Labour rights

Update 03.01.2023

What are my rights as an employee?

Labour law in Germany is very complicated as there are numerous regulations in several bodies of law regarding the subject. However, it is crucial to know your rights and obligations as an employee. You can only demand your rights if you are aware of them.

What do I need to know?

Do I have to be available for my superiors after work?

Your after-work time belongs to you only. Your boss has no right to contact you outside work hours; so you don't have to be available.

Please note: The general rule mentioned above does not apply if being on stand-by is a part of your company's work routine and you have been appointed for a position requiring on-call duty. If that is the case, you must, of course, be reachable. On-call duty ("Rufbereitschaft") means that you don't have to be at work (physically), but you have to be available at all times to start work, if necessary.

What do I do if I am sick and unable to work?
Who covers the costs if I am injured in a work accident?

Injuring yourself at work or on the way (between your home and your place of work) is referred to as work accident ("Arbeitsunfall") or commuting accident ("Wegeunfall"). In both cases, the statutory accident insurance ("Unfallversicherung") will cover the costs. Your employer is responsible for making contributions to accident insurance for you and your other colleagues. For the statutory accident insurance to actually cover the costs, however, specific requirements must be met:

  • The injured person must be taken to a so-called "Durchgangsarzt", i.e. an accident insurance-consultant doctor who specialises in occupational accidents, often a surgeon or an orthopaedist. You can ask your employer or the proper professional association ("Berufsgenossenschaft") to introduce you to a "Durchgangsarzt" in your area. 
  • Your employer must report the accident at work to the proper professional association ("Berufsgenossenschaft") within three days. The day of the accident does not count.

If an accident insurance-consultant doctor is visited too late or not at all or in case the employer reports the (work or commuting) accident too late, there might be problems with the insurance later.

As soon as the professional association ("Berufsgenossenschaft") is informed, it takes care of the treatment and assumes its costs and - if necessary - any additional charges, e.g. in case the injured person is unable to work for long-term.

Can I have another job beside my primary employment?

Having another professional activity along with your main job is often referred to as "Nebentätigkeit". Side work can be a small job with another company or your endeavours to build your own business while having another job. In principle, your employer may not prevent you from working in another part-time job. However, you have to observe some requirements for having a second part-time job:

  • You must not work for a rival company or set up a company to compete with the company where you work.
  • You may not work for your part-time job during your working hours or while on sick leave or vacation.
  • You need to make sure that you get enough breaks while juggling two jobs. 

If your employment contract or collective agreement ("Tarifvertrag") obliges you to disclose secondary employment, then you must inform your boss about any secondary job you commence in the course of your employment. If despite a provision in the employment contract or collective agreement, you do not inform your superior of your part-time work, you are at risk of receiving a warning ("Abmahnung") or even losing your job. You can find a template for registration of secondary job on If there is no corresponding regulation in your employment contract or collective agreement, you do not have to register your part-time job.

Can I switch from full-time work to part-time?

Part-time work means that you work less than 40 hours per week, i.e. you earn less and have more free time in return.

However, you only have the right to reduce your full-time position to a part-time one if:

  • You have been working there for more than six months and
  • your employer has more than 15 employees.

If these prerequisites are met, your employer may only refuse your request if it massively affects the workflow.

Before asking to switch to part-time work, there are three main issues to clarify:

  1. Can you afford to work part-time financially? The BMAS part-time wage calculator can help you find out.
  2. What effects would part-time work have on your pension? The lower your income, the lower your pension will be later. You can seek advice on this regard from the German Pension Insurance ("Rentenversicherung"). You can find out more about the pension system in our chapter "Retiring in Germany".
  3. Is it possible to switch back to full-time work upon request or after a specific time? Going back to a full-time position is often challenging for many. As a result, a new so-called "Brückenteilzeit" (roughly: "bridge part-time") was introduced in January 2019. A "Brückenteilzeit" allows you to work part-time for a certain period and then automatically switch to full-time again. However, you are only entitled to "Brückenteilzeit" if your employer has more than 45 staff.

If you want to ask your employer to switch to part-time work, you can find a sample application form at Submit your application at least three months before the time you would like to switch to part-time- your employer must give you a written answer at least one month before the time you want to switch. If your employer does not respond or responds too late, your application will be considered approved. In case the employer rejects your request, you can take legal actions, but you should definitely seek specialised advice in advance.

What is a warning letter ("Abmahnung")?

"Abmahnung" is a kind of warning from your employer. In this warning, your employer points out the behaviours they perceive as contrary to your contract and warns you of further consequences if you do not change the behaviour in question. Otherwise, after the warning, usually comes the termination of the contract.

