Leave Policy in Germany: An Easy Guide for US Companies

Are you expanding your US company and want to hire German talent? This guide walks you through the leave policy in Germany according to local employment laws.

Beautiful purple and pink horizon sunrise in the sky in Cuxhaven, Germany

Vanessa MacRury

Published on September 14, 2022

Leave policy in Germany 🇩🇪

Considering that German workers are renowned for their productivity and live in a country that sits at the center of the European Union, you may find expanding to Germany particularly attractive.If you plan to tap that market and harness German talent, you'll need to know local labor laws, including leave laws and holidays. This is especially important as strong German labor laws mean that workers benefit from government-mandated leaves, all designed to support work-life balance.To facilitate your expansion to the country known for its efficiency, we'll discuss the current leave policy in Germany and include a section on frequently asked questions about German leave entitlements.

Types of Leave in Germany ☀️

German workers are entitled to the following types of leave:
  • Annual leave
  • Sick leave
  • Maternity leave
  • Paternity leave
  • Parental leave
  • Child-raising leave
  • Carer's leave
  • Force Majeure leave
  • Bereavement leave
  • Work-related injury
  • Organ donation leave
  • Holiday leave
In addition, some companies may also offer their employees voting leave and military leave — although neither is enshrined in German law.

Annual Leave and German law

According to the German Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch), German workers are entitled to 20 fully paid annual leaves per year if they work five days a week and 24 working days if they work six days a week.Annual leave in Germany applies to all calendar days except Sundays and public holidays.However, because of the Collective Agreements Act (Tarifvertragsgesetz), Germans — even non-union members that work at companies governed by collective agreements — can typically expect a more generous vacation leave entitlement (Urlaubsanspruch), with their allotted days going up to 25-30 working days.

When to take annual leave

Annual leaves in Germany only start after someone has been working for six months, often coinciding with the standard probation period (Probezeit). If the worker is terminated within this period, they will only be entitled to half of the annual vacation entitlement for each month of their employment. On the other hand, if the worker is terminated after their first six months with the company, they are entitled to the entire annual vacation.Note: There is no additional vacation entitlement if the German worker has already taken their vacation entitlement while in a previous job during the same calendar year. The previous employer must provide certification containing this information at the end of their working relationship.

How to use annual leave

To use their vacation leave, German workers must make a written application; the employer must approve this application in writing. Although German workers are encouraged to take their leaves (and employers are required to encourage and facilitate this), leave requests can be declined in some instances (e.g., operational reasons or conflicting vacation leave applications from more than one German worker).Ultimately, the employer determines the period of leave. An employee cannot make a unilateral decision without risking dismissal.

Annual leave and sick leave

It sometimes happens that an employee gets sick while already on annual leave. If they can provide proof (often in the form of a medical certificate), the days they are sick can be added to the leave entitlement.Note: Employees must obtain approval from their employer if they need a leave extension.

Leftover holiday entitlement

In Germany, workers cannot be paid instead of not taking their annual leaves unless they have been terminated or are leaving their jobs. Even in these cases, an employer will often encourage their departing employee to use any unused holiday leaves during their notice period.Current law in Germany states that if a German worker doesn't take their annual leave entitlement for a year by March 31 of the following calendar year, then they lose their entitlement.Note: A recent ruling has put the onus on the employer as the stronger party to encourage, but not force, their workers to take their vacation leaves. For more information, read the Court of Justice of the European Union Press Release No 165/18, "A worker cannot automatically lose his acquired rights to paid annual leave because he did not apply for leave."

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Sick Leave

German employees are entitled to full remuneration during the first six weeks of their sickness, a period that can be triggered more than once a year in certain circumstances:
  • Same underlying illness - A new six-week period can start only after six months have passed since the end of the last sick leave or if one year has passed since the beginning of the first sick leave.
  • New underlying illness - A new six-week period starts automatically.
After this period, an employee is entitled to a sickness benefit, which comes directly from a private or public health insurance provider. The remuneration rate is currently set at 70% of the employee's regular earnings, as long as it doesn't exceed 90% of their net salary.

When to take sick leave

In Germany, employees are encouraged to take time off to recuperate if they cannot work because of physical or mental illness. While individual companies have different sick leave policies that guide precisely how a German employee can use their sick leave entitlement, they all require a medical certificate to be presented for absences over three days. Note: If you employ 30 or fewer people, you can recover up to 80% of the sick pay you paid from German national health insurance.

Maternity leave

Germany offers employed pregnant employees a generous maternity leave to safeguard their well-being.

Maternity leave entitlement

A pregnant employee in Germany is entitled to 14+ weeks of maternity leave. Unless they've expressed that they wish to do so, pregnant employees in Germany cannot be made to work in the six weeks immediately before their due date or within the first eight weeks after their child's birth. Where a child is found to have a disability or, in cases of premature or multiple births, maternity leave can be extended to 12 weeks. 

