On 1 July 2008 Germany introduced new legislation giving employees with caring responsibilities the right to take time off work to look after close relatives.

Under the Family Care Act employees now have the right to take up to 10 days off work to deal with an emergency involving a close relative such as a spouse, partner or child. The right is to take time off only to deal with their initial needs or to put in place longer term care arrangements. The employee has no right to be paid during such a period – unless his contract or a relevant collective agreement provides otherwise. If it was not possible to give advance notice, employees must notify their employer as soon as possible why they are away from work and how long they expect to be absent. All employees are entitled to make such a request – irrespective of length of service or the size of employer. This right is similar to the right to take time off for dependants in the UK.

Employees who work for employers with 15 or more staff are also entitled to take up to six months’ leave to care for a close relative at home. In order to trigger this right employees are required to give their employers at least 10 working days’ notice. They are also entitled to make a request to work part-time during the care break and employers can only turn down such requests where there are urgent operational needs.

Employers must not penalise employees for exercising these new rights – as one would expect, they are afforded special protection from dismissal under the new legislation.

German employers have yet to be inundated with requests but they need to ensure that they have the correct procedures in place to handle them as and when they arise.