Unpaid Leave Germany: A Comprehensive Guide to Employee Rights

Unpaid leave in Germany offers employees the opportunity to take time off work for various reasons without receiving regular salary. It allows for flexibility in managing personal and family needs, ensuring a healthy work-life balance. This article provides valuable information about unpaid leave in Germany, including holiday entitlement, special leave, types of leave, sabbatical options, and the impact on health insurance.

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Employees can have time off during their vacation time (vacation/holiday leave) and of course when they are sick (sick leave). Unpaid leave in Germany offers employees the flexibility to address personal and family needs while maintaining employment benefits.

Whether it's maternity leave, paternity leave, parental leave, carer's leave, or a sabbatical, employees have the right to take time off work for various reasons.

Vacation Entitlement in Germany: How much paid holiday do I have as an employee?

As an employee in Germany, you have the right to a specific holiday entitlement known as "annual leave" or "holiday pay." This paid leave is restricted to a limited period: The number of vacation days you receive depends on your employment duration within a calendar year (hours per week).

In Germany, full-time employees are entitled to a minimum amount of paid vacation period per year, known as annual leave or vacation days, as regulated by the Federal Holiday Act (Bundesurlaubsgesetz).

The minimum annual vacation entitlement for employees in Germany is 24 working days per year, based on a standard five-day workweek. This amounts to four weeks of vacation plus the public holidays which are extra free days. The amount of public holidays depends on the state (Bundesland) you are working in.

However, it's important to note that the full vacation entitlement of 24-day minimum is a baseline requirement, and many employment contracts and collective agreements provide for additional vacation days.

It is common for employees to have more than the statutory minimum, with 25 to 30 days of annual leave being typical in many workplaces, which may increase with seniority or as per the employment agreement.

Employers have their rules when to take vacation leave and the holiday days that can be brought to the next year are limited to ensure that employees have an uninterrupted rest period and enough time in a year to relax. So the unused holiday leave of a year often has to be taken by end of March of the following year.

What is special Leave in Germany?

Special leave in Germany allows people in a employment relationship to take time off work for specific operational or personal reasons without losing their employment benefits. Special leave is typically unpaid and subject to certain conditions. There are different types of special leave in Germany.

Types of Leave in Germany

Germany recognizes several types of leave to cater to the diverse needs of employees. Let's explore the most common types of leave:

Parental Leave:

Parental leave is available to both mothers and fathers, providing them with the opportunity to care for their children. This type of leave can be taken up to three years until the child reaches the age of three. During parental leave, employees receive parental benefits, which are calculated based on their average income.

Maternity Leave:

Expectant mothers are entitled to maternity leave, which ensures their well-being and that of their child (maternity protection act). Maternity leave generally starts six weeks prior the expected date of birth and extends up to eight weeks after childbirth. During this period, mothers receive maternity pay based on their average income.

Paternity Leave:

Fathers in Germany can also take parental leave (paternity leave) to support their partners and bond with their newborn child. The law allows fathers to take unpaid leave for up to three months, during which they may receive parental benefits.

Carer's Leave:

If family members fall ill and require assistance and there's the need to care for them, employees can take carer's leave. This type of leave supports family care responsibilities and is usually unpaid, subject to the employer's approval.

Force Majeure Leave:

Force majeure leave applies in exceptional circumstances such as natural disasters, accidents, or other unforeseen events. Employees may request force majeure leave to address urgent matters resulting from these events. The duration and conditions of force majeure leave vary depending on the situation.

Bereavement Leave:

Bereavement leave allows employees to take time off work to mourn the loss of a close family member. The duration of bereavement leave depends on the relationship with the deceased and may be granted with or without pay.

Work-Related Leave:

Under specific circumstances, employees may need to take work-related leave, such as attending training programs or conferences. Work-related leave is typically requested in advance, and the conditions are subject to the employer's policies.

Sick Leave in Germany: What happens if I get sick?

In addition to the various types of leave mentioned earlier, Germany also provides provisions for sick leave to support employees facing physical or mental illness. Sick leave ensures that employees have the necessary time to recover without the fear of losing their job or facing financial difficulties. Here are the key details about sick leave in Germany:

Sick Pay

During sick leave, employees are entitled to receive either statutory sick pay, known as "Krankengeld" in the public system or daily sickness allowance, known as "Krankentagegeld" in the private health insurance, which is a form of income replacement. So this kind of insurance is very valuable in case of a longer illness for employees.

This payment is provided by the health insurance system and is intended to cover a portion of the employee's average income while they are unable to work due to illness. The amount varies and is generally a percentage of the employee's previous income.

