At my company it was common to order overtime on very short notice (hours) and without proper justification. This is illegal in my country, and I have verified this with a lawyer who also checked my contract for loopholes that possibly would allow this. I tried talking about that with multiple managers (over a span of over a year), but I was brushed off that "this is the way the company works".

Because the constant pressure took at toll on my mental health, and there were numerous other issues with the company (toxic environment, no perspective for me, very bad business decisions, reducing staff), I had already decided to leave the company. I asked my superiors if there was I way I could generally reduce working hours, but that was denied. So I made it very clear that I will not work unlawful overtime again. A couple of days later I was regularly let go (where I actually did work overtime), because of "performance reasons". Which is strange, because I was heavily involved in the few successful projects of the company and my direct manager also made it clear that he completly disagrees with that reason (but ultimately couldn't do anything for me). I realize that this is obviously not the real reason I was let go.

How would I explain the termination in future interviews?

Edit: I should add that I'm generally not opposed working overtime, if I either screwed up or it directly involves me. And I can plan for it. But most of the time, the whole company was kept there in case something "came up for us".

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    @nvoigt Working for 10+ hours a day, without actual business need but purely on a supervisors wish. They flat out admitted to me that this was illegal, but didn't want to change it. As I mentioned it, I checked this with a lawyer before to make absolutely sure I'm not wrong.
    – User826126
    Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 15:38
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    Related for those not familiar with German law (like me): Is overtime always paid in Germany? (not a duplicate)
    – BrianH
    Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 15:40
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    What do you mean by "no perspective for me"? I think something's getting lost in translation. Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 18:18
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    @MasonWheeler I assume that he meant... No long term job potential... promotion, pay raises, etc. Seems about right for the rest of the description. Maybe Career Perspective?
    – WernerCD
    Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 20:07
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    It's actually rather difficult to terminate a contract with this reason in Germany. A dismissal on grounds of conduct ("You refuse to achieve the performance") requires a disciplinary warning letter before, that explicitly states that you will be dismissed if you don't change your behavior. A dismissal on grounds of personal capability ("You are incapable of achieving the performance.") requires a justified prospect that you will fail to achieve the performance in the future, too. So, as already stated, check with your lawyer. Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 21:59

8 Answers 8


Right now, only you and your employer know you have been fired. They probably want to get rid of you ASAP, but they cannot. You will still work through your "Kündigungsfrist" or at least be paid, even if you are "freigestellt".

You still have a bargaining mass. The money they have to pay you from the moment they fired you to the moment you actually have your last day.

Offer them the option to terminate your contract even earlier. They can get rid of you like tomorrow. If you both sign an "Aufhebungsvertrag". And what this contract says if entirely up to both parties. Fact is that if you do that, you have not been fired. You both agreed that you would not continue working together. That's a difference. Nobody will know you have been fired.

However, there are drawbacks. Your employer has to agree. Maybe your remaining wages to be paid are not enough for them to agree. Obviously, people will draw their own conclusions from the fact that you agreed to an "Aufhebungsvertrag". And more importantly, as such a contract is your own free will (in contrast to being fired), you will not get unemployment benefits for some time.

Make sure you get a positive "Arbeitszeugnis". Due to German law, you need a lawyer to check if it actually is positive. Seriously. I could write a full page of great things about you and in the secret language of German HR, I could have called you a stupid, lazy, aggressive drunkard.

The first step is to get a lawyer. Because they already have a lawyer. And you don't want to fight unarmed. Do not believe random people on the internet (like me) when you can have professional support.

Some additional information on German working contracts:

We have a legal minimum notice period that works for both quitting and being fired/laid off. This is called "Kündigungsfrist". It's legal minimum is 4 weeks when you start and goes up in steps up to 7 months after 20 years of employment with the same company. So it's fairly normal to resign or be fired and still having to work for weeks or months.

The only way an employer can fire you on the spot is a breach of trust like stealing from the company or lying. Both has to be documented good enough to hold up in court. As you can never be sure if something does survive a court procedure, most companies that do have to fire someone on the spot also fire the offender regular, so at least that's the fallback if the court procedure goes the wrong way.

The only way to lose your job effective immediately without a legal cause is if the company files for bankruptcy.

"freigestellt" means that formally you still have to work because of your notice period, but your employer already told you to stay home. You will still get paid as if you had been present. This happens for example you are working with sensitive information or key customers and the employer does not want to risk a disgruntled employee to work his key resources.

As the contract can be cancelled by any side only with regards to the notice period, if both parties agree that they don't work with each other any longer, they can agree to sign an "Aufhebungsvertrag" (dissolution contract) which can contain anything they chose. Any notice period (or even none), any payment they decide, or anything else they wish (for example a clause that they do not talk about the reasons for this dissolution).

Germany does not use a system of references but instead written testimonials called "Arbeitszeugnis". Every employee is entitled to get one from his employer. As the courts have ruled that this has to be "constructive and positive", HR has developed a secret language, packaging negative meanings in positive sentences. So if it reads "employee was always communicative and social", it means you were always drunk and flirting inappropriately. "Employee always tried to the best of his abilities" means that guy is a total loser and despite trying hard, never got any task done correctly. One needs a specialist to actually "read" that language.


