: What NOT to do when you’re freelancing in Germany

When looking for a tax advisor, a top tip is to use your network to get recommendations. Ideally, you want someone who will do more than just fill in the forms for you, but who will actually advise you on how best to manage your business finances so that you can make tax savings.

2. Keep your accounting in order

The better you keep your own accounts in order, the easier it will be for your tax advisor to compile your tax declarations and therefore the cheaper their services will be.

As a freelancer, there are a lot of costs you can deduct from your taxes – from train tickets, working materials, to meals out – so it’s best to keep hold of all your receipts and to keep them in good order.

2 euros and 50 cents lie on a receipt in a beer garden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

In Germany, you’re obliged to keep hold of receipts for two years, in case of a tax inspection, so it’s a good idea to photocopy the type of machine-printed receipts you get from restaurants so that they stay legible for a long time.

There are also a few things to be aware of when writing your own invoices. Firstly, make sure that you include your tax number. This isn’t the 11-digit Steueridentifikationsnummer that everyone gets when registering in Germany, but the 10-digit Steuernummer you get from the Finanzamt after registering yourself as a freelancer. 

Most companies won’t pay you if you don’t have this on your invoices so make sure you include it.

You should also make sure that you number your invoices properly – ideally in ascending order so that you can easily keep track of them. You are not allowed to issue two invoices with the same number and if you do so and the finance office notices, you could face an inspection of your whole accounting system.

There are numerous great accounting software programmes you can use to help you, such as Lexoffice and Sevdesk and, even if you have to pay for them, the costs will be tax deductible!

3. Find out if you’re eligible for financial support

In Germany, there are several opportunities for freelancers to gain financial support and to cut their outgoings, and its worth finding out if you’re eligible for them.

If you’re claiming unemployment benefits under ALG 1 and are thinking about becoming a freelancer, the employment office offers a special type of financial support to help you to get your freelance business off the ground.

Called the Grundungszuschuss (“foundation grant”) the payment is a six-month grant equalling your monthly entitlement under ALG 1 plus €300 towards your insurance costs can be applied for those in receipt of this unemployment benefit.

READ ALSO: Will freelancers benefit from Germany’s €300 energy allowance?

If you are engaged in some form of artistic profession in Germany – which can include journalism to pottery – you may be entitled to membership to the Kunstlersozialkasse (artists’ social insurance).

Being a member of the KSK means you only have to pay half of your health insurance and pension contributions, and the KSK will pay the rest.

4. Work out how much you think you will earn

As with starting any business, you need to have some idea of your expected earnings from the outset.

If you’re just starting out as a freelancer, or have some freelance gigs on the side of an employment position, then it might be worth considering registering yourself as a Kleinunternehmer (“small business”).

As a Kleinunternehmer, you can currently earn up to €22.000 per year without having to charge VAT and having to submit only yearly tax declarations. 

An income tax declaration form lies on a table. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Hans-Jürgen Wiedl

Be aware that if you are registered as this kind of freelancer, you must include the following sentence in your invoices: ‘Gemäß § 19 UStG wird keine Umsatzsteuer berechnet’ which means ‘In accordance with Paragrah19 of the German VAT law, no VAT has been added to this invoice.’

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about your German tax return in 2022

If you think you will earn more than €22.000 per year, you will need to pay Umsatzsteuer (VAT) and will have to submit tax declarations in advance and more often. Depending on how much you earn, this could be every month or every quarter. 

5. Get your insurance in order

In Germany, it’s a legal requirement to have health insurance.

If you’ve just made the move from employment to being a freelancer and want to keep the same health insurer, you should get in contact with your health insurance provider straight away to tell them about your change of circumstances. They will ask you to re-register and to tell them your projected freelance earnings for the year, so they can amend your monthly fees.

If you don’t keep your health insurer provider updated, you could continue to be charged the higher rate that you had from your previous salary.

The insurance cards of the health insurance companies DAK, AOK, Barmer and Techniker-Krankenkasse TK lie with euro notes under a stethoscope. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Daniel Karmann

It’s not just health insurance you need to think about as a freelancer. It’s also wise to think about protecting yourself from any sort of claims that could arise as a result of any working mishaps. 

If, for example, you lose your laptop which contains confidential client information, you need to be protected against claims.

That’s why it’s good to have both Betriebshaftversicherung (business liability insurance) and Rechtschutzversicherung (legal protection insurance).

6. Plan your time wisely

All of these bureaucratic obligations take time. So it’s really important that you take account of that when planning your time. For example, planning half a day a week to deal with your invoices, filing, emails to clients, and conversations with authorities can be really beneficial when scheduling your working time. 

7. Grow your network

As a freelancer, networking is absolutely crucial to success. 

Keep an up-to-date profile on websites like LinkedIn and German equivalent XING and keep in contact with anyone you’ve ever worked with, no matter how brief the contact was. 

Having a network is not only about getting more clients, but also about building a support network in your field to exchange advice, tips and generally for your own enrichment. 

Participating in workshops related to your field, going to seminars, and meet-ups, can be great ways of broadening your network.