01.06.2022 | Employment Law
The Working Time Act (Arbeitszeitgesetz) is a protective law in favor of employees. Its goal is to keep employees healthy and productive. In addition to general rules on working time, breaks, rest periods as well as night and weekend work, the law allows for a number of exceptions. Collective bargaining agreements, works council agreements or sector-specific approvals from the supervisory authority create leeway for deviating solutions. Employers who want to successfully introduce a new working time model should know the basic legal regulations in the Working Time Act.
Daily working hours
According to the basic rules of the Act, the maximum working time on weekdays is 8 hours. Working days also include Saturdays. Therefore, the maximum weekly working time is 6 x 8 hours = 48 hours. However, the Working Time Act provides for an exception form this general rule. The daily working time may be extended to 10 hours if the average maximum working time over a 24-week period is 48 hours per week.
For example, if an employee works 10 hours a day for a week due to a high workload, their weekly working hours add up to 60 hours. This is only permissible if this overtime of 12 hours (60-48 hours) is offset within a period of 24 weeks.
The works council has a right of co-determination with regard to the beginning and end of daily working time, including breaks, and the distribution of working time over the individual days of the week.
Employees who work longer than 6 hours a day must take a break of at least 30 minutes. Those who work longer than 9 hours a day must take a break of at least 45 minutes. A longer break is possible. The break may not be at the beginning or end of working time and must last at least 15 minutes.
The German Working Time Act and collective bargaining agreements provide for several sector -specific exemptions which allow to adapt the arrangement of breaks to the specific nature of the employees’ activities.
There must be at least 11 hours of uninterrupted rest between the end of one daily working period and the start of another. With the exception of shift work, this means: There is an 11-hour rest period between the end of work in the evening and the start of work in the morning.
If work is resumed during this rest period (for example, by telephone calls, sending mail, etc.) the 11-hour rest period starts again from the beginning.
Exceptions exist for certain industries. They can be defined by a collective bargaining agreement, by the legislator or by the supervisory authority.
Working on weekends and public holidays
Saturday is considered a normal working day under the Working Hours Act. Accordingly, a 6-day work week is permissible. Sundays are a different story - here the basic rule applies: employees are not allowed to work on Sundays from 0 a.m. to midnight. This also applies to public holidays. Work on Sundays and public holidays is only permitted in certain areas (e.g., emergency and rescue services, restaurants and hotels, etc.).
In addition, collective bargaining agreements can provide for several exceptions and the supervisory authorities may grant exceptions to the general ban on working on Sundays and public holidays in certain sectors.
Obligation to keep records
Any working time in excess of 8 hours per day must be recorded.
This can be done by means of a time clock, electronic time recording systems or by handwriting. The employer may delegate this task to the employees. The records must be kept for at least two years.
The obligation to keep records only does not apply to executive employees to whom the Working Time Act does not apply or to employees who never work more than 8 hours a day due to fixed working hours.