Most companies consider employing women a risk, mainly because women get pregnant and take paid maternity leave. Some companies will either avoid employing women, give them limited contracts or fire them when they get pregnant. This has in turn led to some women deciding to pursue a career wholly without thinking about children and eventually having a country with more old people than young people. Germany in its quest to encourage women to give birth while still pursuing a career has set up regulations that favour Moms.
Parents can only take parental leave (Elternzeit) if they are already in employment.
If they wish, both parents can take parental leave simultaneously for all or part of the maximum term of three years each per child. Alternatively, parents may choose to use it solely for the partner months allowed in conjunction with parental benefit (Elterngeld). However, if both parents claim their entitlement at the same time it must be remembered that this does not constitute an entitlement to welfare benefit, i.e. the parents must ensure that they can provide for themselves during the period of joint parental leave.
With their employer’s consent, either or both parents can put off up to a year of their respective parental leave to between the child’s third and eighth birthday.
Parents who meet the conditions may work up to 30 hours a week while on parental leave. Parents are entitled to work part-time for between 15 and 30 hours a week if:
- they have been with their employer for more than six months,
- the employer regularly employs more than 15 people,
- the reduction in working time to the stated number of hours is to be for at least two months, and
- there are no compelling operational grounds opposing the arrangement.
Parents have the right to reinstatement of their prior working hours on termination of parental leave. The employer must be given seven weeks’ notice before the beginning of parental leave. The entitlement to take a reduction in working hours must be claimed by giving notification no later than seven weeks before beginning part-time work.
Special protection from termination of employment begins eight weeks before parental leave starts, or on the date of notification if the employer is notified less than eight weeks in advance. It continues until the end of the reported parental leave.
The law on parental benefit and parental leave is set out in a German-language brochure, ‘Elterngeld und Elternzeit’ (‘Parental Benefit and Parental Leave’). Further information is available by calling the service line run by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, on 030 20179130 (9 am to 6 pm).
Protection of working mothers (Mutterschutz)
During pregnancy, working women and their children need extra protection against dangers, overwork and workplace health hazards. This protection is provided by the Protection of Working Mothers Act, which forms an essential part of the law on health and safety. Alongside federal parental benefit and parental leave, the protection of working mothers is also an important part of family and social policy.
As a working expectant mother, you enjoy special protection from workplace hazards and are protected from dismissal from the beginning of your pregnancy to four months after the birth. Statutory maternity leave of six weeks before and eight weeks after confinement means you can dedicate yourself to your family and recover without the added burden of employment. The statutory period of maternity leave is extended to 12 weeks after a multiple birth and longer after a premature birth (e.g. birth weight under 2,500 g) (the portion of leave ‘lost’ due to a premature birth is added to the 12 week extension period).
The eight-week statutory leave period is also extended by the portion of leave lost through an early delivery.
Under certain circumstances, you may receive maternity benefit and the employer’s contribution to maternity benefit during this period. Eligibility for maternity benefit depends on the type and scope of your health insurance cover. From the birth of the child, parents can claim parental benefit and parental leave (at the same time if so desired). For more information on this topic, please see the Child Benefit, Federal
Parental Benefit, Parental Leave, Maintenance Advance and Supplementary Child Allowance chapter.
With the exception of maternity benefit and the employer’s maternity benefit top-up payment, statutory benefits for the child are provided as of the birth. If you find yourself in need while pregnant, visit your nearest pregnancy advice centre (Schwangerenberatungsstelle), where you can apply for help from the national mother and child foundation, Bundesstiftung Mutter und Kind (help is conditional on a the application being made before the birth).
Who is entitled to protection?
The Protection of Working Mothers Act covers all (expectant) mothers; that is:
- Full-time workers
- Part-time workers
- Home helps
- Home workers
- Public service part-time employees
- People in marginal employment
Your nationality is irrelevant. The only requirement is that your place of work must be in Germany
House-wives and self-employed women are NOT entitled to protection under the Act (though they can claim maternity benefit at the same rate as sickness benefit if they have paid sufficient voluntary contributions into a statutory health insurance fund).
