How not to go broke during COVID-19

Critical Workers has been providing advice to workers in Berlin for the last 3 years.
Due to the COVID emergency more than ever bosses are threatening and firing people.
To provide basic support, we made a list of practical and viable solutions for those not familiar with German labour laws. You can find it in Italian, Spanish and German as well.
These are divided into categories: Employees, Minijobbers or Irregular workers and Freelancers.
This list is neither definitive nor complete. Any feedback or correction is welcome!
Please do get in touch!
Nevertheless work is not everything in life; here you’ll also find a list of out-of-the-box solutions.
Solidarity is our strongest weapon! Talk to your landlord and connect with colleagues, talk to your friends and your local anti-racist group, help your neighbours and reach to local counsellors.

  • Employees

    1. There is no obligation to share with your employer your health status or location during non-working time . Only if you have contracted the virus should you inform your company.
    2. If you or a colleague is accused of being a virus-carrier only due to your ethnicity or nationality, this is a crime and must be reported as discrimination.
    3. Legally, you cannot stay at home on the basis of mere supposition, there must be a proven risk or illness notified by the authorities or the employer.
    4. Nevertheless, if you and your colleagues are afraid, address your concern collectively to your employer. If there is a Betriebsrat (Work council) in the company, this organism has the power and the duty to discuss possible measures with management: i.e. shifts, workspace, health measures, potentially even home office. If you do not have representation, you can still exert collective pressure on your boss. Be creative and stay united!
    5. You could in theory refuse to go to work if your employer does not follow the safety regulations, especially if there is a confirmed infected colleague or a clear breach of safety measures and your employer does not act on it. Be smart: not going to work means breaking the contractual agreement with your employer, you may receive a warning and likely be fired for that. In any case, before you act, get legal advice and gather evidence in advance. Once fired, in order to obtain unemployment benefit, you must prove to Agentur für Arbeit that your action (absence or resignation) was taken for safety reasons, otherwise the benefit may be withheld (more infos below). If instead you would like to be reintegrated, you must prove that your dismissal was unlawful by taking legal action (more information below).
    6. If you are too scared and want to go into quarantine without working, not even at home, you can ask your employer for a Freistellung (unpaid leave). This will simply help your employer and leave you without pay, it should be your last resource.
    7. If you feel sick, you have to inform your employer, usually within 3 days and provide a sick note. You can ask your doctor for a remote sick note. Once on sick leave you will be paid for 6 weeks by your employer, after which you will be entitled to Krankengeld by your healthcare provider.
    8. If your workplace shuts down, your employer must continue to pay your salary. If your employer does not pay, you are entitled to compensation.
    9. If, due to restrictions on public mobility, you are prevented from reaching your place of work, you are not entitled to be paid. Coordinate with your colleagues, ask your employer for the Kurzarbeitergeld (see below). In any case, make arrangements with your colleagues and the Betriebsrat (work council) to address your concerns to your boss.
    10. If you want to do Home Office, your employer has to agree on this. There is no right to home office, but also no obligation. If you work Home office pay attention to determine the working time, type of control and other specifications to protect your privacy, your free time and not to carry the business costs on your shoulders.
    11. Coordinate with your colleagues before you ask and agree something with your boss. Don’t be selfish.
    12. If there are many colleagues missing, your boss may ask you to do Überstunden (overtime). Discuss the need for this overtime with the Betriebsrat.
    13. Under no circumstances are you forced to use your vacation time because your workplace is closed. Your employer must continue to pay you if the reason for not working does not depend on you.
    14. If you have to take care of your child, you can ask for a Freistellung or use the Leistungsverweigerungsrecht, please notice both might be unpaid options. If your contract mentions that sec. 616 BGB you are entitled to be paid.
    15. Finally, if you and your colleagues are still unhappy, you can always organize and strike!
    16. It may well be that after all, your employer still wants to fire you in order to pass his business risk on to you. This is not acceptable. Before things escalate, you can kindly suggest your employer to apply for the Kurzarbeitergeld. If the level of production decreases and working hours are reduced, employers can apply for it to prevent dismissals. It is necessary that at least 30% (hopefully 10% by next weeks) of the workforce no longer has work to do. Kurzarbeitergeld covers at least part of your salary (60% – if you have a child 67%). You can get the Kurzarbeitergeld for max. 1 year. Employers have to check if there is a possibility to use up your holiday before applying for Kurzarbeitsgeld. Planned holidays cannot be used for that. Do not give them the chance! Further information: here.
    17. If your workplace have 10 or more full-time employees and you have worked for the same employer for more than 6 months, it is possible that your dismissal is illegal and you can fight back. In this case you must act urgently, within three weeks from your dismissal. More information: here.
    18. If your boss still wants to fire you, you might be invited to quit, don’t! Actively quitting a job (Kundigung) or accepting an Aufhebungsvertrag will most likely lead to a Sperre (a 3-month block of your unemployment benefit). A simple rule: Do not sign anything!
    19. If you eventually become unemployed and you have worked in Germany at least for 12 months, you are entitled to unemployment benefit (ALG I). To apply for ALG I you must inform the Agentur Für Arbeit within 3 days of your dismissal registering as “job seeker” (Arbeitsuchend), this can be done online. After dismissal, you must register as unemployed (Arbeitslos).
    20. If you are not eligible for ALG I, you may be eligible for ALG II (infos below).
  • Minijobber and irregular work

