The German government has taken various measures to respond to the corona crisis. Among others, the economic consequences shall be reduced as much as possible. An overview of the most important employment law related changes in connection with COVID-19 is provided below.
Amendments to the Working Hours Act (Arbeitszeitgesetz – ArbZG)
The Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has amended the Working Hours Act in order to make it easier to cope with the effects of the pandemic. On this basis, it is possible to deviate from the previously applicable requirements until 31 July 2020. Accordingly, exceptions to the maximum working hours and minimum rest periods, as well as to the prohibition of employment on Sundays and public holidays apply. This is intended to give companies the necessary flexibility in order to cover temporary staff absences and ensure the continuous supply of essential products and services to the population. However, the abovementioned exceptions only apply to certain business sectors, such as the manufacturing and supply of everyday consumer goods, as well as to all medical care related activities, and energy and water supply.
Amendments to the Works Constitution Act (Betriebsverfassungsgesetz – BetrVG)
Temporary changes are also planned with regard to the Works Constitution Act. Works council meetings by telephone or video conference shall be expressly permitted according to a draft bill. According to applicable law, the meetings of the works council and other bodies must be held in the personal presence of all those involved. Since the outbreak of the corona crisis, this meant that these bodies have in fact become almost unable to take any decisions, as personal meetings of several people were prohibited. This was particularly unfavourable, because many of the bodies have to be involved in effective crisis management and employers are dependent on their decisions. This applies in particular, to the works council, which e.g. must be involved in the introduction of short-time work and any dismissal. The new regulations are supposed to come into force retroactively from 1 March 2020. Hence, the decision-making ability of corporate bodies will then be ensured, and considerable legal uncertainties with regard to co-determination at company level will therefore be eliminated. It remains to be seen whether the temporary amendments will remain in application beyond the COVID-19 crisis.
Changes to short-time work allowances
The German government has also decided on changes with regard to short-time work allowances. In order to reduce the economic consequences for employees, the short-time work allowances are to be increased until the end of the year. Accordingly, short-time work allowances shall be increased to 70 % of the lost income from the fourth month onwards, and to 80 % from the seventh month onwards, for employees who have reduced their working hours by at least 50 %. The figures will be increased for employees with children to 77 % and 87 % accordingly. Furthermore, the opportunity to earn additional income from a different job while receiving short-time work allowances, shall be applied to all business sectors (before system-relevant occupations only) as of 1 May. The entitlement to unemployment benefits is also to be extended by three months under certain circumstances. Thus, the German government has significantly increased financial benefits for employees with regard to the effects of the Corona crisis. On 14 May 2020, Parliament adopted the proposed changes in the so-called “Social Protection Package II”.
Pusch Wahlig Workplace Law attorneys are available to assist you with these and other workplace issues. For more information, visit https://pwwl.de/
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