What you need to know about overtime in Germany 

What you need to know about overtime in Germany 

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Germany, many people’s lives at work have been turned upside down. For most people, working from home has become the new norm.

But while it may be more convenient, remote working can make it harder to draw a definitive line between work time and home time, and many employees may have noticed that their working hours are gradually starting to creep upwards - beyond what is laid out in their employment contract.

Your boss might even be demanding that you work more hours because your company is in a tricky situation, or now that you no longer have to commute. So, what’s the deal with overtime in Germany? Find out more below. 

What’s the difference between Überstunden and Mehrarbeit?

When we're talking about overtime, it's important to note that the German language makes a distinction between the terms "Überstunden" and "Mehrarbeit", both of which tend to be translated as "overtime" in English.

The term "Mehrarbeit" refers to working time that exceeds the maximum limit of 48 hours per week (eight hours per day across a six-day working week), as set out in the Working Hours Act. An employer may extend this to up to 10 hours per day, so long as the employee's total working hours average out at eight hours per day over a six-month period. 

"Überstunden", on the other hand, is defined as any hours worked on top of one's contractually-agreed hours. Unlike Mehrarbeit, it is legally permissible, but it normally has to be compensated. 

My employer has ordered me to take on overtime, can they do that?

In principle, overtime only has to be worked if it has been agreed by both parties beforehand - the fact that employers have the right to direct does not give them the authority to order overtime. There is an exception, though: in the case of an emergency, when overtime is needed to protect the interests of the firm or employer. 

In such special circumstances, the emergency must be justified as an exceptional, unforeseeable event - for example, difficulties arising due to organisational fault or mismanagement, such as an upcoming deadline, cannot be justifiably deemed an emergency. 

How should my employer compensate me for overtime? 

Employers can compensate employees for their overtime either monetarily or by giving them paid time off (TOIL), with many employers in Germany choosing the latter. Some employers may pay a surcharge for overtime (for example by paying double wages for overtime hours), but others might stick to basic remuneration.

How overtime is to be compensated is usually laid out in an employee's work contract, although for unionised professions it might be regulated by a collective agreement. The best way to deal with compensation for overtime is to agree terms between employers and employees in writing, so that each party knows where they stand and that everything is clear. 

If, for example, employees are given TOIL, it is wise for them to know when they can take that time off work, and any terms that are attached to it - having these details in writing prevents the possibility of misunderstandings between employees and employers.  

Why should I keep track of my overtime hours?

If you are unfortunate enough to land yourself in a dispute with your employer, it’s always good to have some sort of proof of overtime worked. 

Employees seeking compensation for their overtime should keep a record of their hours worked anyway, so that they can prove their work to their employer if required, but it’s also a good idea to keep a copy for yourself in case there is a conflict in the future. 

Software that is able to do time recordings is helpful here, but an old-fashioned signature from your manager could also do the job. Just make sure to keep on top of it - there have been cases dismissed from court simply due to the lack of proof that employees undertook overtime!

I think my employer is breaking employment laws, what can I do?

Firstly - we’re sorry this is happening to you. It can be very stressful and frustrating to be in a situation like this, but it’s important to try not to let your employer overwhelm you. 

The first point of contact should be your line manager or HR department, who will hopefully be understanding and help you to get the issue resolved. Your company may also have a policy for such issues, which it may be helpful to read and follow. 

Make sure to get any conversations about the issue in writing, just in case you need to rely on them later on. If this approach does not work, you may need to take your employer to court and seek out a good German lawyer

Especially for internationals and expats, this may be a daunting task, but don’t let your employer rattle you - the law is the law for everyone in Germany, and hopefully it will resolve your employment dispute!



Emily Proctor

Former Editor at IamExpat Media.

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