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Working in Germany: A weekly roundup of the latest jobs news and talking points

Working in Germany: A weekly roundup of the latest jobs news and talking points
Office work is once again on the rise in Germany - but what will the 'office of the future' look like? Photo: picture alliance / Mediengruppe RTL/dpa-tmn | Mediengruppe RTL
Every week The Local brings you a roundup of the latest jobs news and topics around working in Germany. Here we look at the updates to workplace Covid health rules, sinking unemployment and the slow return to office life.

Germany to define new workplace Covid rules 

The government has extended its Occupational Health and Safety Regulation – which sets out rules for navigating office life amid the pandemic – until November 24th, 2021. The Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) has opted to follow its “tried and tested” formula of imposing social distancing measures in the office and requiring employers to provide free Covid tests to employees at least twice a week.

In addition, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) wants employers to play a much greater role in the ongoing vaccination campaign.

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“That means that they should be involved in educating employees about vaccinations in the context of workplace health and safety, and should make vaccinations possible during working hours,” Heil told ARD Morgenmagazin. “The aim is for as many people as possible get vaccinated.”

As of September 10th, employers will be obliged to inform employees about the risks of Covid-19 and vaccination options, to release employees to take advantage of vaccination offers and to support company doctors in offering vaccinations.

Employers will also be able to take into account the vaccination status of their employees – or whether they’ve recently recovered from Covid – when setting out their hygiene plans, provided they have this information. Which brings us to our next talking point…

Should employers have the right to know an employee’s vaccination status?

That’s the debate that’s been raging on for the past few days in German politics, as employees lobby for the right to know whether their staff have been vaccinated.

Calling on the government to introduce the new powers, Thilo Brodtmann, head of the influential German Engineering Federation, said employees had “an obligation to provide information as to whether they have been vaccinated or not” in order to reduce infection rates “to zero”.

Meanwhile, the Chief Executive of the employers’ association Südwestmetall, Peer-Michael Dick, called it “absurd that companies have had to offer free Corona tests until now, but are not allowed to ask for vaccination data.” 

READ ALSO: German industry seeks powers to know worker vaccine status

And it’s not only businesses which are coming out in favour of employers accessing their staff’s health data. Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) said he was “increasingly tending towards a yes” on the proposals, saying such as move would help employers figure out logistics like seating arrangements and office capacity. 


Should you have to bring your vaccination booklet to work in future? Employers say yes – but the unions disagree. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Paul Zinken

But the unions – and data protection experts – aren’t happy about the idea of bosses prying into employees’ health data, and so far Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) has been reluctant to make a commitment to a legal change.  

However, with infection rates rising and vaccination stalling, the debate is likely to rear its head again – so expect to see further discussion on this in the coming weeks. 

Employers ‘can demand return to the office’

Levitating office chairs, computer-generated canteen food, mind-reading headsets that tell you what Gerhardt in accounts really thinks of you… is that what awaits the office workers of the future? Unfortunately, these futuristic concepts haven’t been tested just yet.

But following the global health emergency, the question of how the workplace will look in five, ten or twenty years’ time is at the front of many CEO’s minds – and some offices are experimenting with new formats.

Keen to be at the cutting edge of new developments, one bank in Frankfurt is hoping to shake up office life with a new concept called ‘Clean Desk’, which envisions an infection-conscious office environment after Covid-19.


At DZ Bank in Frankfurt, employees could soon be using a new ‘Clean Desk’ system, spelling the end of the personalised booths of the past. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Arne Dedert

Every day, employees arriving at DZ Bank’s offices must pick out a new desk to work on and then clean up after themselves when they leave that evening. “Employees who come into the office can ‘dock’ at any free space and are immediately ready to work,” a DZ spokeswoman told ARD, adding that demand for a trial week of the concept was high.

A similar desk-sharing concept is also being introduced by travel agency TUI, apparently, in order to offer a more flexible working environment for employees who may want to switch between home office and in-office work. 

At the time of writing, The Local was unable to confirm whether DZ Bank’s ‘office of the future’ (which apparently looks a lot like a hotel room) would be featuring levitating office chairs or telepathic headsets. But one thing is clear: the days of closely-guarded office booths could soon be coming to an end.

The slow return to office life – but not entirely

According to Munich’s Ifo Institute, the number of employees working from home is on the decline as public life in Germany continues its return to normality. 

Between July and August, the percentage of employees working from home sank slightly from 25.5 percent to 23.8 percent. But experts believe that the number of in-office workers may never return entirely to pre-pandemic levels. 

“The vaccination figures are rising, and more and more employees are going back to the office,” said Oliver Falck, head of the Ifo Center for Industrial Economics and New Technologies.

“In August, however, the drop was smaller than in previous months. This suggests that the rate should stabilise at a level higher than before Covid.”

Unemployment drops again in August 

With most places once again open for business (at least for people with vaccine passes or negative tests), Europe’s largest economy is bouncing back with a vengeance.

In a sign of Germany’s robust recovery, unemployment dropped once again in August. At 5.5 percent, it is now the lowest it has been since the start of the Covid pandemic. 

READ ALSO: German unemployment drops to pre-pandemic levels

While the “help wanted” signs may be great news for jobseekers, however, the drop in unemployment has once again highlighted a major pain point in the German jobs market: the shortage of skilled labour. As politicians consider how to plug this gap, many consider immigration to hold the answers.

“We need 400,000 immigrants a year. In other words, significantly more than in previous years,” Detlef Scheele, chair of the Federal Employment Agency, told Süddeutsche Zeitung.

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