Maternity leave restrictions

Germany protects their pregnant and nursing employees by placing restrictions on additional work, night work, and work on Sundays and public holidays. 
Ban on additional work
Pregnant or nursing employees in Germany cannot work more than 8.5 hours daily or 90 hours in two weeks. If the pregnant or nursing employee is under 18, they cannot be made to work more than 8 hours each day or 80 hours in two weeks.
Ban on night work
Pregnant or nursing employees cannot be made to work from 8:00 PM to 6:00 AM. Sometimes, they can work until 10:00 PM, but they must meet the conditions in Section 28 of the Maternity Protection Act (MuSchG).
Ban on Sundays and public holidays
Pregnant or nursing employees cannot be made to work on Sundays or holidays.
Medical work ban
Maternity leave in Germany starts automatically. An employee does not have to give their employer notice. However, if their health or their child's health would be endangered if they continued to work, they will need to present a medical certificate to their employer. 
Ban on dismissal
In Germany, it is illegal to terminate an employee's contract:
  • During their pregnancy
  • Four months after a miscarriage after their twelfth week of pregnancy
  • Until the end of their eight-week period of protection after childbirth, but at least until four months after childbirth
If a termination needs to be made during these periods, the employer must inform and obtain consent from the supreme federal state authority or its designated representative in writing.Meanwhile, the pregnant employee can terminate their employment agreement at any time.Note: A pregnant employee can receive maternity allowance (Mutterschaftsgeld) from their health insurance or the government. They are also entitled to a maternity allowance supplement from their employer. Where they are not allowed to work "because of a work ban outside the periods of protection before or after childbirth," they are entitled to maternity protection pay.

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Parental leave

In Germany, natural, adoptive, and step-parents in an employment relationship may apply for parental leave if they:
  • Are employed and have a German employment contract (including, but not limited to, time-limited contracts, part-time contracts, marginal employment, and apprenticeships). They cannot be self-employed.
  • Live with the child in one house and care for the child together
  • Work no more than 32 hours per week while taking parental leave
  • Reside in Germany
Parents of a newborn child are entitled to a three-year parental leave (Elternzeit). During this time, they do not receive a salary but can claim parental allowance (Elterngeld), and their employer must keep their job position available.Note: Parental benefits are also available to citizens of other countries so long as they have a residence permit that grants them the legal right to live and work in Germany. 

When to take parental leave

Parents can take parental leave separately or simultaneously during the first three years after the child's birth. Alternatively, and subject to the employer's approval, employees can take two of those years at a later time until the child turns eight.Note: Employees cannot claim social assistance if they decide to take parental leave jointly.

How to take parental leave

To use their entitlement, German working parents must request parental leave in writing seven weeks before the leave start date. If they have offset their leave, and are taking it between their child's third and eighth birthday, they must make the request 13 weeks before they want to take parental leave.

Working while on parental leave

An employee on parental leave may be employed no more than 32 hours per week.

Parental allowance entitlement

In Germany, employees who use their parental leave pay entitlement can receive 67% of their average income before their child is born (i.e., €300-€1,800 per month, depending on their salary). Note: The federal tax system, not the employer, funds parental allowance. 

Parental Allowance Plus

Standard parental allowance (Basiselterngeld) used to be paid up to 12 months after a child's birth. However, on July 1, 2015, Germany allowed parents to extend that period to 24 months (also called Parental Allowance Plus or Elterngeld Plus), during which they would receive half the amount of the standard parental allowance. If both parents take it together, they can share Parental Allowance Plus between them for up to 28 months. 

Child sick pay

Parents in Germany who need to care for their sick child are entitled to child sick pay (i.e., 30 days for each parent, 60 days for both), equivalent to up to 90% of the net salary lost because the parent cannot work.

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Caregiver leave or family caregiver leave

In Germany, employees have the legal right to take unpaid time off from work to care for their loved ones via the Care Leave Act (Familienpflegezeitgesetz - FPfZG). They have the following options:
  • Short-term inability to work: Up to ten days of unpaid leave. Used in urgent care situations to allow working people to organize suitable care for their loved ones. Available to all. Employees are not required to make social insurance contributions, but the employee's insurance cover is maintained.
  • Caregiver leave: Up to 6 months of complete or partial unpaid leave. Available only to companies with 15 employees and more. The employer must be informed at least ten working days in advance, specifying how long they will be going on leave and to what extent (i.e, full-time or part-time). If an employee will be taking part-time caregiver leave, they will need to include their preferred working hours as well as “draw up a written agreement” with the employer specifying “the distribution and reduction” of these working hours.
  • Family caregiver leave: Up to 24 months of partial unpaid leave (i.e., complete leave is unavailable). Available only to companies with 25 employees or more, excluding trainees. The employer must be informed at least eight weeks in advance, specifying how long they will be going on leave and to what extent (i.e, they need to work a minimum of 15 hours a week on average). Employees will need to include their preferred working hours as well as “draw up a written agreement” with the employer specifying “the distribution and reduction” of these working hours.
Note: Caregiver leave and family caregiver leave can be combined, but only if they are taken consecutively and only for a maximum of 24 months. Also, smaller companies can voluntarily grant caregiver leave or family caregiver leave.Employees cannot be dismissed while on carer's leave. They can only take a carer's leave once for the same person.Employees are not required to make social insurance contributions during the period they're on caregiver or family caregiver leave, but the employee’s insurance cover is maintained.For more information on how caring relatives are insured, please read this post “So sind pflegende Angehörige versichert” by Pflege durch Angehörige., “So sind pflegende Angehörige versichert.” 

