Work contracts in Germany (Arbeitsverträge)

Work contracts in Germany (Arbeitsverträge)

You’ve found a job, made it through the interviews and been given an offer! But before you can start working in Germany, you will need to go through an employment contract with your new employer to confirm the details of your role.

Checking and signing your work contract (Arbeitsvertrag)

Once you have accepted your new job, your employer will present you with a labour contract (Arbeitsvertrag) that covers all the details of your employment agreement. You do not need to sign this straight away. You are usually able to take it away and check it over, to make sure you understand and are happy with all the elements.

If there is anything you do not understand or are unhappy about, it is wise to discuss them with your company before you sign anything. Employment law in Germany can be complicated, so you may also want to consult a lawyer for advice.

German labour contract checklist

Your labour contract will detail various aspects of your employment. Check through it thoroughly to make sure there are no surprises. The most common elements included are:

Types of employment contracts in Germany

There are several different types of employment contracts in Germany. Permanent employment contracts are by far the most common.

Permanent labour contract (unbefristeter Arbeitsvertrag)

A permanent contract (unbefristeter Arbeitsvertrag) is for an unspecified, indefinite period of time. It will usually contain a six-month probationary period, after which your contract can only be terminated if you resign or the employer finds legal grounds to dismiss you (there are strict guidelines governing this).

Fixed-term labour contract (befristeter Arbeitsvertrag)

Fixed-term labour contracts (befristeter Arbeitsvertrag) are valid for a specific period of time. They may be renewed once this time period has elapsed, but the employer is not obliged to do so. A fixed-term contract can be renewed a maximum of three times, provided the total length of employment does not exceed two years.

If you have started your own business and have been running for less than four years, you can use fixed-term contracts for up to four years.

Contract with a recruitment agency

With this type of contract, you are employed by the recruitment agency (Personalegentur) rather than directly by the employer. The agency is therefore responsible for paying your salary. Temporary contracts of this type can only be for a maximum of 18 months, and you are entitled to the same remuneration and benefits as the customer company’s permanent employees.

Mini-jobs & Midi-jobs

Mini-jobs (Minijobs) are a form of marginal employment in Germany. A mini-job describes a work contract where the employee earns no more than 538 euros per month or works less than three months or 70 days per year (Kurzfristige Minijobs). Mini-jobs can be taken alongside your main job as a supplement to your wage, or as your principal form of income.

If you have a mini-job you are not liable to pay income tax or social security contributions - which means you are not entitled to certain benefits like unemployment benefits, and you may end up with a low pension entitlement if you work a mini-job long-term - but you have the same employment rights as permanent employees, such as sickness benefit and holiday pay.

Midi-jobs (previously referred to as "sliding zone" jobs), are employment relationships in which an employee earns more than 538 euros but less than 2.000 euros per month (as of January 2023). Midi-jobs are subject to taxation and social security contributions, but at a discounted rate that gradually increases with earnings.  

Freelancer contracts

If you are a freelancer, you will typically draw up a contract with all of your clients to define your working relationships. In Germany there are two types of freelancer employment contracts:

Contract for services (Dienstvertrag)

By signing a contract for services (Dienstvertrag), a freelancer makes their services available to the client in exchange for remuneration. The contract will usually detail any specific obligations, the length of the agreement and conditions for the contract termination.

Contract for (specific) work (Werkvertrag)

A contract for work (Werkvertrag) differs from a contract for services mainly in that it concerns a specific work, rather than a period of time. The freelancer will undertake to produce or repair something, in exchange for a one-off fee. The service is usually only provided once.

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