"Summer, palm trees, sunshine..."

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"Summer, palm trees, sunshine..."


All the law about holidays

How quickly Easter was over...But in May, thank goodness, every year there are a few public holidays to soften the monotony of the everyday working round, providing an opportunity to take a breathing space. Still, plenty of people are thinking longingly of their coming summer holidays – of "summer, palm trees and sunshine..." Last year quite a few already booked their dream trip to Thailand or Namibia; others are still waiting from an OK from the boss before, as every year, they go with the family to the North Sea or Baltic coast. Oh, you run your own business. And you've forgotten how to spell the word h-o-l-i-d-a-y? That doesn't change the fact that your employees are entitled by law to their paid days away from work.   


People who really need a good rest often do without their holiday

Yet in Germany you will find a good third of employees who let their holiday entitlements pass by unclaimed. Paradoxically, according to a survey by the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB), they belong statistically to those workers who are particularly in need of rest and recovery. There is a close connection between doing without holiday and a high workload: according to this study, the people with the most weekly working hours are the people who forego their holidays most frequently. To their own detriment, such people come to terms with "overstress."     


Holidays are regulated by law in Germany

In Germany the statutory minimum holiday entitlement, given a six-day week, is 24 days, but most employees have contractually agreed holiday of 25 to 30 days. To this must be added paid statutory public holidays, which vary between the different German states. Of course in Germany we have a particular set of legislation covering every aspect of that all-important holiday – the German Holidays Act (BurlG) – so that everything goes fair and legally. The Holidays Act states also that the employer's wishes "must be taken into consideration." And over the years the decisions of the courts have shown that the focus is actually on the employees. The interests of the business take second place. But of course the needs of the business are also justified, and ultimately the boss decides who gets off on holiday, and when.      


A few important questions and answers about holidays:

  • How should application for holiday be made?

Ideally in writing, but that is not compulsory. If it is usual in your firm to agree holiday verbally, then that is sufficient. There can definitely be no permission for holiday "only under certain conditions." Always make unambiguous agreements.


  • Can an application for holiday be refused?

Yes, but only if there are sound reasons for doing so. For instance, "in case of compelling business reasons", or if other employees take precedence on grounds of their own welfare.


  • What may "grounds of their own welfare" be?

That may mean having children of school age or chronic illnesses. But account must also be taken of age and how long the employee has been with the firm.


  • When is an application for holiday deemed to have been granted?

If the holiday application is made verbally and a Yes or No is given verbally and immediately, then this is binding on both sides. If the application has been made in writing, the employer has about seven to ten days to respond. If the answer comes later, this will be a new offer to the employee, which he in turn can either accept or reject. 


  • Can holiday, once granted, be revoked?

Only in completely exceptional cases. Significant reasons relating to the business must be involved. In recompense an employee may require the employer to pay the cancellation charges for a trip which may already have been booked. 


  • Can an employee be fetched back from his or her holiday?

No, absolutely not. According to the Federal German Employment Tribunal, an employee does not even need to leave behind his holiday address.


  • To how much holiday are employees entitled in one go?

Under the German Holidays Act, employees have a right to at least two sequential weeks of holiday a year.


  • Can works holidays be ordered?

Yes, that is perfectly legal. But employees have the right to determine at least two-fifths of their annual holiday themselves.


  • Can holiday be carried over to the new year?

There is no blanket right to any holiday carry-over. Statutory holiday is intended for rest and recreation and is meant to be taken. In exceptional cases an employee may be entitled to transfer residual holiday into the new year. E.g. if, because of long illness, he or she was unable to take their holiday, or the application was refused on significant grounds involving the business.


  • Is there any right to holiday during parental leave?

Up to the start of parental leave, any holiday not taken still counts. Such holiday does not expire and can be taken after the period of parental leave. During parental leave the holiday entitlement is reduced by one twelfth for every full calendar month of parental leave.


  • Holiday even after decease?

Yes, in a sense, holiday entitlement exists beyond death: to the extent – as the European Court of Justice decided in 2014 – that compensation can be demanded from the deceased's employer for residual holiday not taken up to the time of decease.   


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by Martina Tangara


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