Make a Career

The probationary period: What you should know as a foreigner

In Germany, getting a secure position depends on how the initial probationary period goes. Being on probation means the company may terminate your employment, without giving a reason. (On the other hand, it also usually means that you may leave without giving more than a few days’ notice if you decide the job is not for you!)

The initial probationary period is the first professional challenge

During the probationary period, many young professionals I have counseled have fear as a daily companion. I tend to notice this as more of a side effect, hearing things like: “I have not told anybody yet that I’ve started work.” Or: “I have no time. I will contact you after the probationary period.” It is important to know that in the probation period the employee can quit without giving a reason, as well as the employee choosing to end the employment – and typically within 14 days. German protection from dismissal occurs only after having been employed for six months.

Many foreign professionals start their first job in Germany with a lot of uncertainty.

Uncertainty is probably more of a concern than fear, which doesn’t surprise me at all. After all, the first few days and weeks in a new environment bring with them new faces and unfamiliar names, an unfamiliar environment and unaccustomed tasks. This is a stressful time even for German career-starters.

For someone who has had little contact with Germans and has not worked in a German environment, the situation is even more difficult.

It’s like jumping in feet first to find out if you can swim.

Courageously you take a running start and jump – straight into the cold water. And it is really cold. No escape possible. What a shock for head and heart! It takes time for your system to get used to it. Then the pressure begins to let up… and eventually you learn to stay above the water, to move and to swim. Then, sometime later … you feel like part of it, and everything becomes natural. How does that feel?  Like a fish in water 😊

What is the probationary period about, by the way?

By “probation” (Probezeit), we mean the first phase of a new employment relationship. In this phase, it is about the applicant and the employer getting to know each other better.

As an applicant, you can find out if the company can or will really deliver what was promised in the job interview. Are the colleagues nice, do you feel okay? Are the tasks and the setting manageable, but still challenging enough? Are the work colleagues open and do they help with your job training? Is there always someone you can ask if you feel uncertain?

It’s similar for the company: Does the employee really have the skills necessary for the task? How does s/he fit into the existing team? How is the interpersonal chemistry? Does the new person really want to learn, and does it look like they are capable of it? Are the initial reactions to feedback and suggestions for improvement positive, so that you’re happy to explain things to your new colleague?

The legal situation of the probationary period

Having a probationary period is voluntary for employers, but it is standard practice in Germany and has come to be typically about 6 months. Companies can decide themselves how they would like to handle this period – sometimes 3 months, but usually 6 months, and in some cases even longer. Many people believe that there are special legal provisions for the probationary period, but that isn’t the case. It is much more important to understand when the period is over and at what point exactly German employment protection law applies.

Statutory employment protection for all employees in Germany

Working in Germany means that I also benefit from statutory employment protection. No matter what nationality I have, no matter what kind of tasks, no matter if it’s a temporary or permanent job.

So, as an employee I am protected from the “arbitrariness” of my employer. Even if I make a big mistake, my boss is not allowed to just lay me off because he is momentarily doubtful of my mental state! There are a number of regulations that my employer must comply with, and as for me, I benefit from that feeling of security.

The notice period is at least 4 weeks, either from the middle or from the end of the month, i.e. four weeks starting from either the 15th or the 30th/31st.  (Exact details will be in your employment contract.) If there happens to also be a valid agreement in place based on union or workers’ collective negotiations, the collective agreement has priority; there could possibly be a longer notice period defined in it.

IMPORTANT: Protection against dismissal applies only AFTER six months on the job

When it comes to dismissal protection, it does not matter what the probationary period for your job is; the special German dismissal protection applies only AFTER six months of employment (in a company with more than 10 employees).

I believe that’s fair, because until then, my employer should really get to know me and may want to put me to the test again. It’s a bit like an engagement – still time to change your mind.
After these six months, both sides are contractually bound, in theory permanently, and the link between company and employee is very tight.  If the company wants to let me go, they must have very, very good reasons, and these reasons must comply with the law. In large companies, the company’s employee representatives have to agree, which makes it even more complicated. And I have the right to defend myself before the Labor Court with the help of a lawyer.

From month 1 to 6 the employer is allowed to let you go “without problems”

In the first six months of your employment, you are, in principle, dependent on the decision of your employer. If your employer does not believe that you are the right person for the job, he may terminate the contract. Officially, this is referred to as “without indicating reason”. And there is nothing you can do about it.

During the trial period (for up to a maximum of 6 months), each contracting party can terminate with a notice period of 14 days

If, during the probationary period, either the employer or the employee realizes that they don’t get along well with each other, the separation can be done speedily.
The notice period in the probationary period is 14 days. That means, if the employer hands you the notice in writing today, you have another 14 days on the payroll. Your employment ends directly after those 14 days.

Termination almost always means leaving the building and grounds immediately

In reality, in most companies, you have to leave the company building immediately after being told that you have been laid off. Sometimes it comes as a real surprise: one minute you’re talking to the human resources manager, the next you’re suddenly holding the letter of termination in your hand and are being led by a colleague directly to your desk. You must pack your lunch box, grab your own pen, maybe delete your private data, hand over the key, and will be directed out of the office door. And out you go!

When you quit as a new employee, it is usually similar. The company prefers the employee not to be able to talk to colleagues and potentially spread unrest. And I believe, it’s impossible to be expected to work productively any longer.

An important note about special regulations

German labor law is complicated. There are many special rules and it is easy to make mistakes. Errors are almost always clarified in Germany before the Labor Court, and there is usually significant money at stake.  Therefore: the explanations on this page are absolutely not legal advice. If in doubt, I recommend always contacting a lawyer who specializes in employment law. The fee for a consultation hour is money well spent!

Do you have questions about the probationary period?  Or want to tell us what kind of experiences you had? Looking forward to read your email or comments below.


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