Maternity Leave and Job Protection (Mutterschutz) in Germany

Source: Federal Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women & Adolescents, Maternity Protection Guide 09.2005

Adjusting to motherhood is made a little easier if you happen to be an employed woman working for a German company. You will actually be provided mandatory time-off from work, before and after childbirth. This is revelatory news for many English speaking expats. Basically the Mutterschutzgesetz, Maternity Protection Act of 1968 was instituted to ensure that expecting mothers are not discriminated against when applying for jobs and to provide them with added protection from being dismissed from work as a result of their pregnancy or arrival of their newborn child. This law actually goes well beyond that fundamental claim and provides much more.

In order for the Maternity Protection's measures to be activated, the expectant mother, who is employed, must inform their employer of their pregnancy and the expected date of delivery. If a verbal notification isn't good enough, then a doctor's Certificate of Expected Date of Delivery is to be provided to the employer. Keep your receipt, because employers must reimburse their employees for this certificate when they request it.

Expectant mothers applying for employment are not required to make their pregnancy known before entering into employment.

Employers may not disseminate information about an employee's pregnancy to a third party.

After an expecting mother has informed her employer of her pregnancy, the employer must forward the information to the Arbeitsschutzämter, Employment Protection Office or the Gewerberaufsichtsaemter, Business Supervisor's Office. Both of these offices ensure that all Mutterschutz provisions are properly regarded, just as they serve to assist both employer and employee on all issues pertaining to Mutterschutz.

Job Protection

Women are well protected from loss of employment due to dismissal - from the beginning of pregnancy until 4 months following childbirth (Schutzfrist) through a Kündigungsverbot, Dismissal Ban. Only in extremely rare exceptions are employers permitted to dismiss a pregnant employee during this time.

This Kündigungsverbot applies when an employer was properly notified (best method is per Einschrieben, Registered Mail with return receipt) and the pregnancy and/or the forecasted birth date was verbally made known or the employer received a Certificate of Expected Date of Delivery. In the event an employer receives a Certificate of Expected Date of Delivery within 2 weeks of canceling a pregnant employees contract - the dismissal is usually retracted or nullified. Not many company's want to invest in the complicated and often unsuccessful undertaking of challenging the higher authorities on this subject.

Pregnant employees are not contractually bound to their contract's cancellation provisions during the Schutzfrist- normally they may immediately cancel an employment contract during this time with impunity. Be aware that cancelling your employment contract will absolve the employer of having to pay any work related fees including their portion of the Mutterschaftsgeld- Maternity Allowance (see related article) in such instances.

Job protection goes much further and into even deeper in detail; therefore if you want to know, contact "Kündigungschutz" at the German Ministry of Economy and Employment at: info@bmwa.bund.de (or Postfach 300265, 53182 Bonn)

Mother & Child Protection at the Workplace

Expecting and even nursing mothers are well protected in the workplace. Here are some condensed highlights from the Maternity Protection Act:

  • Employers have to provide a healthy and safe work environment for expecting and for nursing mothers.
  • Employers have to provide an adequate break room that can accommodate a reclining chair for expecting and nursing mothers who require it for their well being.
  • Pregnant or nursing mothers are not banned from working in front of PC monitors, although it is popularly thought that magnetic fields are a health hazard- this claim has yet to be properly substantiated. However, employers are encouraged to create a diverse work routine so as to not overstress an expecting or nursing mother. The company doctor should be called upon to provide professional, medical input.
  • Expecting mothers are not permitted to perform heavy, physical labor or to work with or amongst materials, substances, and gases or in extreme elements, that could be deemed potentially hazardous to their health.
  • Expecting and nursing mothers should not be exposed to compressed air, or radioactive material - chemical and biological pollutants could also be considered harmful.

In the aforementioned points either the Arbeitsscchutzämter, Employment Protection Office or the Gewerberaufsichtsämter, Business Supervisor's Office is to act as the deciding authority in unclear cases. Both employer and employee may contact the office responsible for consultation at any time.

  • Expecting and nursing mothers are not permitted to work at night between 20:00 and 06:00.
  • Expecting and nursing mothers are not permitted to work Sundays and on holidays.
  • Expecting and nursing mothers are not permitted to work overtime.
  • Expecting and nursing mothers are not permitted to work more than 8 1/2 hours daily or 90 hours in 2-week period.
  • Expecting and nursing mothers under 18 are not permitted to work more than 8 hours daily or 80 hours in a 2-week period.

Exceptions are made for employees working in hospitals, restaurants, hotels, agriculture, and the arts and in family households.

Nursing (Working) Mothers

Breast-feeding, or nursing, is very popular in Germany and the Maternity Protection Act made certain this important facet of motherhood would not be neglected. Working mothers that are nursing their babies are permitted to take "nursing breaks", providing 8 hours of work was not interrupted by a break of 2 hours or more. Nursing breaks are 30 minutes, two times per day or one time per day for 1 hour. If a working mom is at the job for more than 8 hours, then she is entitled to two 45 minute breaks or if there isn't a close nursing area available, then a single 90 minute break is to be provided.

These breaks may not be deducted from a nursing mothers pay or hours worked and they may not be counted in place of other instituted breaks (like lunch breaks).

Mutterschutzlohn / Maternity Protection Pay

This provision of the Maternity Protection Act ensures expecting mothers that are deemed unable to work are not financially penalized during the Schutzfrist. The Maternity Protection Pay is issued by the employer and must be at least the same amount of a 13-week wages average or of the last 3 months before pregnancy.

Protection Period: Before and After Giving Birth

According to the Maternity Protection Act / Mutterschutzgesetz:

  • Expecting mothers do not have to work during the last 6 weeks of their projected pregnancy, but may do so as long as they formally state their intention to work during this period (paragraph 3).
  • New mothers are not allowed to return to work until 8 weeks have passed since the date of their child's birth (paragraph 5).
  • For premature, multiple and cesarean births, the return date to work is extended automatically to 12 weeks after birth (paragraph 5.1).

A Public Health Officer will decide which cases are to be lengthened from the normal 8 weeks leave (paragraph 3.3)

Even with all the amazing medical technology at our disposal, it is still not possible to estimate each delivery date with 100% accuracy. Don't worry. The German government has planned for such situations. If the birth is later than calculated, you will not loose anytime away from your baby, you will still be granted a full 8 weeks Maternity Leave starting with your baby's arrival.

The Mutterschutz continues even after the Schutzfrist is over. Please see Elterngeld, Parental Allowance.

Click here for information about having a baby in Germany.

Click here for more information about employee benefits in Germany.