Hitzefrei: How hot is too hot to go to work or school in Germany?
The first dog days of a long, hot summer have arrived and we’ve got a lot of warm weather and high temperatures ahead of us - which can be great for lazing around in parks and at beaches, but if you’re trapped inside while the temperature sizzles outside, it begs the question: how hot is too hot to go to work or school?
Hot weather in Germany: more than an irregular occurrence
Different countries around the world have different attitudes towards heat. If you’re from somewhere close to the equator, what classes as a “heatwave” in Germany is probably almost laughable, and you’re used to sleeping and working in temperatures far higher. In other nations, people simply switch on the air conditioning from May to September and have done with it.
In the federal republic, however, things are a little different. Super high temperatures used to be a rare occurrence in Germany, and so the country is simply not equipped to deal with them. Hot weather can quickly become unbearable.
And with climate change bringing rising temperatures across Europe, Germany is sweltering in waves upon waves of heat waves almost every summer. Hot weather is becoming more of a certainty. So what happens when the weather becomes simply too hot?
Well, the answer is a distinctly German phenomenon: Hitzefrei.
What is hitzefrei?
When the weather outside gets super hot, German schools and workplaces can declare hitzefrei, which literally translates to “heat free”, and send children and employees home to take the rest of the day off to escape the heat. Sounds dreamy, right? It’s a concept that dates all the way back to a ministerial decree issued in Prussia in 1892, according to FAZ.
However, taking a hitzefrei is not as simple as telling your boss or teacher that it’s too hot for you to stay inside, and packing your stuff to go. There are certain rules that need to be followed: while in schools it’s down to regional regulations in your federal state, in workplaces it’s usually the employer’s decision.
Is it ever legally too hot to work in Germany?
In principle, employers in Germany are free to decide when things are too hot for their workers - and so your company could declare a hitzefrei whenever they feel the “unbearable” level has been reached.
However, there are some recommendations contained in the German Civil Code to which your employer should adhere. Regulations stipulate that the temperature inside workplaces should not exceed 26 degrees to protect employees’ health. If the room temperature exceeds 30 degrees, the employer is obliged to take measures to protect their workers - no matter what kind of workplace you’re in - for instance by installing fans or blinds, relaxing dress codes, or adjusting working hours to help employees avoid the heat.
The regulations also stipulate that any room in which the temperature exceeds 35 degrees “is not suitable as a work area without technical measures” such as air conditioning systems, heat-protective clothing, water sprays, or cool-off time.
If you have any concerns about the temperature in your workplace, you should speak with your manager.
When is it too hot to go to school?
Since 1999, each federal state in Germany has been free to set its own hitzefrei regulations for schools.
In Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Hesse, Lower Saxony, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein and Thuringia, the final decision on whether to shorten the school day because of the heat rests with the head of the individual school.
In Baden-Württemberg, Hamburg and Brandenburg, the outside temperature is taken as the benchmark; for instance, hitzefrei is declared in Baden-Württemberg and Brandenburg if it gets to 25 degrees in the shade. In Hamburg, the limit is 27 degrees.
In other states, the temperature in the classroom is key: in Bremen, students will be sent home if the indoor temperature exceeds 25 degrees. In Saxony-Anhalt, on the other hand, the kids have to bear it up to 26 degrees, and in North Rhine-Westphalia 27 degrees is the limit. Other states have no set limits.
However, even then you can’t always bank on getting a day off school in the extreme heat. This is because many schools are now required by law to provide full-day care for their students - and sending them home could prove disruptive for parents who need to work. Sometimes, parental consent is required. In Saarland, for instance, hitzefrei decrees were abolished in 2006, at the request of parents.
Hitzefrei is also only really used by lower and middle school levels. At upper secondary schools, pupils will more likely be sent to other classrooms, or out on excursions, to help escape the heat.
Beat the heat!
So, on hot days you might find that productivity in Germany drops somewhat - but swimming pools and ice cream shops do a roaring trade. Good luck getting your hitzefrei!