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EXPLAINED: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules for workers

EXPLAINED: Germany's new Covid-19 rules for workers
A sign in an office tells workers to be quiet. PhotoÖ picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert
Germany has updated its Covid-19 rules for workers, including continued tests and social distancing - but no obligation to work from home. Here's how the new rules affect you.

What’s happened?

Germany’s current Covid health and safety measures for workers – including the obligation for employees to work from home where possible – expired on June 30th 2021.

In light of the country’s falling infection rates, the government opted to introduce a revised version of its Covid regulation for workers, which came into force on July 1st and will stay in place until at least September 10th. 

The headline news is that employers can no longer be forced to let employees work from home – and workers no longer have to agree to do so if asked by their boss.

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Instead, it is up to company bosses to decide whether they want to call their employees back to the office or continue to allow a more flexible working environment. 

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So, I have to go back to the office now?

Not necessarily, but a lot depends on your employer and the capacity of your office. 

While there is no longer be a legal requirement for people to work from home, the Federal Ministry for Work and Social Issues (BMAS) said the home office would continue to make “an important contribution to workplace safety” even after the revised law comes into force.

This is because social contact and crowded workspaces should still be kept to a “necessary minimum” for the time being, so allowing some employees to work from home some of the time makes logistical sense. 

But although BMAS is urging people to limit social contact, once again, some of the regulations enforcing that are being dropped. In particular, the rule dictating that the capacity of an office should be limited to 10m2 per person – meaning only three people would be allowed in a 30m2 room – has now been dispensed with. 

Isn’t this all a bit risky?

Some people seem to think so. Though the current 7-day incidence of Covid-19 infections is still low in Germany, critics of the relaxed rules point to the seemingly unstoppable rise of the highly infectious Delta variant.

Delta has now become the dominant Covid strain in Germany. It is expected to push the number of cases up further. 

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However, with increasing numbers of people now vaccinated against Covid-19 or recovered from it – and the incidence remaining consistently low – BMAS clearly believes that now is the right time to regain a sense of normality in the workplace. 

Will I have to take Covid-19 tests?

That’s one anti-Covid measure that remains in place: employers are still legally required to offer each of their employees at least two coronavirus tests a week, which can be either self-tests, or rapid antigen tests. 

There are exceptions for vaccinated and recovered people, however, and employees are not required to accept the tests when offered them.

Equally, employees can refuse to disclose information about their recovery status, vaccination status or the results of the test. 

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What other protections will there be for workers?

In addition to regular testing, companies will have to make medical masks available to all their employees, and ensure “sufficient protection against infection” in areas where employees take their breaks.

Further, the so-called ‘AHA’ rules (distance, hygiene, masks) will remain in place, so expect to see the doorway hand-sanitiser still in its place when – or if – you return to the office this summer. 


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