Everything you need to know about taking holiday days in Germany

Everything you need to know about taking holiday days in Germany

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There are fewer things better in life than a day off work, but how many vacation days are you legally allowed to take in Germany? Before you start booking your next summer holiday, Jean-Baptiste Abel takes a closer look at everything you need to know about claiming days off under German employment law. 

How many vacation days am I entitled to?

The Federal Vacation Act grants employees in Germany a minimum vacation entitlement of 24 working days per year. This is based on a six-day working week, so that means if you work five days a week, then your minimum entitlement is 20 days, giving you four weeks' vacation leave per year. 

This is a legal minimum entitlement, meaning your employer must grant you this leave no matter what. However, while that is the minimum, it is common for many employers to offer additional vacation days, with the gold standard often considered to be six weeks per year. For part-time employees and mini- and midi-jobbers, the vacation leave you are entitled to will be proportionate to the number of days you work per week.

What do I have to do to claim my vacation?

In order to claim your vacation days, you simply need to request them from your employer. The process will vary depending on your organisation, but there will usually be well-defined and simple procedures you need to follow. You may need to request your annual leave within a certain time period. Your employer may only refuse your holiday if there are extraordinarily important operational reasons against justifying your vacation or if other employees have already planned leave for this period.

Without your employer's consent, you may not take leave. Doing so is considered a breach of duty, and you may find your employment terminated. However, once your vacation leave has been granted, then it cannot usually be revoked unless for extreme circumstances. Equally, your employer is generally not allowed to dictate the dates you must take your days off.

A common misconception is that vacation entitlement only applies after your probationary period; however, it applies from the moment you begin working, and for every month you work, you will be entitled to one-twelfth of your annual leave. After completing six full months of employment, you will be entitled to take vacation for the entire year.

How much will I be paid during my holiday leave?

You will continue to be paid your full salary while on vacation, with the basis of this being your average salary for the last 13 weeks. Performance-related salary components such as commissions and bonuses will also be taken into account.

Why is the vacation clause in my employment contract worded in such a complicated way?

The statutory vacation entitlement is subject to strict rules from which your employer may not deviate. However, these rules do not apply to the vacation your employer grants you in addition to the minimum, which is why there is often an elaborate distinction between statutory minimum leave and additional leave in your contract. 

This can often lead to long and confusing sections of language in which your employer will treat the additional leave in a different manner (often less generously) than the statutory minimum leave.

What will happen if I get sick while on holiday?

Your vacation time is a chance to relax, unwind and recuperate from work, and thankfully the law assumes that you cannot do this effectively if you are sick while on holiday! This means that should you become ill while on vacation, those days will not count towards your holiday allocation, and you will be able to get these days back from your employer.

Be aware, though, that in order to do so, you will need to prove that you were ill via a doctor's note. This will need to be from the first day, not merely the fourth day, just like you would with traditional certificates of incapacity for work. Attestations from physicians abroad are also recognised for this purpose.

Do I have to work while on vacation?

No. This contradicts the idea of annual leave, so your employer cannot ask you to work while on vacation. That means you do not need to check your emails or answer any phone calls. In fact, you are not even obligated to tell your employer how to reach you while you are away!

However, it is important to remember that no provision in the law prohibits your employer from contacting you while you are on vacation. 

Am I allowed to work while on holiday?

In the same way your employer cannot make you work while you are away, you are also not allowed to do anything that conflicts with the purpose of recreation. That means not undertaking any kind of gainful employment; however, that does not apply to authorised secondary employment.

Your employer also cannot forbid you from undertaking strenuous activities such as. renovating your home during your vacation, and you are free to undertake strenuous and even dangerous trips and activities, even if this might not lead to the recreational effect desired by the law.

Can I carry my vacation over into the next year?

In principle, your leave must be taken in the current year, although under certain circumstances, such as being ill for a long time or if special operational circumstances have prevented you from taking vacation, you may be able to carry it over into the following year.

Your employer is bound to remind you in due time to take your vacation days. If they omit to do so, your vacation will not expire and may roll over to the next year. Most employment contracts now provide different carryover rules for statutory minimum leave and the additional leave voluntarily granted. 

Is there a possibility of having my vacation paid out?

German labour law stipulates that you must take your vacation entitlement; after all, vacation is a chance to rest and ensure your continued ability to work. This means that paying out your holiday days is only possible in rare cases. 

Usually, this only applies when your employment ends before you are able to take your full allocation, meaning your employer can compensate you for your remaining entitlement. If you have to claim unemployment benefits, you will not receive any payment for the vacation days you have been paid for. 

If your employer pays out your vacation during the current employment relationship, you will not lose your vacation entitlement and will still be allowed to claim your vacation. 

Got questions about vacation leave and German employment law? Jean-Baptiste Abel has answers, and he is happy to help in any way he can. Make an appointment for a consultation today!

Jean-Baptiste Abel


Jean-Baptiste Abel

Jean-Baptiste started his own legal practice in Berlin in 2019. After a career in political advocacy in labor law - including as an expert witness in the German Bundestag -...

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