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COVID-19 RULES

Why Germany is backtracking on mandatory working from home rule

German Labour Minister Hubertus Heil appears to be watering-down his plan for mandatory working from home - and will instead make it optional, following criticism from the FDP and employers’ associations.

A woman uses her kitchen worktop as a standing desk while working from home.
A woman uses her kitchen worktop as a standing desk while working from home. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Uwe Anspach

Plans for Germany to reintroduce a mandatory working from home rule from October, as reported by the Local last week, are now off the table.

According to news agency Reuters, a new draft of the ‘Corona Labour Protection Ordinance’ will be diluted to make ‘home office’ optional rather than a strict rule.

Since the Covid pandemic hit in 2020, Germany has brought in mandatory ‘home office’ working rules at different stages of the pandemic in a bid to protect people from and limit the spread of coronavirus. 

During these periods, companies are meant to offer people the opportunity to work from home unless there are operational reasons that don’t allow it. 

Reuters said the new draft regulation states that workplaces should create hygiene concepts to protect against Covid-19 infections and that employers could think about offering workers the option to work from home – but it would not be mandatory.

“In addition to measures to implement the AHA+L rule (keeping distance, hygiene good practice, mask-wearing and ventilation), these (concepts) may also include reducing workplace personal contacts, for example by reducing the simultaneous use of rooms and by offering employees the opportunity to work in a home office,” the new draft says. 

According to the report, the SPD’s Heil is also dropping plans to require employers to offer Covid testing twice a week to workers and instead, employers should give employees the option to test themselves regularly free of charge.

The most recent mandatory working from home obligation ended in March this year. Since then, many people have returned to their workplace on a more regular basis, although the culture of flexible working remains.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Germany’s autumn Covid rules are a giant mess beyond parody

The coalition government plans to approve the new draft at a cabinet meeting in Meseberg on Wednesday, according to reports. The regulation is set to take effect on October 1st and expire on April 7th, 2023. 

Why have the plans changed?

According to Reuters, the Labour Minister backtracked on the stricter regulations following criticism from the SPD’s coalition partners, the business-friendly FDP, and from the BDA employers’ association.

Employer President Rainer Dulger said it was “time to leave the panic corner and come to normality with corona”.

He said companies would implement infection control plans “reliably as usual, while ensuring operational processes and their own profitability”.

READ ALSO: What we know so far about Germany’s autumn Covid rules

Questions had also been raised about the extra cost a working-from-home regulation could have on employees.

With consumer energy prices set to rise to astronomical levels in the coming autumn and winter, many workers may be relieved to know that they will have the option to go into the office to work, instead of having to keep their homes heated during work hours.

A member of the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB), Anja Piel told the Augsburg Allgemeine: “Using home office to shift costs for work – which includes heating the workplace – onto employees is a no-go.”

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WORKING IN GERMANY

6.6 million people ‘set to benefit from €12 minimum wage’ in Germany

According to a new study, Germany's new €12 minimum wage will benefit more than 6.6 million people when it comes into force on October 1st.

6.6 million people 'set to benefit from €12 minimum wage' in Germany

Currently, around 6.64 million workers in Germany earn less than €12 gross per hour, according to new statistics published by the Hans Böckler Foundation’ Institute of Economic and Social Research (WSI), a trade union-linked research foundation. 

Among those now benefiting from the increase, 2.55 million are in full-time employment, according to the WSI. Nationwide, just under one in ten full-time workers and around 20 percent of part-time workers earn less than €12 per hour. Among mini-jobbers, the figure is as high as 80 percent.

Under a flagship policy of the Social Democrats (SPD), Germany’s national minimum wage is set to increase from €10.45 to €12 per hour on October 1st. The last increase was on July 1st this year. 

READ ALSO: ‘Biggest pay rise of their lives’: Germany hikes minimum wage to €12

The move is “a ray of hope in these difficult times” that will help low-paid workers handle the rising cost of living, Stefan Körzell, an executive board member of the German Trade Unions Federation (DGB), said on Tuesday. 

However, the DGB said more controls were needed to ensure that workers actually receive the statutory minimum wage. According the trade unions, employees across numerous sectors are currently earning less than the legal minimum. 

“The federal government must significantly increase the staffing of the responsible authority, Finanzkontrolle Schwarzarbeit,” Körzell said.

In addition to the wage hike, unions are also calling for more relief from the government to help cushion the impact of the rising cost of living. 

In particular, they are advocating for energy price flat rate and an energy price cap that could be paid for by skimming off the “excess profits of the large energy and mineral oil companies”, Körzell explained. 

From Wednesday, the DGB will run information campaigns on the minimum wage increase at more than 230 railway stations and market places throughout Germany.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Will Germany set a gas price cap and how would it work?

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