Unemployment in Germany rises in August – but not due to coronavirus

German unemployment inched up slightly in August, official data showed Tuesday, as Europe's largest economy adapted to life after lockdowns imposed to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

Unemployment in Germany rises in August - but not due to coronavirus
A sign lights up Germany's Agentur für Arbeit in Oldenburg. Photo: DPA

The jobless rate ticked up slightly to 6.4 percent from 6.3 percent in July, the BA federal labour agency said, signalling a plateau after a marked rise in unemployment in the early period of the pandemic.

Before the coronavirus struck, unemployment had hovered at around five percent, record lows since reunification. In August 2019, unemployment was 5.1 percent.

The BA blamed the summer break for the rise in unemployment in August.

“Unemployment rose at the usual rate in August, meaning there was no additional coronavirus-related increase in unemployment from July.

Nevertheless, the effects of the pandemic on the labour market are still very clearly visible,” said Detlef Scheele, chairman of the labour agency.

Unemployment may continue to rise as companies restructure and the post-corona economy takes shape. German carrier Lufthansa, Europe's largest airline by passengers, said it may cut 22,000 jobs and tour operator giant TUI says it will lay off 8,000 workers.

READ ALSO: German giant TUI to slash 8,000 jobs over coronavirus crisis

The impact of the crisis on the job market has been cushioned by Germany's
shorter hours programme, known as Kurzarbeit, in which the government tops up
workers' wages when their working hours are cut.

After an initial surge to 10.6 million in March and April combined, the numbers of new applications for the scheme have come down significantly.

Around 5.4 million people were on Kurzarbeit in June, according to the BA, still considerably higher than at the height of the financial crash in 2009.

There were 170,000 new sign-ups to the scheme in August, it added.

READ ALSO: Kurzarbeit: Germany extends reduced hours work scheme

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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?