House-wives and self-employed women can however, claim parental benefit (see the Child Benefit, Federal Parental Benefit, Maintenance Advance and Supplementary Child Allowance chapter).
Special provisions apply for tenured civil servants and soldiers.
Your rights under the Protection of Working Mothers Act
Protection from dismissal
Your employer cannot normally dismiss you while you are pregnant or within four months of your child’s birth.
Dismissal is only possible in exceptional cases, subject to prior approval of the relevant supervisory body (usually the labour or health and safety inspectorate).
Full protection against dismissal was introduced for home helps in 1997.
Only the employer is prevented from giving notice. You yourself are free to terminate your employment at any time during pregnancy and the statutory period of maternity leave after the birth. You do not have to serve a notice period, and the termination of employment is effective from the end of the statutory leave period. If you want to terminate your employment at an earlier or later date, however, you must observe
the statutory or agreed period of notice.
You have further protection from dismissal if you take parental leave at the end of the statutory leave period. This protection begins eight weeks before parental leave starts – or on the notice date if you notify the employer less than eight weeks in advance – and ends with your parental leave. Exceptions may be allowed in special circumstances. You yourself can terminate your employment in either of two ways:
- Either with three months’ notice to the end of your parental leave
- Or at any time during or after your parental leave, provided that you observe the statutory, collectively agreed or contractual period of notice
As an expectant or nursing mother you are entitled to a workplace in which you and your child are adequately protected against health and safety hazards. Your employer must ensure this protection against health and safety risks by providing you with appropriate workplace facilities, including safe machinery, equipment and tools, and by taking any other precautionary measures that may be necessary.
For example, if you are an expectant or nursing mother and your job requires that you stand all the time, under the Protection of Working Mothers Act your employer must provide you with a place for you to sit down from time to time. If, on the other hand, you are required to sit all the time, your employer must allow you to take short breaks.
Protection has priority
Expectant and nursing mothers are not allowed to perform certain tasks at work.
The Act lists a number of generally prohibited activities.
Generally, expectant and nursing mothers may not:
- Perform heavy physical work
- Perform tasks that expose them to health risks from noxious substances, radiation, dust, gases, vapours, heat, cold, dampness, vibration or noise
- Do piecework
- Do any other work where pay is linked to working speed
- Do assembly-line work involving a set working speed
- Perform tasks that involve
- Regularly moving or transporting loads over 5 kg, or occasionally moving or transporting loads over 10 kg, without mechanical aid
- Frequent and considerable stretching or bending
- Continual squatting or stooping
- Heightened risk of accident from slipping, tripping or falling
- Exposure to risks of occupational disease
- Work on machinery or equipment (such as foot-operated machines) whose operation places heavy strain on the feet
- Work more than 8½ hours a day or 90 hours in any two consecutive weeks
- Work at night (between 8 pm and 6 am)
- Work on Sundays or public holidays
There are exceptions to the general ban on night and Sunday working (see ‘Special provisions’, below).
Regular work driving transport vehicles is not allowed after the third month of pregnancy. For example, you cannot then drive a bus, lorry or taxi. This also applies to sales representatives who spend more than
half their working hours on the road. After the fifth month of pregnancy you may not do work that requires you to stand for more than four hours a day unless broken up by periods of sitting or walking.
You may also be personally banned from performing certain tasks on medical grounds. Besides the prohibited activities listed above, you cannot continue to perform your usual work without making any changes if a medical examination shows that doing so would endanger your health or that of your child.
Your employer might then assign you other work on the same pay. In certain cases, a reduction in working time may suffice.
A ban on medical grounds is different from a sick note. You will not lose any pay, because you are entitled to maternity pay from your employer (not to be confused with maternity benefit and the employer’s contribution to maternity benefit during the statutory period of maternity leave), which in most cases is at the same rate as your average take-home pay. Your employer is refunded this expenditure (pay during maternity leave and the employer’s contribution to maternity benefit) out of contributions paid by all employers.