Labor Locations There's No Place Like Home Office

German employees increasingly want to work from home but they often find out that the employer’s policy-making prerogative remains the measure of all things.
Working at home: be your own boss.

Some consider it the essence of inefficiency and goofing off, others see it as the model for the future.

The enthusiasm for having an office at home is particularly large in the Netherlands, which borders west Germany. As of July 1, Dutch employees will have a legal right to working at home. Companies will only be able to demand employees to be present in the office in justified, exceptional cases.

The new regulation has also caused a lot of discussion in Germany. Although still comparatively few employees in other countries also use their desk at home professionally, around a third of staff in the Netherlands have their office at home. In Germany, it is barely 12 percent, according to statistics from the German Institute for Economic Research, DIW.

However, a recent study by the Federal Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media, Bitkom, comes to the conclusion that the workplace with compulsory physical presence is also becoming a thing of the past in Germany. Above all highly qualified college graduates are increasingly placing more value on flexibility and balancing family and work.

“The inquiries about regulations on working at home are increasing,” said Jochen Keilich, labor and employment lawyer at law firm Pusch Wahlig in Berlin.

Unlike the country next-door, working at home in Germany is normally only allowed with the expressed approval of the employer. “Neither the law nor the majority of wage agreements obligate employers to allow their workers to work at home,” Mr. Keilich said.

Even illness in the family is not a mandatory reason to approve a request to work at home. Jochen Keilich, Labor and employment lawyer, law firm Pusch Wahlig

Instead, using their right to make company policy, employers can arrange the organization of work as they see fit. If working at home is not provided for in this concept, because, for example, the organization or monitoring of performance is made more difficult, the workforce must accept it.

Nevertheless, cases are also conceivable in Germany in which an employee is able to have his right to work at home recognized. The German state labor court in Hanover, for example, has ruled that the obligation of employers to support severely disabled employees also includes making it possible for the person in question to work at home.

In addition, already approved requests to work at home could force an employer to also consider requests of other employees. “If there are already a number of people working at home in a department, it can be necessary for reasons of equal treatment, that these other employees also be allowed the right,” said Mr. Keilich.

It is another matter when only a few people work at home and there are valid reasons for the special approval.

“If an employer allows work at home in an individual case, such as the employee having a sick child, fellow workers cannot make a case for equal treatment out of it,” said Markus Kappenhagen, partner at law firm Jones Day in Düsseldorf. But, he added, even illness in the family is not a mandatory reason to approve a request to work at home.

Employees can only ask for a decision “according to reasonable discretion,” Mr. Kappenhagen said. This means the employer must weigh his own needs against those of the employee.

On the other hand, problems arise when the employer wants to retract the permission to work at home once it has been given. “If a time limit hasn’t been placed on working at home, the employee in question cannot simply be ordered back,” said Mr. Kappenhagen.

In this case, as well, the company will have to be able to present reasons that weigh more heavily than the interests of the employee in question. Moreover, the termination of a work-at-home agreement usually requires the approval of the works council, Mr. Kappenhagen said.


Catrin Gesellensetter, a trained lawyer, covers the insurance industry and social security for Handelsblatt. To contact the author: [email protected]