A DEEP DIVE INTO GERMAN PROBATION PERIODS

When you’re new to Germany, it can take quite some time to wrap your head around the various aspects of work life in the country. From things like long notice periods to perks like the €3,000 inflation bonus and more, employment practices in Germany can be very different than what you’re used to at home. As such, I created this guide to help you navigate probation periods in Germany.

This Berlin Life guide will provide you with:

⭐ Knowledge about why probation periods are important, how they work, how sick and vacation days are handled, and tons more of useful information

⭐ Honest details about how being terminated during your probation period affects you as a recent foreigner in Germany

⭐ Personal examples where I share my own probation period experiences

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT GERMAN PROBATION PERIODS

The importance of probation periods in Germany is often surprising to those from abroad where passing probation is merely a formality. Newbies to Germany are often fearful during their probation periods, hesitate to provide feedback when needed, and even, unwilling to take time off. 

Let’s dive into the finer details of German probation periods.

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What’s the purpose of a probation period?

While German probation periods (Probezeit) may seem really long for those coming from abroad, it gives both parties an appropriate amount of time to determine if there’s a suitable match. 

As an employee, it gives you time to get to know a company, in terms of what the culture is like, how your team operates, how fast or slow-paced the work is, what kind of demands are put on you, the types of challenges you face and how they’re resolved (or not), what kind of leader your manager is, and more. Additionally, it’s your time to shine and show your employer they made the right choice when they hired you. The probation period provides an opportunity for you to impress them and show them how you work, what value you add, and the spirit you bring to the team. Furthermore, it’s a sufficient time to thoughtfully evaluate and consider if the role, team, and company are right for you. If you ultimately decide not to remain with the company, you can easily leave during probation without much hassle.

At the same time, German probation periods give companies time to take a closer look at you. They want to know if you meet or exceed expectations, if you’re a fit for the company culture, if you hit the ground running once you start work, how well you perform, how you approach problems, how you interact with your team members, if you show leadership potential, etc. If they decide you’re not a good fit for the organization and you’re not meeting expectations, they can ask you to leave without much legal obligation from their side.

How long are probation periods in Germany?

Generally speaking, they last for the first six months of your employment. While not typical, there are cases when people have longer or shorter probation periods, and on rare occasions, some German employers may forego probation altogether.

If you’re taking vocational training, the duration of probation periods is from one to three months. If you’re working as an apprentice, your probation will be anywhere from one to four months with no formal notice period being required, meaning that you can be let go without any further payment obligations beyond your last day of work.

Can you negotiate the length of your probation period?

Usually, the length of probation periods is non-negotiable. However, if a company is really keen to bring you on board (and I mean really keen), they may be open to reducing or eliminating the length of the probation period. 

You can attempt to negotiate your probation period length before signing your contract, but don’t be surprised if the answer is a flat-out no. It’s quite possible that we can expect employers to become more flexible on this point in the coming years, especially as the labor shortage becomes more acute. For now, expect most German companies to adhere to the norm of six months.

How much notice do you need to give during probation periods in Germany?

Notice periods are typically two weeks, from both the employer and employee side.

What financial compensation does a German company provide when you’re terminated during your probation period?

Legally speaking, companies are only obligated to provide you with two weeks’ pay (equal to your notice period). 

Depending on the circumstances, some companies may dole out more money. This is at their discretion, so don’t automatically expect more than what’s legally required. At one place I worked, my entire team was laid off when I was only three months into my probation period. I was very fortunate when they offered me six weeks of pay. However, this is not usual. I recommend seeing if there is room to negotiate with your employer in any case.

Regardless of your financial situation, I suggest signing up for unemployment benefits as soon as possible. Read All About Berlin’s detailed guide to fully understand how unemployment benefits work in Germany.

Are you eligible for unemployment benefits as a foreigner in Germany?

Yes. However, there are numerous boxes you need to tick to be eligible for this type of social security – namely that you have a residence permit and that you have paid unemployment insurance for 12 of the last 30 months.

What if you’re new in Germany and get terminated during your probation period?

Sadly, you’re going to be on your own. The German government isn’t just going to hand out social security benefits to just anyone. The fact that you only need to contribute to unemployment insurance for 12 of the last 30 months is actually an incredibly generous perk to someone who hasn’t been in the country that long. Strong societal protections like this are one of the main reasons I continue to live and work in Germany, as opposed to my home country of Canada.

It’s not only your income that disappears when you lose a job but also your employer’s contributions to your health insurance. All people residing in Germany must legally have health insurance, so you’ll be required to start making these contributions yourself should you want to remain in the country.

If you’re considering a move to Germany for work, you need to budget for such situations. As horrible as it is for a company to terminate you during probation, you will be responsible for yourself. Read our guides to the cost of living in Berlin and how much it costs to move to Germany for further insight.

Do German companies have feedback mechanisms in place during probation periods?

Established companies with a mature feedback culture will have formal processes that give employees one or more opportunities to receive feedback from their managers and other colleagues during their probation periods. Additionally, such processes usually invite the employee to provide feedback about how their experience has been so far as well. 

There is nothing worse than getting let go just before your probation period ends and unfortunately, this happens a lot in Germany. It usually leaves employees feeling shocked that they were suddenly terminated and angry that they were never provided with any actionable feedback from which they could have improved, ultimately keeping their jobs. Such things are a bad business practice and a sign of a highly toxic company culture. While you may be glad to have escaped such a place, it certainly doesn’t change the fact that you’re out of a job.  