Bereavement leave

If an immediate family member dies, an employee can take two days' leave (Sonderurlaub). 

Work-related injury and occupational diseases

The compulsory state accident insurance scheme covers work-related injuries and occupational diseases. Employees who cannot work are entitled to an injury benefit, which amounts to "80% of an employee's gross wages before the start of the period when they were unable to work, but no more than their last net wage." Injury benefit is paid up to 78 weeks after the employer's sick pay concludes (unless specified otherwise by a doctor). 

Force majeure leave, military leave, jury duty leave, and voting leave in Germany

These four types of leave are not enshrined in German law.Note: There are no juries in German courts. 

Organ or Tissue Donation Leave

An employee is entitled to six weeks of organ or tissue donation leave. This type of leave is paid.

Public holidays

German public holidays differ based on the state. However, there are nine national public holidays that all states follow.Most employees are not required to work during a public holiday, and the ones that are must receive compensatory time off within eight weeks. Holidays falling on weekends do not typically transfer to the weekday.Note: The Day of German Unity is the one national holiday set by federal law.

Germany Public Holiday Calendar 2022

January 1New Year
April 15Good Friday
April 18Easter Monday
May 1Labor Day
May 26Ascension Day
June 6Whit Monday
October 3Day of German Unity
December 25Christmas
December 26Second Day of Christmas
Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve are not statutory holidays. However, most companies treat these days as half or even full holidays.

Legal Disclaimer:

The information contained in this site is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about leave entitlement in Germany 🤔

In this section, we'll look at frequently asked questions about German leave entitlements.

Does Germany have paid vacation?

Yes, Germany offers generous paid vacation days per year, during which employees continue to receive their regular salary. Some German companies even include a holiday allowance (Urlaubsgeld) as a benefit.

How many vacation days are you entitled to in Germany?

You are entitled to a minimum of 20 vacation days per year if you're working a five-day work week and 24 days if you're working a six-day work week. However, the total amount you are entitled to varies across Germany, based on your employment contract, the industry you work in, and the collective agreement that governs your employment relationship.You may also be able to take extra time off in lieu of pay (Freizeitausgleich) when you work overtime (Überstunden). 

Is there a probation period before employees receive full vacation entitlements?

Yes, an employee in Germany receives their full year's annual leave entitlement after six months on the job. For more information, read the section on Annual Leaves.

How much vacation do you have with a mini job or part-time work?

The number of annual leaves you are entitled to as a mini-jobber or part-time worker depends on your contract and the number of days you work per week (instead of your weekly working hours).Note: “A mini-job is a marginal job for which you cannot earn more than €450 per month – less than three months (for a 5-hour week) or 70 working days (if you work less than five days per week) per year.”

Can already approved holiday leave be revoked in Germany?

Yes, an already approved holiday leave can be revoked under exceptional circumstances (e.g., if the company were in "real" danger). The employee and the employer will likely need legal advice to determine if this is the case.

Can you carry over remaining vacation days to the following year?

Yes, an employee can carry over their remaining vacation days to the following year, although employers have a duty to encourage their employees to take their leave entitlements during the current calendar year.For more information, check out the section above on Annual leaves.

What happens to an employee’s holiday leave when they change jobs?

There are two possible scenarios:
  1. The employee resigns or is made redundant before June 30: They are entitled to 1/12th vacation days (or the financial equivalent) for each completed month. 
  2. The employee resigns or is made redundant after July 1: If they have worked for the company longer than six months, they are entitled to all their vacation days. The employer must give them a certificate that details how many vacation days they used while working for them. The new company will need that document to calculate the correct number of remaining holidays they are owed.

What can an employee do if they get sick while on vacation?

The days that an employee is sick while on vacation will be credited to their remaining annual leave entitlement as long as they can produce a doctor's note (Krankschreibung or Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung) on their first day of sickness. 

Does pregnancy affect your vacation entitlement in Germany?

No, pregnancy doesn't affect an employee's vacation entitlement. 

Can you combine public holidays in Germany with vacation days to double your time off?

Yes, you can combine public holidays in Germany with vacation days to double your time off. Public holidays often fall on weekdays. An employee can book a bridging day (Brückentag) to maximize their leaves. Let's say that the Day of German Unity falls on a Tuesday. They can book an annual leave on Monday and have four days off, from Saturday to Tuesday.

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