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WORKING IN GERMANY

EXPLAINED: How Germany plans to give people working from home more rights and benefits

Draft legislation is in place to make it easier for employees to work remotely. We take a look at how it would effect taxes, insurance, costs and general work-life balance.

EXPLAINED: How Germany plans to give people working from home more rights and benefits
A woman in Stuttgart working in her Home Office. Photo: DPA

Employees should also be entitled to the right to discuss working remotely with their employer, according to the draft for the “Mobile Work Act”, which DPA acquired on Monday from government circles.

Employers can then either accept or reject the proposal –  but if the latter, they should have to give reasons in writing within two months at the latest.

READ ALSO: Majority of German companies plan to 'focus more on remote working'

The law – originally presented at the beginning of October – is currently being voted on in Germany's parliament.

Will there be a limit to how long employees can work from home?

Originally Heil pushed for employees to be able to work 24 days a year from home when there were no operational reasons against it, yet now there is no limit on number of days.

However, employees who wish to work remotely on a regular basis would have to inform the employer of the start, duration, extent and distribution of mobile work at least three months in advance. 

Work should therefore be able to be carried out at locations of choice, but agreed upon with the employer.

“The Federal Government and Germany’s states are currently calling for employees to work from home wherever possible now”, Heil told DPA.  “The time has now come to create a sensible and modern regulatory framework for this.”

Insurance coverage during Home Office

Currently there's a big legal loophole from employees working from home, said Heil.

“If you drive to work today, take your child to the Kita and continue from the Kita to your workplace, you are covered by accident insurance because it is a commute to work,” he explained. 

Those who bring their child to the Kita and then drive to Home Office officially are not going to work, and are hence not covered.  “That is not okay,” said Heil.

A women working in her Home Office in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Thus, the draft law states, “In future, employees who work from home or at another location outside the company premises will enjoy the same level of insurance cover as if they were working at the company premises.

“Travel to and from childcare facilities is also to be covered.”

In addition, according to the draft, occupational safety protection (Arbeitsshutz) should also be available in the Home Office.

Work-life balance

In Germany, a Feierabend is a sacred time after work, when employees can head home and not worry about any work-related responsibilities. But what happens when the office is also where a person spends their free time?

Heil wants the entire working time to be recorded every day so that boundaries are not crossed. 

He said that Home Office should not lead to the dissolution of the boundaries between work and private life. 

“In the Home Office, too, there should be Feierabend.”

READ ALSO: Why every country should get on board with the German Feierabend

Tax deductions 

Heil was also optimistic about being able to reduce the tax and expenses burden on those who work from home.

Currently a person who has an extra room devoted to being an office can deduct it for tax purposes. “But who has that? Very few people do,” said Heil.

“A lump sum is an uncomplicated and good possible way,” he said.

On Monday, politicians from Germany's Grand Coalition negotiated tax breaks for employees who have to move to the Home Office because of coronavirus.

Specifically, this involves a so-called home office flat rate which can be claimed against tax and thus reduces the tax burden.

According to the financial policy spokesman of the SPD parliamentary group, Lothar Binding, this should amount to €5 euros per home working day, but a maximum of €500 per year. The regulation will initially be limited to two years.

According to the Federal Minister of Finance, Olaf Scholz (SPD), the planned flat-rate Home Office allowance for employees working from home will not add up to any major additional costs.

Scholz said that savings would come elsewhere, as “employees who work at home and benefit from the flat rate would not be able to claim any costs for the journey to work (under travel expenses)”.

Limits to Home Office

Yet Home Office is not for everyone, said Heil. “If you work in a steel mill or bake bread and rolls, of course you can't do it from home”.

In other professions, however, he expects people to work from home even after the pandemic.

“This saves stress in traffic jams and allows more time with the family,” he said.

But many employees also wanted to work physically with their colleagues.

Therefore, said Heil: “This possibility of Home Office should only be created where it is operationally possible and where it is wanted”.

 

 

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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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