On Sunday, 18 August 2019, I arrived in Edinburgh from Muenster in Germany full of anticipation for the coming six weeks with Brodies. Spending my first day wandering around the city and going window-shopping, I was quite surprised to see that most of the shops were open. This was the first time I realised that the working time practices in Germany and in Scotland differ significantly. Spending two weeks of my internship in the employment team I got to the bottom of the Scottish holiday entitlement and even got to refresh my knowledge of the German Working Time Regulations, “Arbeitszeitengesetz (ArbZG)”.

Whereas Germans have a holiday entitlement of 20 days for a five-day week, Scots get a total statutory annual leave of 5.6 weeks which is equivalent to 28 days for a five-day week. But don’t jump to any conclusions just yet!

Under the Working Time Regulations 1998 there is no specific entitlement to public holidays, which means that public holidays can count towards the total statutory annual leave provided they are paid. That’s the opposite of the position in Germany where Sundays and public holidays are protected as non-working days. This leaves Germans with up to an additional 14 holiday days depending on the federal state they work in (not the state they live in).

However, unsurprisingly the German law comes with a handful of exceptions. According to paragraph 10 of the “Arbeitszeitengesetz (ArbZG)”, employees are allowed to work on Sundays or public holidays if the work can only be done on that day. Paragraph 11 ArbZG sets out that there have to be at least 15 free Sundays each year. Furthermore, employees who work on Sundays are entitled to a day off in lieu. To the detriment of the employee this can also be a non-working Saturday because Saturdays are usual business days under the “Arbeitszeitengesetz”.

One of the tricky issues around annual leave in Scotland is the extent to which part-time workers are entitled to public holidays. Some employers allow paid-time off only in respect of public holidays which fall on a day an individual is normally required to work. However, this is potentially a breach of the Part-time Workers Regulation 2000 as it can result in unfairness to part-time workers (compared with full-time workers) who happen not to work on Mondays (when most bank holidays fall). To be on the safe side employers could give part-time workers a pro-rata entitlement to public holidays according to the number of hours they work, regardless of whether they normally work on the days on which public holidays fall. Even though other approaches are possible, this presents the least risky course of action and is also recommended in the BEIS’ basic guidance on part-time workers rights.

One thing is for sure: next time I will be careful when it comes to talking about how little holidays we have in Germany.