In Germany, the vast majority of workers turn out to be unavailable in their free time: is this a protected practice?
As a rule, yes. German law protects the worker’s right to be unavailable outside working hours: recreational breaks are in fact considered to be functional for the employee’s health, as they are necessary for the recovery and restoration of the working capacity. The same argument can also be applied to managers.
However, there are exceptions: in fact, if time slots are established and the employee is guaranteed a minimum of 11 hours of uninterrupted rest, the contract may also include the possibility of being contacted outside of working hours.
The most notable exception relates to cases where the employee is on call. In this case, the employee must be permanently available or will otherwise risk dismissal for non-availability.
Beyond these exceptions, the employee is protected from any kind of consequences/disciplinary action for not being available on time off. This right is guaranteed by the Basic Working Hours Act, a fundamental document on the subject (available in German at this link), that states that the purpose of the law is “to ensure the safety and health of employees.”
Also clarified in the same law is the role of public holidays, which are defined as “days of rest and spiritual elevation for employees.” Thus, not only are such days considered, as mentioned above, functional for the employee’s relief, but also for the performance of all activities, outside of work, that contribute to living a full life.
In addition, bills capable of protecting the right of workers to be unavailable outside working hours will potentially be implemented also within the borders of the European Union. In fact, the European Parliament has decided to recognize this right, authorizing the European Commission to proceed with the development of a legal framework that will then have to be implemented by member states.
The European resolution regarding the right of workers not to be on call outside working hours can be found in English on this address.