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

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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
11:20 CEST+02:00
With summer holidays for pupils starting as early as next week for some federal states, it’s an appropriate time to familiarize yourself with the labour laws when it comes to paid vacation days as an employee in Germany.
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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.

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. 

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.

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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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