Working Hours, Vacations and Maternity/Parental Leave in Germany

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Working Hours, Vacations and Maternity/Parental Leave


Last updated: 26 May 2020 / by Sam Williams

If you have made the move to Germany and found a job, you will need to know what to expect when you enter the workplace.

German law is very specific about the rights of workers. No matter who you work for, you will have certain minimum rights in areas such as parental leave, annual holiday entitlement, women, and maternity leave.

Many employers go beyond the bare minimum in providing employee benefits, but our guide covers the statutory amounts you are entitled to.

The Working Week

Germany is a country that often attracts admiration for its envious balance of high productivity, coupled with a short working week. Despite its efficient output, Germany has one of the shortest working weeks in Europe.

Most full-time jobs in Germany involve working 7-8 hours per day with a lunch break of 30-60 minutes. The typical working hours are spread over five days and do not exceed 35-40 hours. Companies that require a longer working week typically offer higher salaries or extra holiday to compensate.

The typical working week for the self-employed is very different. It is not uncommon for the self-employed to work more than 48 hours per week.

If you work for 30 hours a week or less, you are a part-time employee. If more than 15 people are working for your employer, you can request a reduction in your hours once you have been there for six months.

Part-time hours are very popular in Germany, not least because a growing number of people are choosing to work in their own business alongside being employed. Working a shorter week for an employer makes this possible.

You will find flexible working is common in German workplaces. This may mean you are able to work from home or take time off in lieu.

German law seeks to protect workers by limiting the number of hours you can work. In normal circumstances, you must not work for more than eight hours per day and no more than 48 hours per week. A working week runs from Monday to Saturday. Your employer can increase your working day to 10 hours, but only if your average working day over six months still does not exceed eight hours per day.

You should not have to work on Sundays or public holidays unless you are in the service industry.

If you work on a Sunday, you should be given corresponding time off in the following two weeks.

You must have a break of at least 11 hours between working shifts. If you work 6-9 hours, you should have a break of 30 minutes. You can choose to split this into two minibreaks of 15 minutes each. If your shift is due to last nine hours or more, once you have worked six hours, you are entitled to a 45-minute break.

How your employer treats overtime should be set out in your contract of employment. Many employers will offer you time off instead of extra payments. A minority of companies will pay you for extra hours worked.

Occasionally, some employers will refuse to consider either time off or payment for extra hours worked, claiming it is part of usual expectations. If you feel the additional demands are unreasonable, you should seek a legal opinion.

Even during the times when you are working overtime, the maximum hours per week worked should not exceed those set out above (maximum of 48 hours per week, which can be averaged over 6 months).

Holiday and Vacations

German law ensures that no matter who you work for, you will receive a minimum amount of time off work to recharge and rest. Based on a five-day working week, the minimum statutory amount of holiday is 20 days per year. If you work a six-day week, you are entitled to 25 days holiday.

Part-time workers are also entitled to a holiday. This entitlement is based on the number of hours per week you work.

In practice, most German employers are more generous with their annual leave allowance. It is usual for workers to receive 27-30 days of holiday per year, plus public holidays.

If you want more holiday than your contract specifies, you may be able to sacrifice some salary in return for extra days off. This is not a legal entitlement and is at the discretion of your employer.

If you don’t use up all of your holiday entitlement before leaving your job, you are entitled to payment for what is left. However, your employer also has the right to insist that you take a holiday during your notice period.

Maternity Leave

If you fall pregnant while working for a German employer, you can claim 14 weeks of maternity benefit. Six weeks of this can be taken before the baby is born, with the remaining eight weeks taken after the birth.

When the baby is premature or has a disability, or where it is a multiple births, this maternity leave increases to 18 weeks.

During maternity leave, you are entitled to receive maternity pay. This is equal to the monthly payment you were receiving in the three months prior to maternity leave commencing.

Your employer cannot terminate your employment while you are pregnant and up to four months after you have given birth. If they wish to do so, they must seek consent from the local authority. In practice, the local authority will not provide authorization unless the whole business is closing.

Parental Leave in Germany

German law allows any mum or dad to apply for unpaid parental leave. This protects your contract of employment while you enjoy spending time getting to know your newborn baby. Known as Elternzeit, parental leave can take many forms, including a complete break or reduced hours.

When you return to work after parental leave, your employer must provide you with the same working hours that you had before, as your contract specifies.

To qualify for parental leave, you must be employed (not self-employed or a full-time student) and have a German contract of employment. There are no restrictions to the types of contracts which qualify: temporary, trainee and part-time contracts are all included.

