German Works Council — An Essential Guide For Employers

Germany has some of the strictest labor laws in the world, with a key focus on protecting the rights of employees. To ensure a balanced relationship between the employer and employees, two systems exist alongside legislation to bridge the gap that can exist in corporate systems. The work undertaken by a German Works Council within companies is the system that focuses on company-level matters for decisions that impact employees.

Key Takeaways

1. A German Works Council (‘works council’, or, ‘Betriebsrat’) is a group of elected employees that represent the interests of a company’s workforce. A works council collaborates with management on key decisions within the company.

2. Although it is formally mandatory for companies with five or more permanent employees to set up a works council, this does not mean that all companies do. Companies can operate without a works council until it is formally requested by employees to hold an election to set one up.

3. The Works Constitution Act grants elected members of a works council a range of rights to effectively conduct their purposed tasks: This includes a right to information, a right to consultation, a right to decline, and a right to co-determination.

4. There are various pros and cons to having a works council within any given company. The pros include that works councils protects employee rights, provide a unified voice for negotiation with employees, are free for employees, and increase productivity. The cons include the costs of operation and maintenance, arguably lesser employee freedoms, and longer decision-making timeframes.