German unemployment rate rises for first time in five years

The increase comes a month after Germany boasted its lowest unemployment rate since reunification.

German unemployment rate rises for first time in five years
A man runs near Thuringia's work agency. Photo: DPA

Germany's unemployment figures rose in May for the first time in more than five years, official data showed Wednesday.

The shift occurred amid signs of slowing growth in Europe's biggest economy, and federally corrected data about the number of people receiving unemployment benefits.

Five percent of people were out of work in Germany, up 0.1 percentage points, reported Federal Labour Agency.

In March and April, the countrywide jobless rate was 4.9 percent — the lowest since reunification in 1990.

SEE ALSO: Germany's unemployment rate at lowest level in nearly 30 years

May's figures marked the first time Germany's unemployment rate has increased since November 2013 — when it was up to 6.9 percent.

“The labour market is showing the first effects of the recent somewhat weaker economic development,” the labour agency's chief Detlef Scheele said in a statement.

In absolute terms, the number of people unemployed rose by just 7,000 in May to 2,236,000, but the seasonally adjusted increase is 60,000.

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New classifications as unemployed

Scheele said “companies demands for new employees weakened noticeably at a high level,” but he also put the changed figures down to a data adjustment made following a series of checks on people receiving unemployment benefits.

In April the Federal Audit Office conducted inspections of 302 German job centres, finding that that there were 30,000 to 40,000 more unemployed people than previously reported.

The discrepancies, with the Audit Office did not consider to be deliberate, occurred after Hartz IV welfare recipients – who were again fit to work after additional training or the end of the illness – had not yet been re-classifed as unemployed.

Looking to the country's different regions, the unemployment rate for the month remains lowest in the southern states of Bavaria, at 2.7 percent, and Baden-Württemberg at 3.1 percent.

In comparison, the northern city of Bremen posted the national high of 10 percent, while capital Berlin came in second at 7.8, down slightly from 8.1 in April.

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Reader question: Is it ever legally too hot to work from home in Germany?

Germany has regulations on working during a heatwave - but does that also apply to people who work remotely? We take a look.

Reader question: Is it ever legally too hot to work from home in Germany?

The number of people working from home shot up during the Covid pandemic, and though employees no longer have the right to work remotely by law, many have chosen to stick with more flexible arrangements and set up a home office at least part of the week.

This is great news for people who enjoy a lie-in more than a long commute, but there are some downsides. One major issue is that it’s not always clear how Germany’s strict employee protection rules actually apply in a home setting. The rules for working during a heatwave are a good example of this.

How does Germany regulate working in extreme heat? 

By law in Germany, employers are responsible for creating a safe environment for their workers. This means that they should try and keep the temperature below 26C at all times and are legally obliged to take action if the temperature goes above 30C. 

That could include putting blinds on the windows to prevent the glare of the sun, installing air conditioning systems or purchasing fans. In some cases – such as outdoor manual labour – it could also involve starting and finishing earlier in the day. 

And in really high temperatures, employers may simply decide to call the whole thing off and give their employees a ‘hitzefrei’ day – basically a heat-induced day off – to go and cool down in a lake. However, business owners are generally given free rein to decide how hot is too hot in this instance (except in the case of vulnerable workers). 

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

Do the heat rules apply to ‘home office?’

Unfortunately not. In most cases in Germany, the company isn’t directly involved in setting up the workspace for an employee that works from home, aside from possibly providing a laptop or phone for remote use. 

“The occupational health and safety regulations regarding room temperature do not apply in this case,” labour law expert Meike Brecklinghaus told German business publication T3N. “This is because the employer does not have direct access to the employee’s workplace and in this respect cannot take remedial action.”

That means that on hot days, it’s the employee’s own responsibility to make sure the environment is suitable for working in. 

woman works from home in Germany

A woman works in her living room at home. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Naupold

One duty employers do have, however, is to instruct their workers about the best way to set up a healthy work environment at home, for example by giving guidance on how to regulate the temperature. 

“In the end, it is the employee’s responsibility to maintain his or her workplace in a condition in which he or she can perform his or her work without the threat of health impairments,” Brecklinghaus explained.

What can home office workers do in hot weather?

There are plenty of ways to keep flats cooler in the summer months, including purchasing your own fan, keeping curtains or blinds drawn and ventilating the rooms in the evening or early morning when the weather is cooler.

However, if heat is really becoming a problem, it’s a good idea to communicate this to your employer. This is especially important if you have a health condition that makes it more dangerous to work in hot weather. 

In some cases, you might be able to negotiate for the employer to pay for the purchase of a fan or mobile air conditioner as goodwill gesture. If possible, you could also arrange to travel to the office where the temperature should be better regulated.

Another option for early birds or night owls is to arrange more flexible working hours so you can avoid sweltering at your desk in the midday sun, although this of course depends on operational factors. 

READ ASO: Jobs in Germany: Should foreign workers join a union?