Under the German Act on Working Time (Arbeitszeitgesetz), an employee’s working time is limited to a maximum of eight hours per working day and 48-hours per week. This 48 hours threshold applies to all employees working a five or six day week. However, most employees in Germany work five days and 40 hours per week at the most.

Under German law, an increase to up to ten hours per day is permissible without a special reason being necessary if the average of eight hours per day is not exceeded over a six-month reference period. However, as European law provides for only a four month reference period, it is advisable to ensure that the average is not exceeded within the shorter four month period.

There are further restrictions for pregnant and nursing mothers. Generally speaking pregnant and nursing mothers must not work over 8.5 hours per day or 90 hours across a two week period. If a pregnant or nursing mother is younger than 18 further limitations apply – they must not work over eight hours per day or 80 hours across a two week period. In addition, pregnant and nursing mothers cannot work between the hours of 8.00 p.m. and 6 a.m. or on Sundays or bank holidays.

In addition to this, young people between 15 and 18 years old are not allowed to work more than eight hours per day or 40 hours per week. A working week for young people is limited to five days a week. Generally, those aged between 15 and 18 may only be employed between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. and their employment on Sundays or bank holidays is only permitted in exceptional cases.

Where the daily working time exceeds six working hours employees are entitled to at least a 30 minute break (or a 45 minute break where the daily working time exceeds nine hours).

After each working day, employees are entitled to have an uninterrupted rest period of at least eleven hours (twelve hours for those aged between 15 and 18) before the beginning of the next working day. Within that rest period the employees are free to do what they want and are not obliged to wait on the employer’s premises. Shortening this rest period to ten hours is permitted, for example, in hospitals and other care facilities as well in restaurants and other catering facilities.

On Sundays and public holidays there is a general prohibition on working time which may only be derogated from in exceptional cases, such as for caring for the ill as well as in the transportation and tourism sectors.

German law does provide for several exceptions regarding working time. For instance, applicable collective bargaining agreements (Tarifverträgen) or works agreements (Betriebsvereinbarungen) based on collective bargaining agreements may provide for provisions that deviate from the above – mentioned rules to the detriment of the employees to a certain degree and in specific cases. In addition, in specific industries where shift work is necessary (such as in the metal industry) the competent authority can individually grant an employer an increase in the daily working time of eight hours.