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Working in Germany For Members

Five ways working in Germany is better than employment in the US

Paul Krantz
Paul Krantz - [email protected]
Five ways working in Germany is better than employment in the US
Words across read: 'Family, work, balance'. The word going down is 'to live'. Photo: Anrita auf Pixabay

It's well-known that Europeans enjoy far better vacation benefits than US workers, but the advantages don't end there. Here are five benefits to the German system for workers.

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Here's a look at five positive things about working in Germany, as compared to working in the US:

Significant paid sick leave time

One thing workers in Germany almost never need to worry about: needing to take time off for illness, even in the longer term.

In the Bundesrepublik, employers are mandated to cover up to six weeks of fully paid sick leave – so long as you have been working for your employer for at least four weeks – for both full or part-time workers.

READ ALSO: How sick leave pay in Germany compares to other countries in Europe

For particularly severe or long-term cases, if a doctor advises that you need even more time to recover, you can take further leave from work – up to 78 weeks of leave within a three year period for a given illness. 

During this time you are entitled to 70% of your gross monthly salary (or 90% of your take home pay, whichever is lower), in the form of Krankengeld (sick pay) that is covered by your health insurance provider.

READ ALSO: Working in Germany - The 10 rules you need to know if you fall ill

This benefit is also extended to workers who suffer from acute cases of depression or burnout. In fact these are common reasons for extended sick leave from work in Germany.

In contrast, in the US there are no sweeping federal legal requirements for paid sick leave. Companies that are subjected to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may be required to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain medical issues. 

Generally in the US, employers can determine their own sick leave and paid time off (PTO) benefits. Employees can try to negotiate these when signing an employment contract, but to get as much paid sick leave as the basic German requirements would be unheard of.

nurse in a hospital

Workers in Germany are entitled to at least 30 paid days of sick leave for a given illness, and can generally call out of work for medical appointments as needed. Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Health insurance isn’t dependent on employment

Health insurance is mandatory for all residents in Germany, including foreign nationals – hence needing to select either a public or private insurance plan that satisfies basic requirements before applying for a residency visa.

For people coming from the US, being forced to pay for statutory health coverage may at first feel like an annoying obligation. But ultimately the German system ensures that no one is stuck with a medical bill they can’t afford.

For most regularly contracted workers (that is full- or part-time employees), your health insurance contribution is deducted from your pay. But because your insurance isn’t strictly dependent on your employer, you never need to worry about facing a loss of coverage if your employment changes.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED - Can you switch from private to public health insurance in Germany?

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A health care horror story that is commonly heard in the US goes something like: a person lost their health insurance when they changed jobs and then they had a medical emergency and were stuck with tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills. 

In fact, stories like this have become so common in the US that crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe have been inundated with campaigns for people trying to pay-off their medical bills.

But beyond the hefty bills themselves are a whole slew of knock-on effects that can force people into spiralling debts and lost opportunity – all for a health issue that would have been freely treated in Germany in most cases regardless of one’s employment situation.

Take, for example, the case of an American nurse who was diagnosed with epilepsy at 30. In the American system she was let go from her job when she wasn’t immediately able to return to work (whereas in Germany she would have had a significantly better paid leave option, as mentioned above.)

After losing her job, and therefore also her health insurance coverage, medical debts began piling up – in addition to student loans that she could no longer pay off. When she spoke to the New York Times about her story, she had recovered her health enough to work but could not return to nursing due to economic sanctions against her related to the debts that had piled up. 

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Layoffs are not easy for employers

Sometimes people talk as if no one can be fired in Germany, which is not really true. But it is true that, as a worker, after you’ve passed your initial probation period, your employer can’t just easily fire you for any reason. They would need to justify the firing with a legally valid reason. 

An ordinary termination can be carried out when contractual regulations are not met, for example. In this case the employer needs to observe a legally mandated notice period.

An extraordinary dismissal can occur without notice, but requires a legally valid reason, like if the company is restructuring, or if there is an issue with the employee’s conduct.

But on top of having a legally justifiable reason to lay off an employee, in some cases a works council (Betriebsrat) can also step in to try to prevent a worker from being laid off. 

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The right to form a work council is a pivotal part of German labour law, and when one is established, an employer needs to negotiate lay-offs with the council.

Considering the case of the nurse with epilepsy mentioned above, it's likely that in Germany she would not have been laid off. Most German hospitals have a works council, and the council could object to a nurse being fired amid the severe shortage of nurses that Germany is facing.

READ ALSO: The German states struggling most with a doctor shortage

If her condition prevented her from performing her job, the council might instead suggest that she be transferred to an administrative position, for example, until her condition improves.

Parental benefits

Workers who are parents, or planning to be parents, in Germany are entitled to a wealth of benefits designed to ensure they have enough time and financial support to raise a child while maintaining a career.

Workers who are to be moms are typically entitled to 14 weeks of maternity leave in Germany. This leave comes with an allowance called Mutterschaftsgeld, and may be adjusted for medical reasons, or depending on agreements with employers.

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According to EU law, new fathers are also entitled to at least 10 days of paternity leave. This is due to be formally written into law in 2024, but so far an official date for implementation in Germany hasn’t been announced

Still, between Kindergeld that provides money to parents to offset child rearing costs, Elterngeld which offers pay for parents who want to take time off to raise their children, tax breaks and subsidised child care, parenting in Germany comes with a fair amount of economic support and security.

READ ALSO: What benefits are you entitled to if you have children in Germany?

As anyone who has raised a child in the US knows, the same cannot be said in the US.

briefcase in hand

Workers in Germany tend to receive better sick leave and vacation benefits, in addition to other support for a healthy and secure lifestyle. Photo: Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash

A healthy work life balance

Finally, along with the basic protections that German workers enjoy, there is also a culture that prioritises a healthy work-life balance.

This is seen in labour laws – such as Germany’s minimum four weeks of paid vacation per year as opposed to an average of 11 among workers in the US. Here a two-week or even month long vacation each year is par for the course, in addition to several smaller vacations that can be build around weekends or public holidays.

READ ALSO: What days will workers in Germany get off in 2024?

But it's also seen in workplace culture, where it’s not unusual for colleagues to kindly ask their busy co-workers to refrain from messaging them after hours, for example. Or where the thought of staying home when you're sick is a no brainer.

Here a small celebration of the Feierabend (time after work) is a sacred daily ritual. There's even a German word for the celebratory beer you might drink after finishing up for the day.

READ ALSO: Why every country should get on board with the German Feierabend

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Comments (2)

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Lyssa in Mainz 2024/06/11 09:55
The negative about the US is hyped. I had great healthcare, better than Germany hands down. It was cheaper too since my income was 3 times as much and taxes far lower. I took paid leave with both my kids - 6 months each. My husband took the other 6 months off in paternity leave, which they don't have in Germany. I had 6.5 weeks paid leave in US.
  • paul.krantz 2024/06/12 16:23
    Thanks for sharing Lyssa, Undoubtedly many of these points vary dramatically on a case by case basis. In the US most of these benefits depend on one's employment so some people, such as yourself, may end up with good healthcare and leave benefits. But when it comes to federal standards they aren't there. Which is why many workers in the US suffer from inadequate health care coverage or leave benefits.
a 2024/05/29 19:14
This is all bullshit. For expats I recommend you to do your research. Germany can’t offer you stability as most of the times working visas are issued on an expiry date. All bs

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