German Labour Minister wants to allow more remote working after pandemic

Employees in Germany should be able to choose to work from home if possible even after the pandemic has ended, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) said on Wednesday.

Working from home
A woman works from home in Wittenberge, Brandenburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

“I am in favour of learning fundamental lessons for the world of work from the Covid-induced large-scale experiment on working from home,” Heil said. 

With the pandemic forcing employers to allow more flexibility, the incumbent Labour Minister said he saw an opportunity to create “modern rules for mobile working in Germany” and enshrine the right to work from home in German law.

“A modern regulatory framework for mobile working is coming,” he promised. 

During the previous legislative period under the CDU/CSU-led Grand Coalition, Heil came out in favour of allowing employees to work from home for a minimum of 24 days per year.

But with the backing of the SPD’s new coalition partners – the Greens and FDP – it seems new legislation will go further to allow employees to choose where they work at any time. 

According to the Labour Minister, the new proposals stipulate that employers must allow their employees to work from home in future – unless remote working is impossible for logistical reasons. 


“If employers refuse, there must be operational reasons against it – for example, because you work at the blast furnace in the steelworks and of course you can’t work from home,” Heil explained.

“But if the employer can’t give any operational reasons, then the legal right to be able to use home office applies. This gives many people the opportunity to work from home even after the pandemic and make family and work more compatible.”

For many people, remote working is a “new freedom”, Heil said. 

According to the SPD politician, the new legislation will also allow for more flexible arrangements where employees work from home occasionally but also have access to the office. 

Culture shift

With the onset of the Covid pandemic in spring 2020, the culture around remote working Germany has undergone major changes. 

Many employers who were previously unwilling to allow flexible working have been obliged since November to offer their employees the opportunity to work from home if there are no compelling reasons not to. 

While the shift has been a welcome one for many former commuters, the Labour Minister also pointed out what he described as “the downsides of home office”, which he said he would attempt to limit at all costs.

Hubertus Heil (SPD)

Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) speaks in an interview with dpa in January. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Britta Pedersen

“Work must not make people ill,” he said. “Even in a home office, there has to be an end to the working day.”

The regulatory framework on which his party, the SPD, the Greens and the FDP have agreed takes this into account.

According to the latest data from the Munich-based Ifo Institute, 27.9 per cent of employees worked at home at least some of the time in December last year. In August, the rate was 23.8 per cent.

In March last year, the Ifo Institute estimated that around 56 percent of the German workforce would be able to carry out their work remotely. 

READ ALSO: Are too many workers in Germany going into the office amid pandemic?

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Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Since the start of Germany’s Oktoberfest, the incidence of Covid infections in Munich has risen sharply. Though a connection with the festival can’t yet be proven, it seems likely.

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Two weeks after the start of Oktoberfest, the Covid numbers in Munich have more than tripled.

On Sunday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported an incidence of 768.7 for the city of Munich, though updated figures for the end of the festival are not expected until later in the week. Usually, on weekends and public holidays, there is a delay in reports.

In the entire state of Bavaria, the incidence value on Sunday was 692.5.

According to Munich’s public health officer, Beatrix Zurek, bed occupancy in Munich hospitals has also increased. Two weeks ago, 200 beds in Munich were occupied by Covid patients, whereas there are now around 350.

Though a relationship between the sharp rise in infections with Oktoberfest, which ended on Monday, can’t be proven at the moment, it seems very likely, according to experts. A significant increase in Covid incidences has also been shown at other public festivals – about one and a half weeks after the start. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s famed Oktoberfest opens after two-year pandemic hiatus

After a two-year break due to the pandemic, around 5.7 million visitors came to this year’s Wiesn according to the festival management – around 600,000 fewer than at the last Oktoberfest before the pandemic in 2019, when there were 6.3 million.

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) took to Twitter to comment on the rise in incidence in Munich during the Oktoberfest. “This would not have been necessary if self-tests had been taken before admission,” he said.

“Compared to the price of a measure of beer, €2-3 (for tests) wouldn’t have mattered,” he said.

Even before the start of the Wiesn, he had spoken out in favour of people taking voluntary self-tests. Lauterbach stressed that now is the time for special measures against Covid.

“The development shows what will happen if the states wait too long with the mask obligation in indoor areas,” he added.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

In neighbouring counties, where many Oktoberfest visitors came from, the number of Covid cases has also risen noticeably.  Beatrix Zurek said that it is unclear, however, how much of a role Oktoberfest played in these figures, as people are currently much more active socially overall, with concerts and other events also taking place throughout the state.

Christoph Spinner, an infections specialist at Munich’s Klinikum, has urged people not to be alarmed by the rising numbers.

“We had expected rising incidences here. We knew that there could be a doubling, tripling, even quadrupling,” he said.

He said that this is no cause for concern, as many people have been vaccinated or have also recovered from previous Covid infections, so any new infections are therefore usually mild.

The virologist advises people over 60 or with pre-existing conditions to get a second booster vaccination, but otherwise said people shouldn’t be alarmed by the rising incidences.