I got fired! What rights do I have under German labour law?

You have been fired by your employer in Germany and are thinking about what to do next? There is no time to lose if you want to do something about it. Read on to find out exactly what you can do.
By Rupay Dahm, specialist lawyer for labour law, Berlin

Important: 3-week deadline must be kept in mind!
First things first: Getting fired is extremely unpleasant, a slap in the face. You might need a moment to get over this before you can get back into the ring again. The problem is that the clock is ticking: If your employer has terminated your job, you have exactly three weeks from the date you receive notice to file suit. After three weeks, there is nothing you can do against the dismissal, even if it is completly illegal.

Example: On Wednesday May 5th you received a notice of termination on June 30th. You have to file a complaint with the Berlin Labour Court (if you work in Berlin) within three weeks of receiving the notice of termination: in this case, this would be Wednesday May 26th at the latest, which is well before the end of the employment relationship on June 30th!

Shall I sign that I’ve received the notice?
Confirming receipt of the termination notice does not mean that you agree to the termination. It just makes it easier for the employer to prove that you have received the notice. However, you are not obliged to sign anything and can refuse to do so.

What you must not sign under any circumstances
Under no circumstances should you sign anything that says „Aufhebungsvertrag“ (termination agreement) or „Aufhebungsvereinbarung” (cancellation agreement) on it. You can no longer sue against it, cannot have it checked by a lawyer afterwards and must expect a ban period (“Sperrzeit”) from the Arbeitsagentur (employment agency) or the Jobcenter.

Am I entitled to a severance pay?
Even if you want to negotiate a severance compensation, this will only succeed if you sue your employer within the 3-week period. In principle, there is no right to a severance pay in Germany. A compensation is usually negotiated during a lawsuit against unfair dismissal. Read here when you have a prospect of severance pay (in German).

When is it advisable to sue against the termination?
You have a good chance of succeeding in court, if

you’ve been employed for more than six months and

there are more than 10 employees* employed there.

It is difficult to do anything against dismissals in smaller companies or during the probationary period. However, you should make sure that the period of notice is calculated correctly, see § 622 BGB.  If you are unsure whether you want to take legal action against your termination, simple call us, Ziegenhagen Rechtsanwälte in Berlin Mitte (see contact details below). We will be happy to help you.

Can my employer dismiss me by e-mail?
No. A cancellation must always be made in writing. A notice of termination given verbally is just as invalid as notice given by e-mail, text message, WhatsApp or other messenger service. The notice of cancellation must be printed out, signed and handed over to you physically. The signature must be complete, an abbreviation (initials) is not sufficient. Even a scanned signature is not sufficient. In this case, the notice would be invalid.

How long do I still get paid?
You are entitled to your salary until the end of the notice period – even if you‘ve been released from work. However, this only applies if you have offered your work, for example by asking by e-mail when you are supposed to work next week. If you are told to stay at home, you still have to get your money. If the notice of termination was not in writing, but, for example, only by e-mail you are still entitled to your full salary until you have been effectively terminated, even if you no longer work – providing you have offered your work and this has been rejected.

How much does it cost to sue?
You can sue at the labour court without legal assistance. You can even do this orally at the legal application office (Rechtsantragsstelle), for example at the Berlin Labour Court. To do this, simply take photocopies of your employment contract, the notice of termination and the last three pay slips with you. The costs of legal action are low and do not even arise if you reach an agreement with the employer during the process – for example, on a severance payment. The fees for legal representation in court by a lawyer are regulated by law and depend on the amount in dispute, i.e. your income. You can also apply for legal aid (Prozesskostenhilfe – PKH) for legal representation if you have low or no income. We will gladly apply for legal aid for you together with the lawsuit.

Or you can simply make an appointment for a consultation at our office in Berlin-Mitte. We can then discuss whether or not a lawsuit would make sense in your case. According to the German Lawyers‘ Fees Act (RVG), an initial consultation costs a maximum of 190.00 euros plus VAT. If you cannot afford this either, you can apply for legal assistance (Beratungshilfe) at your local district court (Amtsgericht). You can then come to us with the “Beratungshilfeschein”. Simply call us or send us an e-mail:


Ziegenhagen Rechtsanwälte

Fachanwälte für Arbeitsrecht
Friedrichstraße 185/186
10117 Berlin

Tel.: 030 / 288 78 – 600

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