    1. Always check your contract. If you’ve never signed one, it doesn’t mean you don’t have one. Emails and messages or simple voice agreements can be considered as a contract, so you may be eligible for the above mentioned protection as an employee.
    2. If you are a minijobber and you are sick, get a sick note from your doctor and you are entitled to the same pay as you would have received for the days you were supposed to work. You can prove this with a shift plan or by simple emails or text messages. If you do not have a fixed shift, you can ask the average of your earnings. If your employer is still not convinced, inform him/her that he/she can be partially reimbursed by Knappschaft. You will be paid on sick leave for up to 6 weeks, after which you can apply for Krankengeld if you have a German health insurance.
    3. Try applying for Wohngeld or other social benefits if you are entitled to them.
    4. Apply for ALG II at the Jobcenter of your neighborhood. This type of basic income (which is neither unconditional nor universal) has many implications. During this period you do not have to be physically present at the jobcenter, but you can call, apply online and provide any necessary document per fax and mail. For further support regarding ALG II, please contact Basta! or other associations (ask us and we can provide suggestions).
  • Freelance

    1. Try to get an Ausfallhonorar (Cancellation Compensation). This should have been settled in the contract with your client and also specifies the amount. Mails and SMS are also valid agreements as contracts. If it is not specified in the contract, try to find an agreement with the client (preferably collectively). If you have already provided partial services in a project, you are entitled to at least part of the fee. Connect and discuss with colleagues.
    2. Ask your health insurance company to lower your contribution.
    3. If you’re sure to get a refund, do your tax return.
    4. Check with your health insurance if you are entitled to Krankengeld (for example you are in KSK, or make voluntary payments) if so, you could receive this payment after 6 weeks of sick-leave.
    5. Ask the Finanzamt to lower your Vorauszahlungen, if you pay them.
    6. Self-employed in official (non-voluntary) quarantine will receive compensation for loss of earnings in accordance with the Infectious Disease Prevention and Control Act. The competent authority will base the compensation on the profit established in the previous tax return.
    7. Try applying for Wohngeld or Gründungszuschuss if you are entitled to it.
    8. Apply for ALG II at the Jobcenter of your neighborhood. This type of basic income (which is neither unconditional nor universal) has many implications. During this period you do not have to be physically present at the jobcenter, but you can call, apply online and provide any necessary document per fax and mail. For further support regarding ALG II, please contact Basta! or other associations (ask us and we can provide suggestions).

We hope this list was helpful. We will publish more useful infos and links later on.
Follow us on Facebook (@Criticalworkers), check our blog and mail us (criticalworkersberlin@riseup.net) in case of need.

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1 Response to How not to go broke during COVID-19

  1. Ruth Bartlett says:

    Hi there,

    I’m looking at point 6 in the freelancer section as I think it’s the best solution in my case; can you possibly be more specific in who I should contact/where/what I should fill out for this?

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