Sick, holiday & maternity leave in Germany

Sick, holiday & maternity leave in Germany

Anyone working in Germany is legally entitled to time off for holidays, sickness and care, as well as following the birth of a child.

Holiday leave in Germany

Full-time employees in Germany are entitled to a statutory minimum of 20 days of paid holiday per year, based on a five-day working week, or 25, based on a six-day working week. Part-time employees have their holiday leave calculated pro rata, based on their weekly working hours.

In practice, most employers give more holiday, with between 27 and 30 days annual leave (excluding public holidays) being very common. Some employers will also let you take additional holiday in exchange for a reduction of your salary. The amount of holiday you will receive is detailed in your work contract.

Generally, you have to use up your holiday leave during the annual year, but some employers will let you carry it forward for up to three years. Legally, you can carry your holiday forward until March 31 if you were unable to take it due to sickness or operational reasons (i.e. you had to cover someone else’s holiday leave).

Leftover holiday entitlement & Leaving your job

If you have unused accumulated holidays when you leave your job (e.g. if you find a new job), you can claim remuneration from your employer for holidays not taken. Your employer may also require you to take your unused holiday leave during your notice period.

Sick leave

If you are ill on a working day, you must report it to your employer. Most companies will have a designated process for calling in sick, which usually involves contacting your manager and, sometimes, someone from the HR (Personal) department.

In contrast to many countries, taking time off when you are sick is not frowned upon in Germany but accepted; you are not expected to struggle on through, but to take time to recover. (Although, this attitude towards sickness may be different if you work for an international company rather than a German one). If you are sick during your holiday, some companies will let you count this as sick leave rather than holiday leave.

If you have worked in your company for longer than four weeks, you are entitled to six weeks of statutory sick pay. After the six-week period, you are entitled to sickness benefit.

If your child, rather than you, has taken ill, in Germany you are legally entitled to take time off work to take care of them. The child sickness benefit covers up to 90 percent of lost earnings for parents insured under the statutory health insurance scheme, if their employers don't continue to pay their salaries. 

Maternity leave in Germany

If you become pregnant while working in Germany, you are legally entitled to fourteen weeks' maternity leave (at least six weeks before and eight weeks after childbirth). You are entitled to eighteen weeks’ leave in the event of a premature birth, multiple births, or if your child is found to have a disability.

During your statutory maternity leave, you can claim maternity benefit.

As of January 2024, there are plans to introduce a paternity leave entitlement in Germany, meaning that fathers (or second parents) will be entitled to 10 days of paid leave after their child is born. The law has yet to be signed off, however, meaning that partners are currently only able to take time off using their annual leave or the parental leave allowance. 

German parental leave

New parents can take parental leave (Elternzeit). Parental leave is a legal entitlement to time off work, given to both parents. Although parental leave is unpaid, while taking it you can also claim the parental allowance (Elterngeld), to mitigate your loss of earnings.

Parental leave requirements:

You and / or your partner can claim parental leave if:

  • You are employed (including part-time and temporary contracts, but not anyone who is self-employed).
  • You live together with your child in one house.
  • You (jointly) care for the child yourself.
  • You work no more than 30 hours per week while taking parental leave (32 hours per week if your child was born after September 1, 2021). 

Even if the child is not your biological child (for instance, if you are adopting or fostering a child, or have applied for acknowledgement of paternity, or are caring for your grandchild), you may qualify for parental leave. 

How much parental leave do I get?

Each parent is entitled to up to three years of parental leave per child. You are free to choose exactly when your parental leave begins and ends. It can be taken anytime between your child’s birth and their third birthday and can be divided up into multiple periods. You can also save up to 24 months of parental leave to use at any point between your child’s third and eighth birthdays (12 months if your child was born before July 1, 2015), as long as your employer gives permission.

For the mother of the child, parental leave can begin at the earliest immediately after the maternity leave. Your maternity leave is deducted from the parental leave allowance, so you get a total of three years. For partners, parental leave can begin at the earliest with the birth of the child.

You and your partner can take parental leave simultaneously or separately if you wish. Note that if you are taking parental leave jointly, you are barred from claiming social assistance such as unemployment benefit. You therefore need to make sure that you can provide for your family for the duration of your parental leave.

How to apply for parental leave

You need to give your employer seven weeks’ notice if you wish to take regular parental leave, or thirteen weeks’ notice if you wish to take unclaimed parental leave after your child’s third birthday. Exceptions to this can be made in exceptional cases, for instance in the case of a premature birth or a last-minute adoption. 

Your application for parental leave should be submitted in writing to your employer, specifying the dates of the leave you wish to take.

Care leave

In Germany, you are also entitled to take up to 10 days off work to care for close relatives who are in need of care. This leave is usually unpaid, unless otherwise stated by your employer.

You can also take nursing care leave of up to six months for a close relative. If you take long-term care leave you need to give your employer at least 10 days’ notice. You may also need to provide proof, such as a letter from a doctor. During this time you are protected from dismissal.

Note that only employers with more than 15 employees are subject to nursing care leave obligations.

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