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WORKING IN GERMANY

German unemployment rate falls back to pre-pandemic level

German unemployment dropped to pre-pandemic levels in February, two years after the coronavirus shuttered large parts of the economy, official figures published Wednesday showed.

A server in an Erfurt restaurant last year.
A server in an Erfurt restaurant last year. German unemployment has dropped to pre-pandemic levels. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Martin Schutt

The jobless rate stood at five percent in February on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to the BA federal labour agency, the same level as in February 2020.

Employment had followed a steady “upwards trend”, BA chairman Detlef Scheele said in a statement, despite Germany’s economic struggles around the turn of the year.

Renewed health restrictions and the impact of supply chain disruptions will likely put Europe’s largest economy into a recession between the last quarter of 2021 and the first quarter of 2022, according to the German central bank.

The impact of the war in Ukraine is “not yet reflected in the figures”, Scheele said, with the potential that the economic fallout from the Russian invasion at the end of February could unsettle the job market once again.

READ ALSO: Germany to raise Hartz IV unemployment benefit by just three euros

In raw figures, 2.4 million people were unemployed in Germany in February, just 32,000 more than in February 2020.

The number out of work was 476,000 lower than in February 2021, when the economy was still suffering the worst effects of the pandemic.

The figures will be closely watched by policymakers at the European Central Bank, looking out for signs that a tighter labour market could lead to more sustained inflation.

Lower joblessness could increase wage demands, supporting price rises across the economy.

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READER QUESTIONS

Reader question: Is it ever 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 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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