In the absence of any formal feedback mechanisms, the only way to know how you’re doing during probation is to actively seek out feedback yourself. The onus is on you to have regular conversations with your manager and other colleagues. I know some people who create a simple Google Form and send it out from time to time. Whenever I deliver a workshop for my teams, I ask my attendees to provide feedback immediately after the workshop is completed. It informs me about what’s working, and what’s not working while allowing people to provide further suggestions.

When asking for feedback from your leaders and peers, I recommend asking these basic questions:

⭐ What things am I doing well?

⭐ What things could I be doing better?

⭐ What things do you wish for me to do more of?

Be sure to ask them to provide specific examples so you have better context. 

When you’re interviewing with a company, I highly recommend asking about how performance is accessed and feedback is collected during probation. Make sure the process is clear before signing your employment contract. After you start work, be sure to check in with your manager right away to agree on how things will work. It’s a good idea to get whatever is discussed and decided in writing. 

I’ve worked at six different companies and honestly, my experience has been all over the map. In one place, the probation period deadline passed without any formal acknowledgment from anyone, never mind any feedback. One day, I suddenly realized I’d passed probation and thought, “Oh cool.” and that was that. At another place, I received formal feedback three times, after one month, three months, and five months. There was never a time during my probation period that I felt doubtful about my performance or fearful of being terminated before the end of my six months.

Can you quit your job during the probation period?

Yes, all you need to do is provide the required two weeks’ notice, as well as a resignation letter. Download our helpful German resignation letter template and/or read our comprehensive guide about how to quit your job in Germany.

Are German employers able to extend probation periods beyond six months?

While not usual, German companies can extend your Probezeit. They cannot extend it by more than six months and they must inform the employee while they’re still on probation.

Are employees paid for any sick days and vacation days taken during their probation periods in Germany?

Yes. There is no need to worry if you get sick and need some days off, nor should you worry if you have any planned vacation. Discuss the latter with your People team or manager to find out how many vacation days you’ll be entitled to during that time, as vacation days are usually pro-rated based on your start date. 

During the first month of Probezeit, you’ll need to get a sick note on the very first day you’re sick. You’ll only receive payment for the days you were sick after submitting the note to your health insurance provider

Some people think it looks bad on an employee to take a vacation during their probation period, but I honestly find this notion outdated and ridiculous. Of course, it depends on your specific situation, but generally speaking, don’t be afraid to at least speak with your boss. From there, you can find out what options are available to you. On a side note, at the time of publishing, I wrote this guide while on a two-week holiday during my probation period. 

If you’re terminated during your probation period and you still have vacation days left, the company is obligated to pay you for them. 

What happens if you’re pregnant during your Probezeit?

Notify your employer of your pregnancy at the required time. Fortunately, women have strong protections in such situations and a company cannot terminate a woman during her pregnancy. Your job will also remain guaranteed after you have the birth of your child (or children). 

However, your employer can terminate you four months after the birth. If you fear this could be the case or you’re actually terminated, I’d strongly suggest checking out what your options and rights are with a German lawyer. You may be able to take your previous employer to court if they haven’t followed the rule of law.

What if you’ve been wrongfully terminated during your probation period in Germany?

If you feel you’ve been wrongfully terminated, i.e. if you’re pregnant, you’ve been discriminated against in some way, etc., contact a lawyer within three weeks of termination. During your initial consultation, you can find out if you have a strong case to pursue legal action against your former employer.

Feather Insurance provides service in English and is especially for foreigners in Germany. Get legal, dental, and other insurance with them. Use code AHWJFWGY to get €15 after purchasing your first policy. 

Are you able to secure a loan or sign a new rental contract while you’re on probation in Germany?

In most cases, getting a loan or being able to find a landlord willing to offer you a flat during this time will be difficult. Many of my friends, colleagues, and coaching clients report this to be true.

At the same time, it’s not impossible. I recently took out a large loan in Germany despite being on probation. It helped that I’m a permanent resident, have no gaps between my last and current jobs, and have a positive Schufa (credit rating).

Why are probation periods in Germany such a big deal?

It’s a big commitment for a company to accept you beyond probation. First of foremost, it will be very difficult for them to let you go. It’s also a huge financial investment on their part, as should they choose to let you go, they’ll have to pay you much more. Most importantly, it means they value your work, like you as an employee, and want you to stick around.

We hope this Berlin Life guide about probation periods in Germany helps you stay informed and smoothly navigate your career in Germany.

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Cheryl Howard, Founder @ The Berlin Life

Cheryl Howard, Founder @ The Berlin Life

Hi, I’m Cheryl. My mission is to help you move to Berlin and find work.

A Canadian in Berlin for 10+ years, I have the unique experience of moving to Berlin – not once, but twice. During my time in Berlin, I’ve had five different visas and worked as both a freelancer and a permanent employee for numerous Berlin companies. I even managed to find a new job during the pandemic and again in 2023, during Germany’s recession and massive layoffs in tech. 

My day job has involved work as a hiring manager, overseeing the recruitment of countless people, as well as a team coach helping teams and individuals work better and find happiness in their careers. Through my side projects, I’ve also shared my personal experiences by publishing a series of helpful blog posts, creating a thriving community of job seekers, and hosting events to help people find work in Berlin. In 2021, I decided to put my coaching and recruiting talents to use by creating The Berlin Life, bringing my existing content and community together in one spot.

The combination of my personal and professional experience means I know exactly what it takes to move to Berlin and find work.

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