Why German taxpayers don’t pocket their own cash until mid-July

What does an average household in Germany surrender to the state every year? According to new research, employees don't work for their own wallet until mid-July.

Why German taxpayers don't pocket their own cash until mid-July
Employees at the BMW plant in Leipzig earlier this year. Photo: DPA

Germans have to give up more than half – 53.7 percent – of their income to the state in 2019.

That's according to research by the lobby group the German Taxpayers Federation (BdSt) who pinpointed Monday as 'Steuerzahlergedenktag' (taxpayer memorial day) – the moment that Germans work for themselves again.

Converted to the year, it means the entire income earned by taxpayers and contributors before this date is – purely theoretically – transferred to the state in the form of taxes.

But from 9.56pm on Monday, employees can pocket cash for themselves again.

The BdSt made the calculations based on representative household surveys conducted by the Federal Statistical Office.

Tax high in Germany

According to the group's research, of every euro earned just 46.3 cents goes to the employee.

In fact, Germans are particularly burdened when it comes to tax compared to other countries. A report by the OECD published earlier this year revealed that Germany is second only to Belgium when it comes to high tax rates.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) compared 35 developed countries around the world.

The BdSt provided a breakdown of how taxes of employees in the Bundesrepublik are divided up: the largest part – 31.4 cents of every euro – is spent on social security contributions.

The value added tax (VAT) makes up 4.3 cents of every euro, while wage and income tax as well as the solidarity surcharge make up 13 cents.

READ ALSO: The ultimate guide to paying taxes in Germany

In addition, there are other taxes such as property tax, motor vehicle tax, insurance tax – and even coffee tax. In addition, Germans also have to pay the electricity levy and the television licence fee contribution (Rundfunkbeitrag), which amounts to 0.7 cents per euro.

Last year, the so-called taxpayers' memorial day was three days later, according to a report in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published Friday. That's because at the turn of the year contributions to social security were reduced and income tax adjusted to reflect inflation.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about filing your tax return in Germany

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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?