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Roundup on the New Minimum Wage

Since the nationwide statutory minimum wage of EUR 8.50 per working hour entered into force on January 1, 2015, court cases dealing with minimum wage issues are slowly starting to trickle in. Here we present two new decisions on this topic.

The Berlin Labour Court (Arbeitsgericht Berlin, ArbG) recently held that the dismissal of employees on grounds of their insistence on being paid the minimum wage is unlawful (judgment dated April 17, 2015, docket number 28 Ca 2405/15). Meanwhile the Aachen Labour Court (Arbeitsgericht Aachen, ArbG) decided that employees are not entitled to claim additional payment for working hours spent on stand-by duty.

In the Berlin case, a janitor was dismissed after having claimed the statutory minimum wage of EUR 8.50. According to his contract, the employee regularly worked for 14 hours per week, for which he received a monthly wage of EUR 315.00. This amounted to an hourly wage of EUR 5.19. When the janitor claimed the statutory minimum wage, he was instead offered a reduction of working hours to 32 hours per month while increasing his monthly wage to EUR 325.00, corresponding to an hourly wage of EUR 10.15. When the employee refused to accept these new conditions, he was dismissed. The labour court held this dismissal invalid, holding that it was an illegal retaliation practice under sec. 612a of the German Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, BGB). Under this provision, employees may not be discriminated against or suffer a disadvantage because they exercise their legal rights.

The Aachen court case dealt with an emergency services worker. The employment relationship was subject to a collective bargaining agreement. Hours spent on stand-by duty were deemed to be compensated by the monthly wage. The employee, however, claimed that due to the new minimum wage provisions, his current contract could no longer be considered valid in this regard. In particular, he claimed that the hours spent on stand-by duty would have to be remunerated on an hourly basis, with a minimum wage of EUR 8.50 per hour. The court reject this claim. As the employee’s wage exceeded the sum required by the hourly statutory minimum wage, the court held that the employee was sufficiently remunerated.