Labor law in Germany – What you need to know about working hours, breaks and overtime

Labor law in Germany – What you need to know about working hours, breaks and overtime

Labor law in Germany regulates the rights and obligations of employers and employees. German employment law also sets rules on working time. This article provides an overview of the most important provisions on working time, breaks and overtime under German employment law.

Table of Contents

    How much break am I entitled to at work in Germany?

    Employees are entitled to breaks. The duration of breaks depends on the total working hours. According to § 4 of the German Working Hours Act (Arbeitszeitgesetz – ArbZG), at least 30 minutes break must be granted for working hours of between six and nine hours. For working hours of more than nine hours, a break of 45 minutes is required. No break is required when working less than 6 hours.

    How long can a break be?

    The minimum break is set by law at 30 minutes for working hours of more than six hours. This break can be divided into blocks of at least 15 minutes each. The relevant law here is § 4 sent. 2 of the German Working Hours Act (Arbeitszeitgesetz – ArbZG).

    When must breaks be taken?

    Breaks must be taken in a period that is neither at the beginning nor at the end of the working time. If possible, they should be scheduled in the middle of the working time.

    Generally it is the employer that may decide when breaks are to be taken. However, the interest of the employee must be taken into account and in most cases, employees have a certain time frame within they are free to decide themselves, when to take a break.

    How long can I work without a break?

    Employees may not work for more than six hours at a time without a break.

    Unfortunately, in certain jobs some employers still require employees to work longer without proper breaks. For a long time, this practice was tolerated by employees, especially in jobs in restaurants, bars, clubs and the event industry. This was because employees did not want to risk their jobs by asserting their actual rights.

    However, in the months following the corona pandemic, the job market shifted substantially. Now in many areas employers are desperately looking for new staff. This dynamic is exacerbated by demographic changes. For that reason, employees can be a lot more asserative when confronted with working conditions that are contrary to German employment law.

    Can I decide for myself when to take a break?

    As a rule, the employer sets the break times. Employees cannot decide for themselves when to take their break, unless there is a corresponding agreement or flexible working time model that allows this.

    Am I entitled to a smoking break?

    Smoking breaks are not provided for by law. Employers can allow them, but they must be outside the regular break times and are generally not counted as working time.

    How many hours a day can I work?

    The maximum daily working time is eight hours, which can be extended to up to ten hours, provided that an average of eight hours per working day is not exceeded within six calendar months or 24 weeks. This is regulated in § 3 of the German Working Hours Act (Arbeitszeitgesetz – ArbZG).

    Employees must be granted a minimum break of 11 hours between two days of work or shifts of work, as per § 5 of the German Working Hours Act.

    What happens if I am late for work?

    Lateness can lead to warnings and can even be grounds for dismissal if you are repeatedly late. The exact consequences depend on the circumstances and frequency.

    The same applies when returning late from a break.

    What happens if I am late for work due to traffic jams?

    In general, the risk of commuting is the responsibility of the employee. This means that employees are responsible for arriving at work on time. In individual cases, however, goodwill may be shown by the employer.

    What is the deadline for a shift schedule?

    Employers generally have a right to set the shift schedule for employees. They should take into account the wishes and interests of the employees.

    The German Working Hours Act (Arbeitszeitgesetz – ArbZG) does not stipulate a fixed deadline for drawing up a shift plan. However, shift schedules should be announced as early as possible, ideally at least two weeks in advance, in order to give employees planning security.

    May I change shifts with a colleague?

    Once the schedule is set, it cannot be changed at random. The shift schedule is (semi-)final. This serves to protect employees and employer alike. Any change of the shifts must be published in the shift plan for that time period. There is no specific deadline set in law to publish changes to the shift plan, but courts have regarded a deadline of four days to be appropriate.

    How much time must there be between shifts?

    There must be a rest break of at least 11 hours between shifts for a single employee.

    How many hours can I work in a row?

    Working hours may not exceed eight hours per day, but can be extended to up to ten hours under certain conditions.

    How many days in a row are you allowed to work?

    The German Working Hours Act (Arbeitszeitgesetz – ArbZG) allows up to six working days per week. Sundays are generally work-free, with a few industry-specific exceptions.

    How much overtime is allowed?

    Overtime is permitted as long as it is justified by operational requirements. However, it may not exceed the statutory maximum working hours and should be in line with any collective agreements or company agreements.


    Empolyment law in Germany provides extensive protection of employees. Nonetheless, the exact rights and duties may differ depending the type of business, the contractual agreements and any other applicable regulations such a collective or company agreements.

    While break times are rather precisely defined in the law, other aspects of the working time such as shift plans depend on the facts of the individual case. Feel free to contact us with any questions you might have.

    Further questions?

    Do you have any further questions regarding employment law in Germany? Would you like to have another aspect covered in this article? Or do you have any other legal subject that troubles you in Germany? Then drop us an email.

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    19.02.2024 | Employment Law, General