February 04, 2019 Issue: February 2019

GERMANY - New Entitlement to Temporary Reduction in Working Time in Germany – The 10 Most Important Questions

By: André Zimmermann

On January 1, 2019, new employee entitlements to a temporary reduction in working time will come into force in Germany. This article answers the 10 most important questions employers have.

1. What Is “Bridge Part-Time”?

Fulfilling a promise made in the coalition agreement, the new entitlement to work reduced hours temporarily, commonly referred to as “bridge part-time” (Brückenteilzeit), will enable the employee to reduce the working time without cause and reason and to automatically return to the previous working time after a predetermined period of one to five years. This new entitlement to a temporary reduction of working time complements the entitlement to unlimited part-time work under the Part-Time and Fixed-Term Act (Teilzeit- und Befristungsgesetz – TzBfG) if certain conditions are met. The employee has the choice between both options.

2. What’s New?

Previously, the Act only provided for a right to a permanent reduction in working time. Conversely, there is already a right under current law to an increase in hours. However, this entitlement to top-up only obliges the employer to give preferential consideration to the employee’s request for increasing hours when filling a corresponding vacant position with the same suitability.

Generally, the employee was not legally entitled to such increase in hours. To date, except for protected leaves such as parental and nursing leave, German law did neither provide an unconditional entitlement to return to the previous working hours nor for an automatic return to the previous schedule. In contrast to this, the new bridge part-time will enable employees to work part-time for a specific period and automatically return to full-time employment after that period.

3. Can Any Employer Be Called Upon?

No, a claim to the new limited part-time work only exists for employers with an average of more than 45 employees. This serves to protect smaller businesses from excessive demands.

4. Who Is Entitled to “Bridge Part-Time”?

All employees whose employment relationship with the same employer lasted longer than six months at the time of receipt of the part-time request are entitled to reduce hours, no matter whether the employee was previously employed full-time or part-time.

5. Do Employees Need a Justification or Reason For Their Request To Reduce Hours?

No, however, in the legislator’s opinion the new entitlement serves to bring up children, care for relatives and further education, but also to enables a smooth transition to retirement or a balanced relationship between work and private life.

6. Are There Time Limits?

To create a certain planning security for the employer, the Act provides that the period of reduction in working hours must be at least one year and a maximum of five years. Collective bargaining agreements may deviate therefrom. However, the law does not regulate the extent of the reduction, so that – unless there are opposing operational reasons – in principle, there is no lower limit for the new working time.

7. Are There Any Form Requirements? And What About Deadlines?

Yes, the application must be submitted by the employee in text form at least three months before the desired reduction in working time and must specify the reduction period. Handwritten signature is not required, so e-mail will suffice.

8. Can Employers Reject Claims?

For employers with 45 to 200 employees, the new law provides protection against excessive demands in such a way that the number of bridge part-time employees in the company is capped. For every 15 employees, only one individual is entitled to bridge part-time work. So if the employer has already granted bridge part-time work to a corresponding number of employees, it can reject further applications.

However, it is unclear what process must be followed to pick the employee. It is more likely that case law will require the employer to choose the employee based on social factors rather than on a first-come, first-served basis.

Furthermore, any employer can reject a temporary part-time application for opposing operational reasons, e.g. because granting the request would significantly impair the organization, the workflow or operational safety or would only be possible at disproportionate cost.

During the limited part-time period, neither a further reduction nor an extension of the working time can be demanded. If the employee returns to the original schedule, a new reduction shall be admissible at the earliest one year after return to full hours.

9. What Do Employers Have To Do Once They Receive A Request?

The employer must decide in writing on a formal application one month before the desired part-time start at the latest. It is important that the written rejection be made in good time. If the employer fails to do that, its consent to the temporary reduction in working hours is deemed to have been granted.

10. Is There A Right To Return To The Previous Job?

No, the law only regulates the automatic return to the previous working hours. Generally, there is no entitlement to employment in the same job after returning to full hours. Rather, the employer can assign the employee equivalent work in line with the right to give directions and the employment contract.

André Zimmermann

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP