What to do if you’re fired in Germany

What to do if you’re fired in Germany

by Leona Quigley

Updated June 23, 2023

Being fired or let go from your job can feel like the end of the world, but you’re not alone. Layoffs in Germany, as in other countries, are a fact of life during recessions and other tough economic times. The good news for those laid off or fired in Germany is that protections and support exist to help navigate a difficult transition. So, if you were recently vom Job entlassen werden or gekündigt werden, you may not be in as bad a situation as you think.

First things first: There are legal protections in place to guard employees against unfair dismissal. In Germany, you have the right to challenge a termination of employment that may be unjustified or discriminatory by filing a claim at the labor court. And, even if you’ve lost your job in a legal manner, there are supports and services available to help you through this time and lead you towards a new and fulfilling job.

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When can an employment contract be terminated in Germany?

Your employer can legally terminate an employment contract for a few legally valid reasons:

  • Dismissal for personal reasons
  • Dismissal for conduct-related motives 
  • Dismissal for business motives
  • Extraordinary or immediate termination 
  • Dismissal during the probationary period

Dismissal for personal reasons

A German company may dismiss an employee for personal reasons if they consider the employee mentally or physically unfit for the job. Personal reasons that might lead to dismissal include repeated long periods of illness, as well as drug or alcohol addiction. 

This is not to say that these are necessarily valid reasons for dismissal. Before terminating employment, the company must take all reasonable measures to prevent dismissal. The employer may terminate an employment contract in cases where an employee’s health condition prevents them from fulfilling their job duties, but there are strict rules governing this. Employers are obligated to first consider providing reasonable accommodations, job reassignment and sick leave.

Dismissal for conduct-related motives

Typical reasons cited for dismissal for conduct-related motives include consistent tardiness, refusal to work, noticeably poor job performance, repeated misconduct, absence from work without a good cause and other violations of employment contract obligations.

Again, the company is obliged to try to prevent dismissal by attempting all reasonable interventions. Punctuality is famously taken quite seriously in Germany, so you should make an extra effort to ensure that you always arrive on time or early for work. 

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Dismissal for business motives

Dismissal for business motives may occur in cases of company restructuring, liquidation or economic hardship. It may also occur if the company has insufficient work to assign due to technology or market changes that render a position unnecessary for business operations. This is perhaps the most common cause of job loss in Germany in recent years. The German labor courts have the right to review a company’s decision to terminate an employee’s contract under the motives listed above.

Extraordinary or immediate termination

Extraordinary or immediate termination may only occur in cases of serious misconduct that would make the continuance of employment impossible.  Reasons may include theft, disclosure of confidential information or serious disruption of the work environment (for instance, harassment of colleagues).

Dismissal during the probationary period

During the probationary period, which typically lasts  six months in Germany, an employer can legally terminate an employment contract without giving any particular reason — as long as the dismissal is not discriminatory. The employee is not eligible to file a dismissal protection suit before the end of the probationary period.

What can a German employer not fire you for?

Your employer may not dismiss you based on your age, gender or sexual orientation. Dismissal based on religious grounds or on your country of origin is similarly not allowed. You may not be let go because you are pregnant or during your parental leave.

If you feel that your contract termination was in violation of these rules, you may wish to pursue legal action against your employer. 

Be aware that you have three weeks from the day you receive a written termination notice to file a dismissal protection lawsuit (Kündigungsschutzklage). A termination notice is only valid if it is written in letter form and signed by your employer. A notice of termination given verbally is invalid, as is one given by email, text message, WhatsApp or any other messenger service.

How to find support if you’re fired in Germany

1. Check the terms of your employment contract 

If your dismissal is legal, check the terms of your employment contract to see if you are entitled to redundancy or other severance pay. 

2. Register at an Arbeitsamt to get unemployment benefits

You should take action immediately on receipt of a dismissal notice (die Kündigung). Go to an Arbeitsamt (job center) where you will receive support in your search for a new job. You may even receive an offer of training and education upskilling opportunities.  

It’s also important to register as unemployed at the Arbeitsamt so that you can take advantage of unemployment benefits. You will have to provide proof of your employment and earnings, as well as proof that you have been laid off.  Based on your previous earnings and length of employment, you will receive around 60% of your previous net salary on average. So, you will probably have to tighten your belt a bit, but it’s not so extreme — especially since your tax obligations will likely be lower than during employment.

3. Start your job search and develop new skills

Update your CV and start your job search. While receiving unemployment benefits, you are required to actively search for a new job. This means you must send out applications and attend job interviews. Lean on your network of friends, family, acquaintances and LinkedIn connections to maximize your chances of being called for an interview.

In the meantime, consider using your unemployment period to develop new skills. Take on additional training or education (for instance, evening training classes or online German classes) to make yourself more employable in Germany. The job center will provide you with information on available programs and how to apply.

New adventures ahead 

Armed with this information, we hope that you will be well-prepared to cope with the trial of losing your job. Fortunately, your rights as a worker in Germany are more expansive than in many other countries, and there are plenty of great job opportunities available in Germany for anyone who wants to work. Finding a new job may seem like a daunting prospect, but it can also be an exciting opportunity. Every cloud has a silver lining, after all!

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Leona Quigley

Leona has her roots in the South of Ireland, where she grew up on her family farm. She went on to study World Politics at Leiden University College, The Hague and then completed her MPhil in International History at Trinity College Dublin. Leona has now settled in Berlin, having fallen in love with the city. In her spare time she is working on perfecting her German in anticipation of her doctoral studies, during which she plans to study modern German social history. Her hobbies include bouldering, dancing and reading a healthy mix of history books and corny fantasy fiction. You can find more info about her on LinkedIn.

Leona Quigley

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