Germany COVID-19 Update: Eased ‘Emergency Brake’ Regulations in the Workplace

Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.
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Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.

Germany’s nationwide “emergency brake” system—the public health framework of rules and restrictions first implemented by the German government in April 2021 to help contain the spread of COVID-19—expired on June 30, 2021, and, slowly but surely, some semblance of normality has begun returning to German citizens’ private and working lives. Due to a sharp drop in COVID-19 infection rates in Germany and because of the progress of Germany’s vaccination campaign, the federal government recently determined that the time was right to relax restrictive measures.

On June 25, 2021, the German government issued a new occupational health and safety regulation (German version) that took effect on July 1, 2021. This regulation will remain in place until the German government lifts the current designation, “Epidemic Situation of National Significance,” or at the latest through September 10, 2021.

The obligation of employers to allow employees to work from home ended on June 30, 2021. In addition, the social distancing requirement of a minimum area of 10 square meters for each person in a room expired.

To avoid another wave of infection, the following rules remain in effect to reduce the risk of infection:

  • Companies must create, implement, and make available to employees, hygiene plans for company workplaces.
  • Employers must provide and require employees to wear medical face masks where adequate individual protection is not possible due to technical and organizational reasons (e.g., because employees leave the workplace en masse or because they must meet with colleagues face-to-face). The mask obligation also applies to fully vaccinated employees and to employees who have recovered from COVID-19.
  • Employers must take steps to reduce the operational need for personal contact between employees as much as possible. The same obligation to limit the need for close contact between employees applies to the simultaneous use of rooms by several employees. Employers may want to consider continuing to hold meetings virtually to comply with these obligations.
  • The German government retained the employer’s obligation to offer COVID-19 testing twice weekly to employees working on the company premises. Employers are obliged to offer tests to employees who have been fully vaccinated and to those employees who have recovered from COVID-19 infections.
  • The rules require employers to retain all evidence of the procurement of rapid antigen tests or agreements with third parties for the testing of employees for COVID-19 through September 10, 2021.

Individual states may continue to enact state-specific pandemic response measures.

Bremen (German version), for example, introduced an obligation for employees to be tested for COVID-19, in addition to the obligation for employers to offer COVID-19 testing. Fully vaccinated or recovered employees are exempt from the testing obligation.

In Hamburg, employees generally must wear medical face masks throughout business establishments. However, mask wearing is not required in enclosed rooms that are used by only one person. In addition, where employers can utilize suitable technical devices that reduce droplets spread through coughing, sneezing or speaking with equal effectiveness, employees do not have to wear medical face masks. The regulations provide that fully vaccinated or recovered employees are exempt from the testing requirement.

The current COVID-19 regulations of Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria (German version), Berlin, Brandenburg, Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia (German version) do not contain any provisions that deviate from the federal law. Effective July 3, 2021, it is sufficient for employees to wear a medical face mask in workplaces in Berlin.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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