All about notice periods in Germany

by Adriana Stein
April 02, 2021
employee and staff member looking at the notice period on Germany

Have you ever felt like you’re stuck in a dead end job and that there’s more to life than getting up at 5 am and getting stuck in traffic to get to a job that you don’t even enjoy? 

Or are you currently in the process of starting a new job in Germany and want to know your contract termination rights?

In either case, here’s what you need to know about contract notice periods in Germany.

An overview of how contract notice periods work in Germany

Ending a job or being let go can be a nerve-racking time, but it’s also exciting and full of new possibilities! And of course if you’re beginning a new job, that’s just as exciting, too! 

Whichever situation you find yourself in, it’s important to understand that Germany has very specific laws about contract cancellation regulations. I’ve outlined everything you need to keep in mind when working as a full-time employee or freelancer, as well as working during a probationary period.

Important German vocabulary related to notice periods

Below is a list of some German contract vocabulary to get familiar with that I’ll refer back to throughout this guide.

  • Kündigungsfrist: cancellation notice period
  • unbefristeter Vertrag: permanent contract
  • befristeter Vertrag: fixed-term contract
  • Angestellter: full-time employee
  • Teilzeitbeschäftigter: part-time employee
  • Freiberufler: freelancer
  • Das Teilzeit- und Befristungsgesetz (TzBfG): The Part-Time and Temporary Employment Act (TzBfG)
  • fristlose Kündigung: termination without notice
  • Probezeit: probationary period

If you’re a full-time employee, pay special attention to the next section.

Notice periods for full-time employees

If you’re a full-time employee (Angestellter) with a permanent contract (unbefristeter Vertrag) and your employer is dismissing you, here is the timeframe guidelines they’ll follow:

  • If the employee has been employed for two years, one month notice is required
  • If the employee has been employed for five years, two months notice is required
  • If the employee has been employed for eight years, three months notice is required
  • If the employee has been employed for ten years, four months notice is required
  • If the employee has been employed for twelve years, five months notice is required

Up until the actual date the employee is to be finished with that position, the employer will be expected to pay the same salary.

On the other hand, if you are the one terminating the business relationship, you’ll have to give notice at least four weeks in advance. As mentioned above, the employer must pay the employee like usual during the cancellation notice period (Kündigungsfrist), and the employee should also carry on with the tasks set forth in the contract.

One fundamental thing to take note of regardless of your position, the employee’s notice period can’t be longer than the employer’s notice period.

Notice periods during probationary periods and casual workers

A probationary period (Probezeit) refers to when an employee has been hired on a sort of “trial basis” for up to six months. If you are within this time-frame, it would be best to ask your employer if your period is three or six months. During this time an employee’s contract can be terminated with a two week notice. Although Probzeit is not legally mandatory, it is quite common practice that employers and employees agree to begin working on contracts under Probezeit conditions, so that they can get to know each other and make sure both parties would like to maintain the contract.

For part-time or casual workers, The Part-Time and Temporary Employment Act (TzBfG) stipulates that when the contract duration is less than three months, an employer can require a notice period shorter than the usual four-week specification. If a contract is longer than three months, this rule is then void.

For both part-time (Teilzeitbeschäftigter) and full-time employees, additional regulations are in place to protect against termination for:

  • Extremely disabled employees
  • Pregnant employees
  • Data protection commissioners (Datenschutzbeauftragter)
  • Parents on parental leave
  • Working council members (Betriebsrat)

Now that we’ve covered full and part-time employees, let’s go through notice periods pertaining to board members and managing directors. 

Notice periods for Managing Directors or Board Members

Board Members, Managing Directors, and other legal representatives of the company have a higher level of seniority within a company, which means that longer notice periods often apply. While there is no law that stipulates a minimum notice period (meaning the regulations for full-time employees don’t apply), common notice periods for these titles are as much as 12 months.  

Notice periods for freelancers

Although freelancing is becoming increasingly common in Germany, the concept is still rather new, which is why there are no set German laws pertaining to notice periods for freelancers (Freiberufler). Usually freelancers have a set fixed-term contract (befristeter Vertrag) or have a contract with a specifically defined notice period that both parties need to adhere to (such as 30 calendar days).

In order to cancel a freelance contract (freiberuflicher Vertrag), the mutual agreement should be written (email falls under this category) and state that everyone involved is on the same page about terminating the contract. Additionally, in a freiberuflicher Vertrag, there should always be a clear outline about what happens when the freelancer and client part ways in order to avoid any misunderstandings. 

Extraordinary termination circumstances

Of course not every situation fits into a pretty box and there are times when regulations need to be altered. These circumstances include, but are not limited to:

  • If the employer was unaware of criminal acts done by the employee either before signing a contract or afterwards
  • If after multiple discussions, an employee has been late or missed deadlines too often
  • Situations such as abuse, theft, or harassment
  • If an employee has lied about a serious matter
  • Termination without notice for a compelling reason (article 626 describes this in further detail)
  • When the employee becomes eligible for pension (if previously defined in the contract)

In any of the above cases, termination without notice (fristlose Kündigung) would be applicable. 

Hopefully you’ll never find yourself in any of those situations, but the reality is, it does happen so it’s best to be informed. 

Next comes the logistics… how to actually resign.

How to give resignation notice

If you’re an employer dismissing an employee then you must first write and sign a letter of termination and inform the working council (Betriebsrat). Once the employee receives the official letter, this is when the cancellation notice period (Kündigungsfrist) begins.

Similarly, if you’re an employee, you should give your letter of resignation considering your contractually stipulated notice period, which is most often at the end of the month.

What to do if your employer unfairly ends your employment contract

Areas where unfair contract termination could apply are:

  • Race, gender, religion, and/or sexual orientation
  • An employee’s disability
  • A pregnant employee

If you feel as though you’ve been given an improper farewell, you should seek legal advice.

Overall, Germany is a great place to be an employee, because there are many laws and regulations that protect employees and ensure their wellness before, during, and after work.

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