Quick Hits

  • German employment law changes in 2024 will deal with leaves of absence (sickness leave and parental leave), skilled worker immigration, employment of severely disabled individuals, and whistleblower protections.
  • Effective January 1, 2024, the minimum wage rate is €12.41 per hour.
  • The Compensatory Levy, which employers need to pay when they fail to meet the disability hiring quotas, has been increased.

Obtaining a Sick Leave Medical Certificate Via Telephone Will Again Be Possible

A provision allowing employees to obtain, via telephone, medical certificates for sick leave has been permanently reintroduced in Germany as of December 7, 2023. The essential conditions for this are the following:

  • The patient must not have severe symptoms.
  • The patient must be personally known in the doctor’s practice.
  • It is not possible to determine incapacity for work during a video consultation.

General practitioners still have the authority to decide whether incapacity for work can be determined on the basis of a telephone call or whether an in-office examination is necessary. A practitioner may issue an initial medical certificate via telephone for a maximum of five days but may not extend it via telephone call. If the practitioner issues the medical certificate during a video consultation, it can be issued for up to seven days. Patients who are not personally known to the practice can only be given a medical certificate for up to three days.

Facilitating the Immigration of Skilled Workers

In implementing the skilled worker immigration requirements of European Union Directive (EU) 2021/1883, national legislators expanded the overall immigration options for skilled workers. Since November 2023, a number of legal changes have been in effect to reduce bureaucratic hurdles in the recruitment of skilled workers. Among other things, any educational degree is now sufficient to engage in any qualified employment.

Further legislative changes will become effective in March and June 2024. Individuals with a minimum of two years of professional experience, whose professional qualifications are officially recognized in their country of origin, can work in Germany without the need for their professional qualification to undergo a lengthy German validation process. Facilitations are also applicable to the execution of qualification measures in Germany. Additionally, the new so-called opportunity card (Chancenkarte) will be introduced. Legislators established a points-based system as a simplified mechanism for the entry of qualified third-country nationals who are seeking employment in Germany.

Increased Compensatory Levy for Failing to Employ Severely Disabled Employees

Effective January 1, 2024, Companies with more than twenty employees are required to employ severely disabled individuals. Under the Act to Promote an Inclusive Job Market, which was passed in May 2023, employers that do not fill any or enough jobs with severely disabled employees despite being obliged to do so must pay a levy. The act increased the maximum monthly rate from €360 to €720 and applies to jobs that are vacant from the beginning of the year. Special regulations continue to apply for employers with fewer than sixty and fewer than forty employees.

Establishment of Whistleblowing Reporting Channels

On December 17, 2023, the transition period for smaller companies with fifty to 249 employees to establish suitable reporting channels under the Whistleblower Protection Act (Hinweisgeberschutzgesetz – HinSchG) expired. This obligation already existed for larger companies. Whistleblowers should be able to report misconduct via internal reporting channels without having to fear negative consequences. Companies that have not set up reporting channels for whistleblowers may face, among other penalties, the imposition of fines.

Facilitation of the Child Sickness Benefit

Parents of sick children will benefit from some relief. The scope of the entitlement to child sickness days will increase to fifteen working days per child and parent (instead of ten previously) or thirty working days for single parents (instead of twenty previously). Since December 18, 2023, parents of sick children have also been able to apply for a medical certificate from the pediatrician’s office for a maximum of five days by telephone. The regulation will initially apply for a limited period until June 30, 2024.

Although the entitlement period was previously longer, this extended period was based on temporary special regulations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which expired on December 31, 2023.

Increased Minimum Wage and an Adjustment of the Mini-Job Threshold

On January 1, 2024, the minimum wage increased from €12.00 to €12.41 per hour. Accordingly, the earnings threshold for mini-jobs increased to €538 from €520. Due to the dynamic adjustment related to the minimum wage increase, mini-jobbers are allowed to work up to 43.35 hours per month. In practice, this means that employment contracts where a lower hourly wage was agreed upon may need to be adjusted if necessary. Additionally, the minimum training allowance is also increased. Apprentices in their first year of training will receive a monthly minimum remuneration of €649, subject to deviations specified in collective agreements.

