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How Bavaria plans to shake up German working time rules

The Bavarian state government wants to make rules on rest and maximum working hours more flexible.

How Bavaria plans to shake up German working time rules
Should work time be more flexible? Photo: DPA

The government, led by a coalition of the Christian Democrats’ sister party the CSU, and the Freie Wähler (Free Voters), believes current regulations are outdated.

The laws allow for an employee in Germany to work eight hours a day, which can be extended to a maximum of 10 hours in some circumstances.

The Bavarian plan, which will be put forward to the Bundesrat – Germany's upper house of parliament – envisages relaxing these rules, including the compulsory uninterrupted rest period of 11 hours between two working days. 

According to the government, which is led by the CSU's Markus Söder, many employees in the southern state want this change in order to improve the work and family life balance.

It would mean employees could, for example, take a break in the afternoon and work their hours late in the evening, before starting the next day as usual. It’s particularly aimed at parents who may have to pick up or look after children in the middle of the day. 

“Modern communication technology increasingly offers freedom for working independent of time and place, and opens up a higher degree of flexibility for companies and employees,” the cabinet said in a statement on Monday.

Making working hours more flexible in Germany has been a topic debated over the past few years, as the workforce changes and digitalization continues.

READ ALSO: 100 years later, Germany calls the eight-hour working day into question

However, the Social Democrats slammed the Bavarian initiative, raising concerns that softening the rules could allow employees to become exploited.

The Bundesrat is the upper house of parliament and consists of representatives of the German states. Laws concerning state affairs or the constitution must be approved by it before they come into force.

What are the rules on working time in Germany?

The Working Time Act stipulates the number of hours a person can work in a regular working day. In Germany, an employee can work eight hours a day, Monday to Saturday, for a maximum of 48 hours per week.

An employee can work up to 10 hours a day if the average number of hours per day does not exceed eight over 24 weeks. To extend beyond this requires specific agreements and approval by the relevant local authority.

Workers are also required to have an uninterrupted rest period of at least 11 hours after the end of their daily working time.

When it comes to breaks, the law also specifies that employees must receive a 30-minute break when working between six and nine hours.

Working more than nine hours a day requires at least a 45-minute break. Break times are decided by the employer, unless another way of distributing breaks has been decided through a collective bargaining agreement.

EXPLAINED: Who are the foreign workers coming to 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?