If both parents meet these conditions, both can apply for parental leave. This can either be simultaneously or consecutively. The only stipulation is that any parent applying for parental leave must be one of the main careers and live in the same household as the child.

Parental leave can be taken any time up until the child’s 3rd birthday. There is no minimum or maximum length of time you must take. For fathers, parental leave begins after the birth of the baby; for mothers, it begins after maternity leave has finished.

It may be possible to save up to 12 months of your parental leave to take later (but before your child is 8 years old). This is not a legal right and your employer must agree to this request.

You might also be able to work for up to 30 hours while on parental leave. The conditions around this vary; in some cases, you’ll need consent from your employer; in others, it’s a legal right.

If you want to request parental leave, you must ask your employed seven weeks in advance. You must tell your employer what periods in the first two years of your child’s life that you would like the parental leave to apply. After these two years have elapsed, you can request the remainder of your parental leave. This second request must be submitted to your employer at least seven weeks before the two-year period is up.

Your employer must give you written confirmation of the length of parental leave they have agreed.

If you need any assistance with applying for parental leave, you can approach your local parental benefit office. Known as Elterngeldstelle, you can find your nearest one on the Family Portal website.

Adopting and fostering

Parental leave applies to all parents, including those choosing to adopt or foster a child. Similar rules apply to adoptive and foster parents; up to three years of parental leave can be taken. However, for foster and adoptive parents, the three years commence from when the child enters the household, not from their birth. Rights to parental leave cease when the child turns 8 years old.

For foreign adoptions, it can be more difficult to assess the exact date the child is deemed to enter your household. If you have traveled to collect the child, it may be the date that the child comes to live at your hotel, or it may be in an overseas court. If you are considering adopting a child from outside Germany, you will need to seek specific advice about your case’s circumstances.

Parental Allowance

In Germany, the government provides a financial cushion to help with bringing a child into your home. This is known as a parental allowance (Elterngeld). Parental allowance mimics the Scandinavian philosophy, which encourages parents to spend time with their children by supporting them financially.

To qualify for parental allowance, you must meet the following criteria:

  • You are responsible for the child’s care yourself
  • You do a maximum of 30 hours work per week
  • You live in the same house as your child
  • You are a German/EEA/EU citizen, or you hold a residence permit for work, or a permanent residence permit
  • Your income does not exceed €250,000 (for single parents or €500,000 (for a couple)

Parental allowance can be claimed from birth if you meet the above conditions, but the child is not your own, or if you adopt a child younger than 8 years old.

Parental allowance is not a flat rate benefit as it is intended to act as a replacement for the income you have lost since the birth (or adoption) of your child. The minimum amount payable is €300 and the maximum of €1800, but it is subject to the following calculation:

  • Monthly income of less than €1000 – receive 67-100% of prior income
  • Monthly income of €1000 – 1220 – receive 67% of prior income

  • Monthly income of €1220 – 1240 – receive 67-65% of prior income
  • Monthly income of more than €1240 – receive 65% of prior income

If there are more than two children in your family, a monthly bonus of 10% is paid (or €75 if greater). In the case of multiple births, an extra €300 is paid for each extra child.

You can claim parental allowance for between 2-12 months. If both parents want to claim, an extra two months is available, taking the total claim up to 14 months. You and your partner can choose to either take your parental leave at the same time, or consecutively.


In 2015, the government added a supplementary scheme: ElterngeldPlus. This was designed for parents who want to return to work sooner, but possibly on reduced hours. You must not work for more than 30 hours per week under ElterngeldPlus rules. The benefit of this scheme is that the payments are halved and spread over 24 months, instead of just 12. It is possible to combine both Elterngeld and ElterngeldPlus schemes simultaneously.

If you and your partner both simultaneously work for 25-30 hours per week for four months in a row, you will receive an extra four months of ElterngeldPlus. You do not need to be living in the same household to claim this. Single parents are also eligible for the extra bonus months by working 25-30 hours per week for four consecutive months.

You do not apply for parental allowance through your employer, but the local parental allowance office (elterngeldstelle). You will need your child’s birth certificate, proof of your ID and proof of your income.

Note: parental allowance is not the same as Child Benefit, which is payable to parents until the child turns 18 years old.

Care Leave

If you have a close relative that you need to care for, German law allows you up to 10 days unpaid leave from work (care leave).

You can also take up to six months of nursing care leave for a close relative. This is also unpaid, but you must give your employer at least 10 days’ notice. Your employment is protected during this period, but you may need to supply proof, such as a letter from a doctor.

Not all employers are bound by the long-term care obligations. These rules only apply if there are more than 15 employees in the company.

Working Hours, Vacations and Maternity/Parental Leave

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