2 May 2018

Germany – Termination of an employment relationship

10 practical aspects to consider for an adequate timing

Meanwhile similar legal standards apply in most industrialized countries if an employment relationship shall be terminated; however, in every jurisdiction some specifics still need to be considered. The following ten aspects may be a first general guideline for the termination of an employment contract in Germany, in particular regarding its timing.

  1. In some cases notice needs to be given within a two-week period

In case of gross misconduct an employer may be entitled to terminate an employment relationship forthwith. However, if notice of termination is not served to the employee within two weeks after acknowledgement of the respective facts, this right is forfeited.

  1. Notice has to be given in writing

The notice has to be signed by the legal representative of the employer and delivered to the employee. Neither a transmission by facsimile nor an email with a scanned copy is sufficient. If the representative is not on site, timing may become an essential aspect of the termination process.

  1. Ordinary dismissal may be prohibited by a collective bargaining agreement

Collective bargaining agreements often provide a ban on ordinary dismissal under certain circumstances (e.g. based on the age of the employee). A careful assessment of all applicable collective bargaining agreements before a termination is therefore indispensable.

  1. Insufficient information of the works councils may lead to an invalid termination

The establishment of a works council is not mandatory in Germany. However, if it is established, it needs to be notified and heard before every termination of an employment contract. The notification must contain a sufficient description of the grounds for the termination, otherwise the termination may be deemed invalid. Having been notified, the works council has one week (in some cases: three days) to object. Any termination before such term without consent of the works council would be deemed invalid as well. Timing may therefore become again an essential aspect of the termination process.

  1. General dismissal protection is related to seniority and size of the establishment

General dismissal protection is basically applicable in establishments with more than 10 employees. Exceptions may apply in favour of those employees whose employment relationships commenced already before 1st January 2004. In addition, the respective employee needs to have at least a seniority of six month. If these criteria are met, the termination has to be justified by operational reasons, misconduct or personal incapacity as set out in the Dismissal Protection Act.

  1. Some terminations may need prior permission

Irrespective of the application of the afore mentioned Dismissal Protection Act some kind of terminations (e.g. employees on parental leave) may need a special permission of the works council, the Labour Court or the respective public authority as applicable. These procedures may last from some days up to two years.

  1. There is no general claim for severance payment in case of an unfair dismissal

Aside from those agreed in termination agreements there is no general claim for severance payment in case of an unfair dismissal. In general, the statutory remedy will only be reinstatement and back pay. Only under certain circumstances each party may apply for the termination of the employment relationship and a severance payment in front of the Labour Court. However, in most of the cases parties end up in a voluntary termination agreement.

  1. Non-competes may lead to extensive payments and cannot be withdrawn forthwith unilaterally without cause

A binding covenant to non-compete leads to a compensation payment of at least 50 % of the former salary for every month of its duration. Even in case of a justified termination it may only be terminated with a notice period of one year. However, both parties may agree upon its immediate suspension in a termination agreement.

  1. Any termination agreement has to be in written form as well

Also a termination agreement needs to fulfil the same formal requirements as set out already above under point 2. Again, if the representative is not on site, timing may become an essential aspect of the bargaining process.

  1. The forfeiture clause of a termination agreement may not cover all claims 

Termination agreements often contain general forfeiture clauses at their end, covering also those potential claims which have not been explicitly mentioned or identified by the parties. However, some claims (e.g. pension claims) may not be covered by such a (general) forfeiture clause.

Please note that these ten aspects contain general information only. Further details as well as possible exceptions therefore need to be checked on a case-by-case basis by a professional advisor.

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