New Law to Promote Job Training and Further Education

In 2024, numerous reforms are taking place in the field of vocational training support for apprentices and employees. Starting April 1, 2024, young individuals who have not yet conclusively made their career choices will have the opportunity for subsidized career orientation internships, including the coverage of travel and accommodation expenses. The Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit) also offers a training allowance for employees in companies that have been particularly hard hit by structural change. The goal is to retain employees, despite technological transformation, through on-the-job training and thus reduce unemployment. However, this support measure applies only to employers with more than ten employees and where there is a company agreement or company-specific collective bargaining agreement. Beginning August 1, 2024, young people will also be entitled to funding for external vocational training if they meet the eligibility requirements.

Additional Relevant Updates

Contribution assessment ceilings. As every year, the contribution assessment ceilingsare rising. The statutory health insurance contribution ceiling increased to €62,100 annually. The annual contribution ceiling for pension insurance is now €90,600 in the western part of Germany and €89,400 in the eastern part of the country.

Integration subsidy for older employees. The integration subsidyfor older employees will initially be extendedfor anadditional five years until the end of 2028. The remuneration of employees over the age of fifty-five can then be subsidized for twelve months to a maximum of thirty-six months.

Social security contributions. The total social security contribution ratein 2024 will be raised from 40.45 percent to 40.9 percent.

Parental allowance. The income limit for parental allowancewill decrease for couples to €175,000 (previously €300,000) and for single parents to €150,000 (previously €250,000). The receipt of parental allowance will still be permitted for up to fourteen months after childbirth, but only one month at a time. Births from April 1, 2024, onward will be the reference point for the new thresholds.

Supply Chain Due Diligence Act. Effective January 1, 2024, companies with more than 1,000 employees (previously 3,000) are required to implement the Supply Chain Due Diligence Act. In particular, the law stipulates certain due diligence obligations to protect the environment and human rights.

Inflation adjustment premium. The tax-free guarantee of the inflation adjustment premiumof up to €3,000 is only allowed until the end of the 2024.

Outlook for 2024

We expect numerous other employment law changes to happen in the course of the year, including the following:

Works council remuneration. The current draft bill regarding works council remuneration provides for statutory specifications regarding the minimum remuneration of works council members as well as the explicit standardization of the prohibition of discrimination and favoritism for the works council.

Meals allowance. As part of the Growth Opportunities Act,the tax-free meals allowance for business trips and the tax-free allowance for company events are to be increased.

Employee data protection. In its paper on digital strategy, the German government announced its intention to enact modern regulations on employee data protection to pave theway for a modern working world with new technologies.

Leave after birth of child. The Family Start Time Actis expected in 2024. This will entitle the non-birthing parent to time off in the first ten working days after giving birth. The partner will receive a partnership wage from their employer, which is to be paid from the so-called U2 levy in accordance with the maternity protection regulations. The aim is to enable parents to share responsibilities as partners.

Working time recording. A legislative regulation on working time recording is still pending. The draft by the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (Bundesministerium für Arbeit und Soziales or BMAS) to amend the Working Hours Act as of April 18, 2023, has been in the parliamentary process since then. According to the draft, the start, end, and duration of daily working hours should be electronically recorded. Flextime should still be possible. This draft follows two fundamental decisions by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and the German Federal Labor Court (Bundesarbeitsgericht).

Pay transparency. On June 6, 2023, the European Pay Transparency Directive came into effect to strengthen wage transparency. The principle of equal pay for equal work for women and men is intended to be reinforced. However, the implementation deadline runs until June 7, 2026. Among the directive’s requirements is that employees will have detailed information rights.

European works councils. The rights of European works councils could be strengthened at the European level in the future. In February 2023, the European Parliament urged the European Commission to submit a proposal for a revised directive on European Works Councils (2009/38/EC) by January 31, 2024. This proposal includes numerous modernization suggestions serving the unified representation of interests across member states’ borders. Up to now, European works councils have mainly had information and consultation rights. However, there are no plans to introduce the kind of codetermination rights enshrined in the German Works Constitution Act.

Ogletree Deakins’ Berlin office will continue to monitor developments and will publish updates on the Cross-Border blog as additional information becomes available.

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