ECJ working time ruling: everything expats in Germany need to know

ECJ working time ruling: everything expats in Germany need to know

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that employers must fully record every hour worked by their employees. What changes will this have on everyday working life in Germany? And will workers in Germany finally be paid for all that overtime? We rounded up everything expats need to know about this important ruling.

What exactly did the ECJ rule about working time?

On Tuesday, the ECJ passed a landmark ruling, stating that all EU states must require their employers to set up an “objective, reliable and accessible” system for tracking the daily working hours of their employees. This is to ensure that labour laws and workers’ rights are correctly observed.

The decision was reached after a Spanish trade union launched a lawsuit against a local subsidiary of Deutsche Bank, in which they sought to compel one of the largest banks in Germany to record the time worked each day to make sure it complied with local labour laws on unpaid overtime.  

What does the ECJ ruling mean for workers in Germany?

The move was hailed by the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB), who said that the decision spelt a positive change for workers in Germany. By forcing employers to systematically record all working time, they argued, labour laws that protect workers’ rights will be easier to enforce. The following areas are most likely to be affected:

(Unpaid) overtime

One of the main aims of the ruling is to allow overtime to be correctly determined by employers. As the ECJ states, it is impossible to do this without an accurate calculation of the total number of hours worked.

According to the German federal government, around 2,1 billion hours of overtime was worked in Germany in 2017, at least half of it unpaid. If you regularly work extra hours, you can hopefully look forward to some extra remuneration in your salary in the not-too-distant future.

Capped daily working hours and statutory rest periods

If every hour worked is properly recorded, it will also make limits on daily working hours and minimum rest periods easier to enforce. Legally, every employee in Germany is entitled to a break of at least 11 hours between work shifts and cannot work more than eight hours per day over a six month period.

Therefore, if you are at home in the evening and answer some work emails or take a call, this will be documented as working hours. If the statutory rest period of 11 hours is properly observed, you would not be permitted to start work again until 8am the following day. The regular transgression of maximum working hours, which often takes place in institutions such as hospitals, will also have to be curtailed.

More bureaucracy for employers in Germany?

However, not everyone deemed the move worthy of praise: on the other side of the debate, the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations (BDA) branded the court’s decision as “backward”, saying it was tantamount to demanding a return to a punch card system and completely out of step with modern working conditions.

While the exact shape of the time-recording system has been left up to individual states to decide, it is clear that the implementation will represent a tidal wave of new bureaucracy for employers in Germany. “This decision once again shows how bureaucracy is being built up and how modern working practices are being made more difficult,” complained Oliver Zander of the Metalworking Employers’ Association.



Abi Carter

Managing Editor at IamExpat Media. Abi studied German and History at the University of Manchester and has since lived in Berlin, Hamburg and Utrecht, working since 2017 as a writer,...

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