Germany's new home working rule comes into force: What you need to know
As of Wednesday, January 27, new guidelines apply for working from home in Germany. It is now “mandatory” for employers to enable their employees to work from home. Here’s a brief overview of the new rules and what they mean for workers in Germany.
Germany’s new working from home rules come into effect
As of today, employers in Germany are legally obliged to allow their employees to work from home. This guideline is contained in the Federal Ministry of Labour’s new “SARS-CoV-2 Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance.”
The idea is to relieve congestion on public transportation, especially during peak times, and thereby reduce the risk of infection for those who have no choice but to travel to and from work. The regulation is a step up from the government’s previous guideline, which was only a “recommendation” that employees work from home wherever possible.
As well as obliging companies to offer home working opportunities in certain cases, the new regulations have also tightened up the rules to keep employees protected from COVID-19 in the workplace. The regulation will initially apply until March 15. If the infection situation does not improve, the federal government may choose to extend it.
Is it now absolutely mandatory to work from home?
Well, not exactly, because the new ordinance leaves some room for manoeuvre. The wording of the regulation states: “In the case of office work or comparable activities, the employer has to offer employees the opportunity to carry out these activities in their home, so long as there are no compelling operational reasons for not doing so.”
The Federal Ministry of Labour has spoken only of a “duty” on behalf of the employer, saying that the regulation should ensure that anybody who wants to work from home cannot simply have their request denied arbitrarily. Employers are legally obliged to consider whether it is possible for their employees to work from home and, if so, to offer this, said Labour Minister Hubertus Heil.
Katja Mast, vice president of the SPD parliamentary group, said that the goal of the new regulation is that “those who can, work from home.”
Simply put, this means that companies are obliged to make it possible for their employees to work from home, but it is up to the workers themselves to decide whether they do so or not. The federal and state governments only “ask employees to take advantage of the offer.”
For which kinds of jobs could there be an exception?
Exceptions will be made for jobs that can only be carried out at the workplace. The Ministry of Labour has said that the new regulation will not apply, for example, to processing and distributing incoming mail, issuing materials, processing income or outgoing goods or customer service. Ensuring that there is first aid or medical care in the office could also be a reason why an employee cannot work from home.
What if my employer refuses to let me work from home?
This is where it gets complicated: if your employer refuses to let you work from home without good reason, the Ministry of Labour and the German Trade Union Federation recommend that you contact your works council, if you have one.
In the event of a conflict, the occupational health and safety authority of each federal state has been named as the contact person who is responsible for enforcing the rules. This authority may contact your employer to ask them why they are not allowing you to work from home. According to Heil, fines of up to 30.000 euros may be issued if an employer is found to be in breach of the rules.
Can I be forced to work from home?
No. According to the Federal Ministry of Labour, there is no obligation for employees to accept and implement an offer to work from home. “A different definition of the contractual place of work requires in any case a corresponding employment contract regulation between employer and employee or a works agreement,” the ministry said.
What if it’s not possible to work from home?
If your job cannot be carried out from home, your company is obliged to put in place stricter infection controls in the workplace. The number of employees in closed rooms should be limited, with at least 10 metres of space between each person. If this is not possible, the employer needs to “take other suitable protective measures”, such as installing partitions.
Where this is not feasible, employees should be provided with medical masks. “Masks of the FFP2 / KN05 standard are to be used for work areas in confined spaces, without sufficient ventilation or without sufficient clearances,” the regulation states. The joint consumption of food and drinks, for instance in break rooms or canteens, will also be banned.
To avoid overcrowded buses and trains during peak travel times, companies must also allow flexible working hours.