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Germany plans for ‘right to work from home’ for a minimum of 24 days a year

German Labour Minister Hubertus Heil wants to give as many employees as possible the right to at least 24 days per year working from home.

Germany plans for 'right to work from home' for a minimum of 24 days a year
Working from home became a must for those who could manage during the lockdown. Photo: DPA

That's according to a draft law, the Mobile Work Act, that aims to allow 'home office' or working from home when appropriate after the pandemic ends.

In an interview with Bild Am Sonntag, Heil, of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) said: “Wherever possible, all employees should be legally entitled to at least 24 days per year for mobile work.”

“If both parents have a job in which mobile working is feasible, I propose that one parent should be able to work from home for one day every week, alternating between them. This makes family life much easier.”

Heil previously said that the right to work from home has come about as a response to seeing how successfully it had operated during the coronavirus lockdown.

“The virus has taught us that much more mobile working is possible than we thought,” he said. “Mobile working is not only something for young people from agencies who sit in a cafe with a laptop and a latte macchiato.

“As mobile working is already part of the modern working world for some – but not yet made possible for many – it needs a law.”

READ ALSO: German government set to introduce permanent 'right to work from home'

Employees will have right to negotiate working from home

Heil said he wanted the 24 days to be understood as a lower limit. Employees and employers could also agree individually in collective agreements or company deals to work more at home.

“All employees will have the right to negotiate with their boss about mobile working,” he said, acknowledging that some industries cannot introduce this.

“Of course, a baker cannot bake rolls from home,” he said. Therefore, an employer can refuse the request if there are good reasons for it.”

However, the law will mean that employers can no longer reject mobile working on principle.

“In future, the boss and employee will negotiate on an equal footing,” said Heil. The law also stipulates that working hours in the home office must be digitally documented.

“In home office, too, there needs to be an end to work at some point,” he said.

However, not everyone is on board with the new plans signalling there may be some opposition to the draft law.

“Where home offices are possible, it's a win-win situation for both sides,” said Christian von Stetten, Chairman of the Parliamentary Group of Medium-Sized Businesses of the centre-right CDU/CSU parliamentary group.

“But the employer will continue to decide i future where the work he pays for is to be performed. The SPD should return to reality and not tell citizens any nonsense.”

Around 25 percent of Germans were working from home during the lockdown earlier this year, an increase from 12 percent before the strict measures to contain the spread of Covid-19 were put in place.

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READER QUESTIONS

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?

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