A warning letter must, however, meet certain formalities to be valid:

  • It must be formulated accurately, i.e. your alleged misconduct must be described precisely.
  • You must have seriously violated your employment contract. Smaller problems do not justify a warning.
  • The written warning must be presented to you.

Please note: If you believe the warning you have received is not justified, you have the right to oppose your employer's decision in writing("Gegendarstellung"). Your letter will then be filed together with the warning in your personnel file. If there are any problems later, your letter of opposition will be taken into account.

When can my work contract get terminated?
Am I entitled to an employers' reference ("Arbeitszeugnis")?

At the end of your employment, you are entitled to a job reference from your former employer. Job references are essential for your future job applications as many employers ask for a reference from your previous employer to get an idea of ​​you and your skills. However, job references often contain hidden messages that are difficult for laypersons to recognise; i.e. a job reference that appears positive at first glance may actually include a not-so-positive evaluation. It is therefore essential to have your work reference checked by an expert. If the assessment you've received from your former employer is unfair, you can ask them directly to change it. If they refuse, there is an option to take the matter to court, but you will need to seek advice and support from a counselling centre. On, you can search for a counselling centre nearby.

Can I surf the Internet during my working hours?

In principle, unless your employer has explicitly allowed it, surfing the Internet during your working hours is not permitted, be it on the office computer or your own smartphone. If you surf the Internet during your working hours, your employer may react with a warning ("Abmahnung") or even an extraordinary dismissal. Please note: You can use your smartphone during your break.

Do I have to pay for my work clothes?

If you have to wear specific protective clothing to comply with hygiene or occupational safety regulations, your employer must provide the garment and also bear the cleaning costs.

With regular clothing -e.g. when wearing an overall or uniform is required in the customer zone by the employer- as an employee, you may share in the costs.

What happens if I work illegally ("Schwarzarbeit")?

If you work as a self-employed person without registration or in case your employer does not register you for the social security and health insurance; your job is referred to as "Schwarzarbeit" or illegal employment. A person who is employed illegally receives his wages in cash and does not pay taxes. However, he or she will not have any evidence of his work and cannot legally take action against the employer if they, for instance, do not pay as agreed.

"Schwarzarbeit" is illegal and, depending on its gravity, is regarded as an administrative or criminal offence and punished accordingly. If illegal employment is classified as an administrative offence, you can face a fine of up to 50,000 euro. If it is a criminal offence, however, you can face a fine of more than 50,000 euro or a prison sentence. Under certain circumstances, you may also get expelled.

If you work illegally and also receive benefits from the Jobcentre or the Social Welfare Office, you are committing an offence punishable by a fine or even prison sentence. In addition, your benefits will be reduced or discontinued.

Please note: If you occasionally do small jobs for relatives or neighbours and receive little money for it, in principle, what you are doing is not considered "Schwarzarbeit" or illegal employment. It may eventually "become illegal", however, so you should be careful about the number of small favours you take on for money.

What rights do I have as a pregnant woman at work?
How can I spend more time with my children despite work?
I get bullied at work - what can I do?

Unfortunately, it happens again and again that employees are degraded or harassed by colleagues or superiors. If your colleagues bully you, speak to your boss- he or she is obliged to help you. If your boss is the actual problem, talk to the Work's Council ("Betriebsrat"), a counselling centre or a lawyer. You must document the bullying incidents in writing and as objectively as possible in a kind of diary. You can then present your documentation to your boss, the Work's Council or the lawyer as evidence.

Where can I find help and support?

If you have problems with your employer, can contact a counselling centre of the "Fair Integration" project. The staff speak different languages ​​and support you free of charge if you face difficulties with your employer. You can find a counselling centre nearby at The staff there can also recommend a lawyer if you want to take legal action against your employer.

If there is a Works' Council in your company/organisation, you can also contact them. The Work's Council represents the interests of the employees vis-à-vis the employer. For instance, they ensure that laws and collective agreements are complied with. You can find out about your Work's Council's office hours, e.g. in the break room or on the office bulletin board. You can find out more about the Work's Council in our chapter "Work's council & unions".

If you are disadvantaged based on your origin, nationality, sexual orientation, gender or age, you can contact the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency. The employees there can be reached on Mondays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. by phone at 030-18555 1855 or per mail at They speak German, English and Arabic.

Please note: You can seek anonymous advice from all of the agencies mentioned above. Your boss or collogues will not learn about your complaint if you prefer so.


If you have problems with your colleagues, speak to your boss. If you have issues with your boss, seek help from your Work's Council or a counselling centre. You can find a counselling centre nearby at

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