Overtime in Berlin: 44 million hours every year

Berlin’s employees are working 44 million hours of unpaid overtime a year. The Berlin fraction of Germany’s centre-left party, the SPD, who estimated the figure, have announced a campaign to reduce the amount of overtime in the capital.

The party is proposing to introduce more strict checks on Berlin’s 164,500 companies. Several scientific studies have linked overtime to an increased likelihood of suffering from depression and heart disease.

The problem with overtime in startups

Traditionally, the startup work environment is rife with overtime, and often lacking in appropriate compensation.

Startup employees exchange long working hours for flat hierarchies and the chance for a more senior role in a company that might someday hit it big.

Many of Berlin’s startup have followed the lead of Silicon Valley and begun making their offices more comfortable workplaces with free food and drinks in the hope that employees will voluntarily work harder.

Applicants in Berlin are regularly asked if they are willing to put in extra hours in job interviews. Reducing the amount of overtime in Berlin’s startup scene might be a tricky task for the SPD.

At the same time, several young companies in Berlin like Ableton and Idealo allow their employees to balance out their 40-hour weeks using a flexitime system.

What does the law say about overtime?

Although German law states that employees should work an average of no more than eight hours per day, in legal practice overtime is more of a grey area.

Most corporate contracts contain some form of overtime clause, usually stipulating that that the employee can be required to carry out unpaid overtime if it is necessary for the company.

Whether this is legally applicable differs from case to case, and depends on a mixture of the employee’s salary and contract. Employees concerned about overtime are advised to carefully document their hours and check their contract before approaching their boss.

German law specifically states that there must be at least eleven hours between shifts.

Full-timers work less, freelancers work more

The average German employee works 35.3 hours a week, including part-time and full-time workers.

That’s nearly two hours less than the European average and five hours less than in Greece, which has the highest average working time, according to research by the Federal Statistical Office of Germany.

Freelancers in Germany work an average of fifty hours a week, over ten hours more than the typical full-time employee which works an weekly average of 40.6 hours.

Germany’s sacred Sunday off

Even if Berlin employees are working an increasing amount of late nights, the right to at least one day of rest a week is firmly protected. Many ’neu-Berliner‘ are frustrated to discover virtually all shops closed on Sundays due to Germany’s Sabbath laws.

Often thought of as outdated religious doctrine, Germany’s Sunday labour laws date back to a socialist ruling in the 19th century introduced to protect industrial labourers that were increasingly forced to work on Sundays.

Germany’s conservative parties regularly question the law, but the German citizen’s right to a Sunday off is written into the constitution.

In spite of this long socialist tradition, working Sundays are on the rise in Germany. One in four Germans claim to work on Sundays – an increase of four million employees in the past 20 years.


Feature image: Modern office building in urban city at the night. via Shutterstock / copyright: trainman32

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