What applies to unpaid leave?

Frankfurt/Cologne – The number of vacation days to which employees are entitled per year is regulated in the employment contract. But what does it look like when you’ve used it up a long time ago? The most important questions and answers about unpaid leave at a glance.

Who is entitled to vacation without pay?

The answer is frustrating at first glance: no one. “There is no right,” says Nathalie Oberthür, a lawyer specializing in employment law in Cologne. “But friendly, anything goes.”

In other words: “It’s always a matter of agreement between employer and employee,” says Tjark Menssen of the legal protection department of the Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB).

Can my employer refuse unpaid leave?

Yes. Theoretically, the employer does not have to explain this in any particular way. Operational reasons are given most of the time. For example, that he cannot find a suitable representative.

“Particularly in the current times of pandemic and labor shortages, it can mean that employees with special knowledge simply cannot be replaced immediately,” says Tjark Menssen. Those affected then have no opportunity to take action against it.

How long can unpaid leave last?

There are no upper limits. The same applies here: it depends entirely on the goodwill of the employer. However, a few months to a year are usual. “It shouldn’t take any longer. It’s always a tightrope walk,” says Menssen. Anyone who has been away for a long time may have trouble finding connection or getting back to work.

Am I entitled if team members have been placed on unpaid leave?

The motto “equal rights for all” does not apply in this case. “Of course that would cause debate. But there is no blanket statement that all employees are always given the same thing,” says Nathalie Oberthür.

However, if there is a general principle in the company that says: Everyone can take unpaid leave, only one person would be denied the wish, you could refer to it.

How about insurance?

Employees are now responsible for their own social security. “Anyone released overnight without pay has to pay social security contributions themselves,” says Menssen.

Without payment, there is only one month of sequel coverage in the health insurance. After that, you must voluntarily purchase health and long-term care insurance or continue to contribute to pension insurance yourself.

Can the right to unpaid vacation be recorded during the negotiation of the contract?

“Anyone who intends to do something like this or is even planning something concrete should negotiate at an early stage so that there is clarity,” says Tjark Menssen. But, of course, you also take a risk: because what does a new employer think of you taking time off even before you start at the new company?

Are there alternatives to unpaid leave?

In theory, you could agree with your employer on a part-time model for two years. Employees work a year in which they only receive half of their salary. If you take the next year off, you’ll only get half your salary. “This way, I can better finance my own vacations,” says Menssen. The employer is also responsible for medical and long-term care insurance.


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