BGB is the "Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch" which I think translates to civil law. But I'm really not a lawyer, you will need to ask one for the minute details.

Legal minimum notice periods can be found in §622 BGB.

The obligation to give an employee an "Arbeitszeugnis" can be found in §630 BGB

"Arbeitszeugnis" have to be positite and constructive as per the court decision of the German supreme court BGH 26.11.1963 - VI ZR 221/62.

Information on when and how firing people is legal has it's own section with 26 paragraphs in the KSchG (Kündigungsschutzgesetz).

Dissolution contracts are basically part of a thing called "Vertragsfreiheit" which means that two consenting parties can agree to any contract they like as long as it does not contain something illegal. That's derived from article 2 of the constitution.

All of this is taught in any professional education in Germany, but law is not exactly the subject that young people like most. People find it boring and study it for the written test and forget about it as soon as they drop the pencil at the end.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jane S
    Commented Nov 7, 2015 at 23:45

It really doesn't matter how "right" you were, what matters in an interview is what the people across the table think.

I definitely wouldn't try to explain this the way your post reads. Trying to explain this and defend yourself may result in several strong negative impressions:

  • Unwilling to put in any extra time, period. Most companies will have some expectation of this. Regardless you don't want to communicate this attitude to a company you are interviewing with.
  • Argumentative/difficult employee. Employers don't want people who are going to create legal problems for them. Someone with a demonstrated track record of doing that? Not good.

You also don't want to come across as trying to justify either of those perspectives. Neither outcome there is good.

This will be hard, because you want to feel vindicated or justified and defend yourself in the interview. Interviewers will pick up on this.

How would I explain the termination in future interviews?

I would approach it saying you were laid off for performance reasons. You could add that your direct manager disagreed with this but you didn't have a choice in the matter. If asked what reasons, you can give the reasons you received and talk about the process.

Before interviewing, I'd suggest reading this related answer as for ways to understand a company culture about this.

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    What I understood from the OP's comment is that he was OK doing some overtime. But he needed a notice so that he could organize the day. Myself working in Germany, I sense the culture is pretty different to the US one in this regard, even though the software industry is somewhat special. So as i disagree with the fact that the OP will have to live with this "reputation", I don't think he should hide and pretend he was fired for performance reasons.
    – Puzzled
    Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 16:15
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    @Puzzled I don't disagree with the facts here. I worry about how that will be perceived by people who are interviewing him. Like I said, being right may not be the best outcome for the OP.
    – enderland
    Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 16:19
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    Arguably, the OP doesn't want to end up at another company that breaks labor laws, so finding out they view employees who won't work illegal overtime as a "problem" during the interview process might be a good thing.
    – BSMP
    Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 20:04
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    I think enderland and BSMP are both right. The thing is to make it clear that unhealthy overtime is a dealbreaker for him, but present that in a positive way. For example in Agile practices, "sustainable pace" is an important tenet. This isn't just so that developers don't have to work more than they want to, it's for the health of the team and its ability to provide value to the company. Enthuse about that philosophy in an interview and you'll alienate the people you don't want hiring you and encourage the ones who share it Commented Nov 6, 2015 at 13:34
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    A German employer in Germany may well be sympathetic to German employment principles being upheld and may not automatically side with the previous employer. Commented Nov 7, 2015 at 10:05

How would I explain the termination in future interviews?

I would just be honest, say it wasn't the right thing for both parties, and even though your manager wanted to keep you there, your employment was terminated. Keep it short, to the point, make yourself look good, and don't use any negative words towards the company.

If they ask why it wasn't the right thing, explain from your perspective what you were missing at the company, things like advancement and learning opportunities, but do NOT mention the overtime issue. Sometimes people don't fit well into certain working environments, or the company just doesn't have the right place for them, and that's not a negative thing. Just don't make it sound like you were let go for butting heads with the higher-ups.


I should add that I'm generally not opposed working overtime, if I either screwed up or it directly involves me. And I can plan for it. But most of the time, the whole company was kept there in case something "came up for us".

Given your history, it is possible the subject of overtime will come up during an interview, so you need to think really carefully about your position on it.

What follows, just as an example for your consideration, is my position on overtime. I worked almost all my career in the USA, as an exempt employee (no overtime pay).

I would replace "if I either screwed up or it directly involves me" with "if I can do something practical to help with the situation". For example, one might work overtime to help cover for a colleague who was directly involved in an emergency. That way, each works some extra time, rather than one person pulling a double shift. I have never had an employer order everyone to work overtime.

Similarly, I would replace "I can plan for it" with negotiations involving my prior commitments. If the work issue were really important and urgent, I would call a friend and reschedule something we had planned. In many cases, I could adjust when I worked to both help out my employer and keep my personal commitments.

Your former employer seems to have been very inflexible and inconsiderate of employee needs. You need to decide just how flexible and considerate of employer needs you are willing to be.