Duration of Sick Leave

Sick leave in Germany can last at least six weeks (or more depending on your contract) if the employee falls ill. During this initial six-week period, the employer is typically responsible for continuing to pay the employee their regular salary, as per the Continued Remuneration Act (Entgeltfortzahlungsgesetz).

However, the employer may require the employee to present a medical certificate (Krankmeldung) from a healthcare professional to validate their illness and absence from work.

Employee Obligations during Sick Leave

During sick leave, employees are required to inform their employer promptly about their illness and provide regular updates on their expected return to work.

It's essential to communicate any changes in the duration of the illness or the ability to resume work. Failure to fulfill these obligations may result in the loss of sick pay or other employment benefits.

Continuing Medical Certification

To continue receiving sick pay beyond the initial six-week period, employees must provide regular medical certificates (Krankmeldung) from their healthcare professional.

These certificates serve as proof of the ongoing same illness and the need for continued sick leave. The frequency of providing medical certificates may vary depending on the circumstances and the employer's policies.

Interaction with Other Types of Leave

If an employee's illness extends beyond the maximum duration of sick leave, other types of leave may come into play. For instance, if an employee's illness lasts longer than six weeks, they may transition to long-term disability leave, which is governed by different regulations and benefits.

Taking a Sabbatical in Germany: How does is work?

While sabbaticals are not legally mandated in Germany, some companies offer this option to employees. Here are some common ways to take a sabbatical:

Working Time Account

A working time account allows employees to accumulate working hours over a specified period.

By banking extra hours, some employers in Germany allow employees to take a sabbatical by using the accrued time. This option provides flexibility in managing work and personal life.

Unpaid Leave

Another option for a sabbatical is taking unpaid leave. Employees can negotiate with their employers to agree on a specific duration of unpaid leave, during which they temporarily step away from their work responsibilities.

It's important to ensure that the employment contract covers the terms and conditions of unpaid leave.

Quitting Your Job

If you wish to take a more extended sabbatical or explore new opportunities, you can consider quitting your job altogether. However, it's crucial to carefully evaluate the financial and professional implications before making this decision.

What happens to my health insurance during Unpaid Leave?

During unpaid leave, employees' health insurance remains intact, provided they continue to contribute to the health insurance company. However, it's essential to consult with the health insurance provider to ensure uninterrupted coverage during the unpaid leave period.

During unpaid leave in Germany, the situation regarding health insurance coverage may differ for individuals who have private health insurance rather than statutory health insurance. Private health insurance is an alternative option that can be chosen by some individuals based on their income level or profession.

In general, employees in Germany don't have to pay the full amount to their health insurance because they are entitled to a contribution of their employer. But during unpaid leave there is on the one hand no income and on the other hand no employer contribution. Here's how that effects the different types of health insurance:

Public health insurance during unpaid leave

If you are on unpaid leave your premiums for public health insurance depend on the type of your leave and type of public insurance (mandatory or voluntarily insured).


If you still get paid during your sabbatical via time account, your premiums depend on the amount of your income. If you don’t get paid during your sabbatical, your status remains unchanged in the first month of your unpaid leave and changes thereafter.

There are two options for public health insurance during unpaid leave: free family insurance and voluntary insurance.

Parental leave

Private health insurance during unpaid leave

In private health insurance the premiums are calculated by age of entry, health status and the coverage and tariff you choose. As premiums are not calculated by income you have to pay your full premium during unpaid leave as the employer doesn't pay the employer contribution. But you will profit further from best health coverage and will have saved a lot of money by the decision to insure yourself with a private insurance.

There are also private health insurances that have special conditions for times of unpaid leave like parental leave. With ottonova you won't pay any premium for daily sickness allowance for the period of parental leave but still get all benefits for that time.

Even though the income is no variable for the calculation of premium for employees it still is a factor to be considered. If you get unemployed (e.g. if you want to take a sabbatical), you'll have no income. As an employee you'll have to earn a special amount of money to be eligible for private health insurance so you would have to switch to public health insurance. (Which is also the case if you take partial leave and work part-time).

But no worries, if you were insured for at least 5 years, you can stay in private insurance even though you get unemployed or have no income.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult the appropriate authorities or legal professionals.

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Marie-Theres Rüttiger
HIER SCHREIBT Marie-Theres Rüttiger

Marie-Theres is online editor for health and insurance topics at ottonova. She designs the editorial plan, researches and writes mainly about (e-)health and innovation that make life better.

ottonova sales experts
HIER SCHREIBT ottonova sales experts

Our ottonova team of experts has over 40 years of experience in private health insurance and answers questions about it every day. What are old-age provisions and for whom does private health insurance make sense? What is the actuarial interest rate and which tariff is right for you? They know!

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