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Germany: Coronavirus and the payment of Weihnachtsgeld, i.e. the Christmas bonus. When may the employer suspend it

Due to the coronavirus crisis, many employers are struggling with financial difficulties. In the period before Christmas, many of them are required to pay Weihndodatekdoachtsgeld, i.e. the Christmas bonus . The industry news service posted an interview with a lawyer, specialist in employment law, who explains when an employer has the right NOT to PAY the allowance.

“Canceling or lowering the Christmas bonus is not easy,” explains Regina Glaser, of Heuking Kühn Lüer Wojtek. The crisis in the company alone is not a sufficient reason to cancel or lower the allowance.

Let’s recall what the Weihnachtsgeld Christmas bonus in Germany is:

  •  Christmas bonus (Weihnachtsgeld) t is the extra wage, bonus or gift vouchers that a large proportion of employees in Germany receive. This supplement is usually paid one month before Christmas, usually at the end of November.
  • Only in a few cases is the law obliging the employer to pay a Christmas bonus. This applies to those industries where employee rights and the amount of monthly remuneration are determined by collective employment contracts or company agreements developed in agreement with trade unions. Usually, collective labour contracts state that the amount of the holiday bonus should be the same as the amount of monthly salary, which is why in many industries in Germany Weihnachtsgeld is commonly referred to as the thirteenth (thirteenth salary).
  • In other cases, employees in Germany receive a Christmas bonus, because this is customary in that country (custom, not law!).
  • In wealthier companies it is usually 13 salaries , in poorer companies it is the amount equivalent to approx. 50 percent. salary or vouchers for shopping in hypermarkets.
  • In factories, especially automotive ones, workers usually receive bonuses or commissions on sales profits before Christmas .
  • Although in most cases the payment of a holiday bonus is the employer’s goodwill, there are situations when the employee has the right to claim it. According to the German Labour Code, the principle of equal treatment of employees applies . This means that the employer cannot omit some employees from paying the Christmas bonus. This also applies to employees employed on the so-called part-time ( Minijob ).
  • A lost habit becomes a law … If a given company has been paying its employees a Christmas bonus from the beginning of its existence or for the last x years in a row, it cannot suddenly give up.

Germany: Baukindergeld allowance extended until 2021

In an interview with published two days ago, the lawyer explained that the mere drop in sales or orders due to the crisis is not enough to cancel or lower Weihnachtsgeld this year  

If the trader stipulated in the contract a clause that the payment of the Christmas bonus is made voluntarily, therefore, no basis for the formation of legal claim, then he can this year completely abandon Weihnachtsgeld payment. This is actually the only time the employer has a legal basis not to pay the supplement. 

If the payment of Weihnachtsgeld is provided for in a collective employment contract, company agreement, employment contract or has been recognized as a permanent custom, the employer has no possibility to withhold it. 

“If the company is already in bankruptcy proceedings, it still has to pay its employees a bonus festive. The mere fact of an entrepreneur’s insolvency does not entitle him to change the working conditions in the company. As a result, there is still a legal claim to the Christmas bonus that arose during the period of insolvency, “emphasized Regina Glaser.

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