I was employed by a German company. They told me not to go to Germany on the first day of the contract, because they need time to find a project for me (they are selling developers to other companies). When I arrived, they told me to stay at home for a few days and accomplish all registrations required by German law (residence, tax, social security, bank account). So effectively I was not in the company for about 10 days.

However, they've counted that time as "minus hours". I was surprised because it's completely different to common practices, if the company orders employee not to go, they must pay him for that time, and not require from him doing overtime by client because they couldn't find any project for him. However, they've told me, the German labour law is working like that. However, I couldn't find out which regulations apply here.

I feel confused now. Does German labour law really allows companies to do something like that?

  • I have asked on Meta if this should be considered on-topic, because the answers would apply equally to German residents.
    – gerrit
    Mar 13, 2014 at 13:59
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    Those minus-hours definitely don't sound right, but you should look into your contract, and definitely talk to the company. Unless it's in your work contract, they shouldn't be able to book you minus hours when they are unable to find a project for you. Mar 13, 2014 at 14:03
  • @RafaelCichocki there's nothing in my contract about that. They told me that the German law is stating so and I've sent them hours report, therefore effectively I was tricked to accept those 'minus hours'. Now they are telling me they have agreed with me that it was my extra free time, but since all was done by phone, I have no proof it was so.
    – user41
    Mar 13, 2014 at 14:05
  • @Łukasz웃Lツ have they actually told you which law (and there which section, paragraph or whatever) says this? I started here my very first job one day after the official contract started (as moving between countries and workplaces from Thursday to Friday wouldn't have made sense) but I got the whole salary. Mar 13, 2014 at 14:16
  • @dezso no, they didn't, they have said such practices are normal, but as I see now they are not. I'd like to know if something like that is anyhow legal, assuming the employee has accepted that (I have not, but I have no proof for that).
    – user41
    Mar 13, 2014 at 14:22

3 Answers 3


I run a small company, but IANAL, as always.

One thing is for sure: if you want to work within your daily allowance, your employer has to give you work. If they cannot (because they are searching for work for you), this cannot count against you. Germany has "Beschäftigungspflicht" (duty of employment) - your employer actually has to provide the work agreed on in your contract as much as you have to do it.

So my way of treating this would be to never agree to not come to work. Make it known that it was your intention to go to work and they told you that they have no project for you. So these hours are lost to them (8 hours per day on a standard contract). Make sure you have the instruction to stay at home and do your busywork on paper (or email).

I know "minus-hours" from flextime contracts with time tracking, where this is the word for "I only came in 6 hours today, so I have to work 10 tomorrow". (you are below your time budget, so you have "minus 2 hours", "2 minushours")

All this does not apply if you signed for "Abrufarbeit", as mentioned before, but then you also cannot run below your time budget, as you have none.

  • 2
    I think it's very near to the problem. I wasn't informed that accepting to come a few days later I've accepted to have minus hours though it was not directly stated in the contract, and not being aware of consequences. It seems like big cross-culture-difference issue. Your solution never to agree not to come to work seems to be a FAQ for foreigners coming to Germany. Could you bold it?
    – user41
    Mar 19, 2014 at 11:11
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    "never agree to not come to work" I think this is important, because it is often possible to waive certain rights you have without being aware of it. Mar 19, 2014 at 11:11

Another thing you could do is to read through your employment contract as well as the so called "Betriebsvereinbarungen" - rules that apply for all employes. There should be stated how those hours are handled. Some companies, especially in service sector let you accumulate positive or negative hours up to a certain level. It lets the company to use the time, when they have more orders than they need, to save on paying overtime hours to employees to cover the costs of their salaries, when there is not enough orders. Otherwise they have to send some of the employees to work short time.

In your specific case it's really hard to help you without seeing your contract. It is definitely possible to have minus hours (like in my case for example), but I can't give you legal advice in your case, as I am no lawyer. You can try and google if there are some lawyers that help in those cases in your area. They could help determine whether or not you have been cheated from legal point of view. If I were you, I would consider if I want to sue my Employer over a week of pay. Is it worth destroying your relationship with the company and ruin your career there. Just like the Germans say: "Recht haben und Recht bekommen" which means "it's not the same to be right, and to get justice from it".

  • This is very probably, but I've not signed such Betriebsvereinbarungen nor was I informed about them.
    – user41
    Mar 14, 2014 at 13:08

It's definitely possible to have something like that and it seems increasingly common. In Germany, it's called “work on call” (Arbeit auf Abruf). A quick websearch brought up a Wikipedia article on the topic.

Conceptually, you don't get “minus hours”, you simply have no fixed working time and therefore no guarantee to receive a full salary. If you work less than full time, you would not necessarily need to compensate that with overtime later on but you would receive less money. Is that what you mean?

I assume your contract would however mention it if that's your status. (Not necessarily dwell on it at length but mention the phrase or include a reference to the relevant part of the law.)

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    No, it's nothing like that in my contract. I become always full load.
    – user41
    Mar 14, 2014 at 6:15
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    Another possibility is that working time is defined by year rather than by week. I don't know precisely about Germany, though.
    – Gala
    Mar 14, 2014 at 9:31

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