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Bildungsurlaub: What is Germany’s ‘education holiday’ and how can I use it?

Depending on the German state you live in, you may be entitled to extra time off work - provided you use that time for further training and education. We break it down for you.

Bildungsurlaub: What is Germany's 'education holiday' and how can I use it?
Taking Bildungsurlaub in the right place is still work, but might offer better scenery. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Patrick Seeger

What does Bildungsurlaub mean?

Perhaps one of the most underused entitlements in Germany is Bildungsurlaub. Literally translated, it means “education holiday,” although “educational leave” would probably be a better description.

What exactly is it?

Depending on which of Germany’s 16 federal states you live in, your employer needs to give you a certain number of paid days off work for you to take educational courses or training to help you do your job better – as long as you request it.

This time – typically five days a year in most cases – comes in addition to any regular paid holiday or public holiday entitlements you have. All employees except civil servants are entitled regardless of nationality. But not all states have it. A total of 14 of Germany’s 16 states offer the concept of Bildungsurlaub, with Bavaria and Saxony being the only two exceptions.

That means if you are entitled to 25 paid holidays, for example, you can take those and still have whatever days for Bildungsurlaub you’re owed on top of that. In that example, the employer pays for 30 days of holiday for you – although you need to be in education or training for five of them.

Depending on the federal state you’re in and how long you’ve been with your employer, you can sometimes carry over five unused Bildungsurlaub days from one year into the next. That way, you can take a two-week course that might help you make more progress in a certain subject.

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Der Bildungsurlaub

Students study from a textbook at a school in Munich

Students study from a German textbook at a language school in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

What kind of education or courses qualify?

There is a catch. You are, of course, required to actually do some learning during this time away from your workplace. You also have to get your employer’s approval and they can refuse if they don’t feel the training you choose is relevant.

Language courses are often safe bets – especially for foreigners in Germany who are looking to brush up on their German language skills with intensive courses that cover more ground than even a month of evening classes. Language schools sometimes offer specifically tailored one or two week courses for this purpose. 

But there could be many other available trainings out there – on everything from coding, web design, computer applications, leadership, and financial management. The trick is to simply make sure that the provider of the course in question is recognised in your employer’s federal state. So if you live in Brandenburg, but work in Berlin, make sure Berlin recognises your course, for example. allows users to search for possible courses and filter results by the type of course, the time it’s offered, and what federal state needs to recognise the course.

What about the “holiday” part of it?

Perhaps the most fun filter though is where the course is offered.

If your federal state recognises a Spanish course offered in sunny Spain and you can make a case for the course being relevant to your work, you’re perfectly entitled to enrol. That means that while you might be spending a certain number of hours a day in your course, you still have some time for a sunny stroll or tapas on the beach after you close your books.

How do I use it?

Taking Bildungsurlaub can be complicated. That may be part of why only about two percent of people in Germany who are entitled to Bildungsurlaub actually use it, according to Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund (DGB), the German Trade Union Confederation.

First, find an accredited course you’re interested in and register your interest with the course provider. Ask them to give you documents you can send to your employer. You need to send these at least four to eight weeks in advance and your employer has two to three weeks to respond.

If they approve you, you can head on the course. But be sure to get a confirmation of your attendance as your presence is mandatory to get your paid days. Once you get back, make a copy of your attendance contribution and hand it to your employer.

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German employers ‘must give notice of holidays expiring’, court rules

Employers in Germany often set strict deadlines for taking annual leave - but a new court ruling states that these deadlines could be invalid if employees don't inform their workers of the rules.

German employers 'must give notice of holidays expiring', court rules

Whether it’s a heavy workload or prolonged illness, there are plenty of reasons that holiday days can end up going unused. In many cases, they simply expire at the end of the calendar year – but are there some cases in which they shouldn’t expire at all?

According to a new decision by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) – the highest court in the EU – some workers may be entitled to compensation for their “expired” holidays after all.

In a landmark ruling based on a dispute in Germany, the ECJ has stated that deadlines for taking holidays are only valid from the date when the employer tells their employees about the rules. It means that if workers are unaware that they have to use their annual leave within a certain time, these holiday days can still be taken after the supposed deadline has passed.

The latest decision comes on the back of a similar ruling by Germany’s Federal Labour Court in 2019, which obliged employers to remind their workers to take their holiday before it expired.

The Labour Court said that the reminders should be addressed directly to the employee in writing and should inform them explicitly that their holiday days could expire if the employee decided not to take them.

READ ALSO: Why German employers will soon have to record staff working hours

Law firm dispute

In the latest case in question, a tax clerk who worked at a law firm from 1996 to 2017 claimed she was entitled to financial compensation for several days of holiday.

Her contract entitled her to 24 days of annual leave, which she said she was unable to take over a number of years because she had too much work to do.

At the beginning of March 2012, her employer certified that she was entitled to a total of 76 days of remaining leave from 2011 and previous years.

This did not expire on March 31st 2013 as usual because she had not been able to take it “due to the heavy workload in the office”, the ruling explained. 

In the following years, the employee once again did not take the full amount of annual leave she was entitled to. During this time, the employer did not remind her to take her holidays, nor did he indicate that the entitlement to leave could be forfeited if she did not take it.

Financial compensation

After the tax clerk left the firm in July 2017, she received just €3,201.38 for 14 days of leave that hadn’t been taken in 2017. 

According to the employee, at least 101 further days of leave were unaccounted for. In a court complaint, she demanded full compensation for these additional days of unused holiday.

However, her previous employer argued that the time limit for taking the holiday days had expired.

The case was initially heard by Solingen Labour Court and then by Düsseldorf Regional Labour Court. It subsequently ended up before the Federal Labour Court, who asked the ECJ to provide an opinion on whether Germany’s three-year cap on taking annual leave was compatible with European law.

READ ALSO: Bildungsurlaub: What is Germany’s ‘education holiday’ and how can I use it?

The entrance to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

The entrance to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. Germany’s three-year cap on untaken leave is compatible with EU law. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Nicolas Bouvy

According to the ECJ, the time limit isn’t problematic. However, it can only apply from the date that the employee is informed about the rule.

That means that, if workers are unaware that their holiday days can expire, the days can be still be taken after the three-year time limit is up. 

“Indeed, since the employee is to be regarded as the weaker party to the employment contract, the task of ensuring that the right to paid annual leave is actually exercised should not be shifted entirely to the employee,” the judgment from Luxembourg states.

The former law firm employee is now likely to be entitled to a hefty payout from her previous employer. In its own judgement, the Federal Labour Court declared that the complainant was entitled to compensation for 76 days of leave at a rate of €228.64 per day.

This equates to a payout of around €17,400 plus interest.  

READ ALSO: Which public holidays are coming up in Germany?