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How Germany is preparing to end ‘working from home’ rule

Despite rising Covid infections, Germany's workplaces will be allowed to relax Covid restrictions from March 20th. Here's a look at what it will mean for you.

A man working from home.
A man working from home. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Finn Winkler

Germany reintroduced a ‘home office’ obligation in November 2021 to battle rising Covid rates.

Throughout winter, employers have had to offer employees the chance to work from home if operational reasons allowed it.

There are also strict rules for those people going into the office: they are expected to carry proof of Covid vaccination, recovery or a negative Covid test if they want to or have to work on-site (known as the 3G rule).

However, from March 20th, Germany’s far-reaching Covid measures – including workplace rules – are set to be lifted.

READ ALSO: Will Germany lift its Covid restrictions amid rising infections?

What happens after March 20th?

A new draft by the Labour Ministry gives us an idea of what will happen after this date. 

And it has emerged that despite the law being lifted, Covid safety plans will still have to be in place. 

The draft proposal states that employers should assess the risk posed by Covid-19 and define appropriate measures in a company safety concept.

According to the German government, employers should decide what kind of safeguards against infections they should have in place – such as offering employees regular Covid-19 tests, providing protective masks or asking employees to work from home.

An employee in Heimstetten takes a Covid-19 test.

An employee in Heimstetten, Bavaria, takes a Covid-19 test. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Matthias Balk

Companies will also have to decide for themselves on the basic measures in the workplace, such as distance requirements.

The draft states that employers should take into account the regional incidence of infection. 

Labour Minister Hubertus Heil said: “We must continue to work together to ensure that the workplace does not become a place of infection. Therefore, basic protective measures should be maintained here as well.”

The regulation is set to be decided on by the federal cabinet on Wednesday.

What’s the reaction?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, bosses have welcomed more flexible rules and the planned lifting of the obligation to work from home. However, they said safeguard options were important. 

“The flexible measures now planned for companies are necessary and sensible,” said Rainer Dulger, president of the employers’ association.

“Even after the abolition of the legal 3G access regulation and the removal of the obligation to work remotely, businesses will continue to maintain effective protective measures.”

The draft regulation states there will be no legal obligation for people to work from home, but that employers have the option to allow ‘home office’. 

Dulger said that remote work would continue to be used in companies without the law in place.

And he took a swipe at the Labour Ministry’s plans to bring in laws that will mean employers will have to allow employees to work from home in future – unless remote working is impossible for logistical reasons calling the proposals “pointless”.

The German Trade Union Confederation (DGB), meanwhile, has warned against neglecting protection against Covid infections in the workplace.

“Occupational health and safety must not become a private matter for employees from the end of March,” said DGB Executive Board member Anja Piel to the newspapers of the Funke Mediengruppe.

“The pandemic is simply not over yet and that is why home office – where it is possible – remains a useful instrument to limit contacts and therefore the risk of infection,” she said.

Employees “must continue to be protected at the workplace” with masks indoors and by close monitoring of the incidence of infection through regular tests, said Piel, adding: “The costs for this should be borne by the employers.”

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Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

With the EU changing its Covid recommendations for flights, there is some confusion around whether people boarding a plane in Germany will still need to wear a mask. Here's what we know so far.

Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

As of Monday, the aviation safety agency EASA and the EU health authority ECDC no longer recommend mandatory Covid masks in airports and on planes.

However, if masks are compulsory at the point of departure or destination, this should continue to apply in aircraft as well, they say.

So, what does this mean for passengers boarding flights in Germany? At the moment, not very much at all. 

In Germany, the Infection Protection Act still stipulates that masks have to be worn on long-distance trains and planes. Masks are also compulsory on local public transport.

The previous weeks have seen Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) come out in favour of scrapping compulsory masks – especially on flights.

But so far, nothing concrete has been done to change the Infection Protection Act, which is due to expire on September 23rd. 

READ ALSO: German politicians row over lifting mandatory Covid mask rule

What are the current rules on flights? 

According to the Federal Ministry of Health, masks are compulsory on all flights taking off or landing in Germany.

FFP2 or medical masks must be worn when boarding and disembarking and throughout the flight, though they can be removed when eating and drinking.

Children under the age of six are exempt from the mask-wearing requirement. 

The ministry has argued that the obligation to wear masks also complies with the new EU recommendations. 

What are the rules acros the EU? 

In general, the relaxed EU recommendation does not mean that masks are no longer compulsory on all flights. However, many countries have kept this measure in place as a simple way to reduce infection. 

Europe’s largest low-cost airline, Ryanair, published a list of 14 EU countries in which national laws continue to require the wearing of face masks to prevent the spread of Covid.

Besides Germany, popular tourist destinations such as Spain, Greece, Portugal, Italy and France are included on the list. 

In other EU countries, the airline said it would be dropping mandatory masks on flights, adding that it “welcomed” the relaxed recommendations from the EU health authorities.  

READ ALSO: Will Germany soon get rid of mandatory face masks on public transport?