What you need to know about Germany's new working from home rules
Employees are being asked to work from home, when possible, as of Wednesday. We break down the new regulation, including who's supposed to follow it and how it will be enforced.
The ordinance, which went into effect on January 27th and is set to stretch until March 15th, was passed in part to relieve congestion on public transportation, especially during peak travel times.
"Those who can, work at home" is the goal of the new regulation, said Social Democrats (SPD) parliamentary group vice president Katja Mast on Wednesday.
Why was the new ordinance put in place?
Previously the government and states had only urged employees to use home office (as it's commonly called in Germany) whenever possible, but there was no official ordinance obligating employers to allow it.
Labour Minister Hubertus Heil did not feel this was effective enough in pushing more employees to work from home. He consequently proposed the ordinance which obliges companies to make home office a right, as long as it’s possible.
In a survey conducted by the Bavarian Business Association (vbw) earlier in January, two-thirds of companies said that home office would be possible in their line of work. But only 64 percent of these companies said that their employees are currently working from home.
That means that in more than a third of companies, people have been working in the office even though it would also be possible to work remotely.
Does the new regulation create an obligation to have a home office?
No. Companies merely have to make it possible, and it is up to employees to decide if they work from home or not. But "the Federal Chancellor and the heads of government of the federal states ask employees to take advantage of the offer,” stated the new resolution.
Who should monitor compliance with the new regulation?
In many companies, home office has long been the norm, with an increasing number of firms allowing or even encouraging their employees to work from home since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020.
But in some cases the boss is not in favour of it, feeling that he or she could lose oversight and control over employees.
That's why, in future, there will be checks to see whether employers are complying with their obligation to offer home office.
Compliance with the ordinance is to be monitored by the labour protection authorities of the states. According to Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD), the employer must explain reasons why home office is not possible at the request of the authorities.
In “extreme cases", theoretically fines of up €30,000 are also possible.
For which office jobs could home office be rejected?
For example, if it involves other activities that have to be done at the workplace. The Ministry of Labour mentions, for example, processing and distributing incoming mail, issuing materials, processing incoming or outgoing goods or customer service. Ensuring first aid or medical care in the company could also be a reason why an employee cannot work from home.
Will the regulation bring with it a general right to home office?
Not exactly. Heil is in favor of such a right, but there is still a dispute with the CDU/CSU about it. The current regulation will apply for a limited period - for the duration of the pandemic.
Heil's original plan to grant employees the right to up to 24 home office days has met with resistance from the CDU/CSU. The minister's draft bill from the end of last year provides for employees to have the right to discuss home office with their employer.
What about when it's not possible to work from home?
Where home offices are not possible, companies are to provide workers with medical masks. "Masks of the FFP2-/KN95 standard are to be used for work areas in confined spaces, without sufficient ventilation or without sufficient clearances," the government's resolution states.
To avoid overcrowded buses and trains during rush hours, companies must also allow flexible working hours.
Heil wants to limit the number of employees working in the company at any given time so that there is at least ten square meters of space for each employee in enclosed work and break rooms.
If that is not possible, ventilation measures or suitable partitions between people are mandatory.
What other protective measures are planned for working in the office?
The joint consumption of food and drinks, for example in canteens and break rooms, is to be prohibited.
If the incidence in a region is 200 or more, companies that require more than 50 employees to be present in the workplace at the same time would have to carry out rapid tests on their employees at least once a week if the minimum distances cannot be consistently maintained or employees have to use public transport regularly, reported BILD.