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The German law states that you have to take a 30-minute break if you work more than 6 hours a day. It also states that you can split up those 30 minutes into to breaks of 15 minutes. When I did this, the time tracking system automatically added an extra break sometimes, costing me ~15 minutes that day.

I asked HR and they told me that the law actually says that you must take the full 30-minute-break before you pass the 6-hour-mark. After reading the original text, I don't understand it that way. Maybe there are some experts here who can explain to me where in the law it states that you must take the full 30 minutes before you have worked 6 hours.

Here is the text in the German and English version:

Die Arbeit ist durch im voraus feststehende Ruhepausen von mindestens 30 Minuten bei einer Arbeitszeit von mehr als sechs bis zu neun Stunden und 45 Minuten bei einer Arbeitszeit von mehr als neun Stunden insgesamt zu unterbrechen. Die Ruhepausen nach Satz 1 können in Zeitabschnitte von jeweils mindestens 15 Minuten aufgeteilt werden. Länger als sechs Stunden hintereinander dürfen Arbeitnehmer nicht ohne Ruhepause beschäftigt werden.


Hours of work shall be interrupted by rest periods, fixed in advance, of at least 30 minutes, if hours last for between six and nine hours, and of 45 minutes, if hours of work last for more than a total of nine hours. The rest periods referred to in the first sentence can be divided up into periods of at least 15 minutes each period. Workers may not be employed without a rest period for more than six consecutive hours.

As far as my understanding goes, this means that I have to take a break of minimum 15 minutes before I hit 6 hours and than another 15-minute break before I leave.

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    To be precise it says "you can't do more than 6 hours in a row". – Hilmar Apr 25 '14 at 12:32
  • Yes, I got that. Still, if I would take 15 minutes break after 4 hours and another 15 minutes after 7 hours, I would have worked for a total of 6:30 hours and no more than 4 consecutive hours. In my understanding that's fine according to the law. My employer thinks, it's not. – Vince Apr 25 '14 at 12:35
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    Are you the only person at this company with this problem? – user8365 Apr 25 '14 at 18:48
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I would look at your company policy regarding breaks, or regarding labor laws in general. Interpretation of policy can be subjective, and interpretation of law is best left to lawyers. Most corporate policies (in my experience) specify who exactly is responsible for interepretation of the policy. If your company's policy names someone responsible, you can speak with them about it so that they can explain it to you (it sounds like you've already done this).

If you disagree with your employers policy regarding the law, you have a couple options. The easiest in this case is to just accept what they've told you the policy is. Alternately, you could try to make your case to HR that their interpretation is inaccurate. However, whoever is responsible for making sure the policy complies with the law has probably done some research or consulted a lawyer to ensure they've got it right, and won't be open to your different interpretation. You could talk to a lawyer and see if they provide you with a different interpretation (they may, or they may agree with your employer; either way, this issue is minor enough (in my opinion) to not be worth the trouble).

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Yes, that's what the text you quoted means (but then I am not a lawyer and have no idea what other German statutes or case law might be relevant – note that this is the German implementation of an EU directive). But even if taking all 30 minutes before the six-hour mark is not mandated by the law, it does not seem forbidden either (“Die Ruhepausen […] können […] aufgeteilt werden.”) So your employer is probably within its rights by implicitly forcing you to take your breaks in that way, as long as you never have to work more than 6 hours in one chunk and have at least 30 min break in total (what the employer has to do is plan a break, not let you take it whenever you want).

At the same time, it's not uncommon to see time tracking systems that implement such requirements incorrectly and your recourses are typically limited (I have seen much worse, to the point that it became a contentious issue in the organization). Employees or their representatives can ask to have the system fixed but until then, you don't necessarily have any basis to be compensated for those 15 min. Now that you know how the system works, it's up to you not to lose them, for example by taking a 30 min break in one chunk. You also have to ask yourself if you really want to make a fuss about this (and if you do, it's probably best not to do it alone but, e.g., through a trade union).

  • I'm not saying, that I have to take one 30 min break ;-) The system just adds another ~15 minutes, if I take my second 15 min break after I've worked for 6 hours. If I take both 15 min breaks before the 6 hours mark, it's all fine. – Vince Apr 25 '14 at 12:23
  • @Vince Yes, but I am saying you do because the system forces you to, by counting your break as having lasted 30 min anyway ;-) It's probably a misinterpretation of the original rule (I have seen similar things before), but like I said, it's not forbidden as such and your options are limited. Note that correcting the system or procuring another one is likely to be expensive so your employer will understandably be reluctant. – Relaxed Apr 25 '14 at 12:28
  • I think, we have some kind of miscommunication here ;-) Thanks for your answer though :) – Vince Apr 25 '14 at 12:31
  • @Vince OK, I see the distinction, I will edit my answer. My point is that you need to take your breaks in a certain way and even if it's not strictly required by the law, there isn't much you can do about it. – Relaxed Apr 25 '14 at 12:35
  • I already thought, that there's not much to do for me, I hoped for someone to come around the corner and tell me the hidden secret in the law, where it states, that I'm wrong :D Apparently I'm not totally off with my interpretation of the law, so that's something – Vince Apr 25 '14 at 12:36

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