  • This is good advice but it doesn't actually answer the primary question.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 18:29
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    @Lilienthal StackExchange suffers from an unfortunate coupling between answer vs. comment and the available formatting. If I think something is useful but it is too long for a comment, or needs to be split into paragraphs, I post it as an answer. Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 19:02
  • Agreed. I'm on the fence about how/where something like this should be posted. Relevant meta: How should I post a useful non-answer if it shouldn't be a comment?
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 19:19
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    @Lilienthal I've reached my own decision - helping people is, and always will be, far more important to me than the purity of SE's answer database. Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 20:17

You have already been given great advice on how to handle the situation with your current employer, so I will try to specifically answer your question of how to sa this in future interviews.

In general, saying anything negative about your former employer is not recommendable. If you can get away with it, you can honestly say that you decided to part ways because the company had a professional atmosphere you no longer felt comfortable working in, and despite your efforts there was no way to resolve this. If they probe further, you can say something along the lines of "they were making unreasonable demands in terms of working overtime" which may prompt the discussion of what is reasonable to you. This is a discussion you want to have anyway, to avoid falling into the same trap: you can bend the question around to discussing the aspects of your new employers company culture that are important for you personally, such as where they stand on overtime.

In any case, it is probably a bad idea to mention anything about their being unlawful, or any legal action. This may scare them unnecessarily, and any such action is none of their business. Again, you don't want to lie to them, but they should want nor need to know the details of your termination as long as you give them confidence that you won't sue them or leave them after a few months.


I worked in a career that almost all positions ended in being fired, quitting in negative circumstances, or retiring. When I was let go from one position I was given some excellent advice. After three months I was given a chance to come back after the person who caused the issue and lied was caught trying the same thing on another person. I chose not to return to the situation. I could have easily defended myself and rightfully shown that I was not at fault at all. The advice that I was given was to let who I was show through the interview process and never say a negative thing about a previous employer. Even if the new company believes you, they have to ask themselves if they want you talking bad about them to other places if it does not work with them.

My advice to you is to look at the answers that have been given and see some great advice not to talk about the negative for some good reasons. I would add two things to that. One another reason not to talk about the negative is not only do you look like you are only trying to justify yourself, but you are also setting a tone that you are likely to be a person that looks for the negative(especially if you give that full list that you asked about). The other thing that I would add is that along with not talking about the negative is to do a self evaluation and see if any of the things that were mentioned about your performance are true. If you do see weaknesses, then acknowledge them and what you intend to do about them.

I would say the way to handle this in the future is to acknowledge that you were let go in circumstances that were not favorable because of things that were done that you did not agree with, but would rather not talk about that company. Also point out that here were some things that they found I was less than perfect with when these issues arose and how I intend to correct them. This will let them know that you are a person with integrity that recognizes there is two sides to the story and will work on your part and not disparage your former company.



In thinking about your question, the answer you're looking for is not so much concerned with the "legalities" of the situation, but more how to come across in the interview with a prospective employer and I agree with the thoughtful answers here, esp. enderland.

My advice is:

  • A professional coach would tell you to practice your response (you're taking a great first step by putting this question out there).
  • Try not to focus on what went wrong, but rather with what went right, and what you learned from the experience (google: "Positive Intelligence") and can carry with you to your next opportunity.

I had a similar issue come up personally many years ago. My boss was let go and because I was seen as the right-hand of the boss, a witch hunt for me ensued and I was let go. In my interviews I did not focus on the specifics of the situation, because I found the more that I talked about it, the more I had to talk about it! Interestingly, the reputation of my former company for churning through employees preceded me and I bet your former company has or will have such a reputation as well. Employees should have the ability to decide whether and to what extent they want to voluntarily work overtime, and you are exactly right that everything from going to theatre or picking up a child from day care depends on a set schedule. Not right, and you will be better off for having separated from that company. Good luck!


Here is one more reason you should NOT mention the illegal overtime issue.

...and my direct manager also made it clear that he completely disagrees with that reason (but ultimately couldn't do anything for me).

If you tell the truth and the new employer wants to verify it, your former manager won't be able to back you up. He may not even want to take the phone call from the new company (and instead only refer the person checking for references to call HR instead). After all, no current manager in his right mind will give potential ammunition for a lawsuit against his own company.

That's why, if you really want to find a new job, you need to come up with a clear story that paints you in a positive light, but that doesn't incriminate your former employer. And you need to email your former manager to make sure his explanation matches yours, and also to make sure he's not afraid to pick up the phone should someone call him about you.

Of course, you may want to show that email to your lawyer before you send it to your former manager, to make sure you're not shooting yourself in the foot legally speaking. And you may also want to show that email to a personal friend, to make sure you don't let your frustration show too much through it either (otherwise, it may backfire).

But don't leave this to chance, communicate with your former manager (even if it feels awkward to do so). And use email (especially at first). This way, he'll be able to forward that email to HR (should they have given him instructions to forward any referral to them). If HR sees that you only want to find a new job, they'll rescind any orders they may have given him. And if they don't, the manager can just ignore their instructions anyway (assuming he truly believes that he won't have to answer embarrassing questions about illegal activities).

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