What is the Mutterschutz (Maternity Protection) in Germany?28 July 2023 | Before Your Baby is Born | By Lisa H and Jon H
What protection is offered for pregnant people in Germany? What does Mutterschutz mean? What is the Schutzfrist? And what benefits are pregnant people entitled to?
Here’s everything you need to know about maternity protection in the workplace and monetary benefits while you are not working.
This article was written in collaboration with Jon Heinrich, who is a specialist lawyer for labor law in Berlin. His specialty is English-language advice to international employees in the Berlin start-up scene.
What is Mutterschutz?
From the day you inform your employer about your pregnancy, you will be protected by the German Mutterschutzrecht. Mutterschutz loosely translates to maternity protection. It is the German employment law for pregnancy and breastfeeding.
It applies to both full-time and part-time employees as well as apprentices and students. It also applies to fixed-term employment contracts (but not once the contract has ended).
Protection against dismissal
An appropriate workplace according to a risk assessment
Maternity allowance (Mutterschaftsgeld)
What benefits Do I Get from Mutterschutz?
One of the main benefits of Mutterschutz is the so-called Kündigungsschutz (“protection against dismissal”), which means that you cannot be laid off once you have informed your employer about your pregnancy and expected due date.
The protection lasts for the whole pregnancy and until 4 months after your baby is born. (After this, you will be protected if you take Elternzeit, which you can learn about here).
Can I Be Let Go While Pregnant?
Dismissals are only possible in exceptional cases (e.g. complete closure of the company or serious legal violations by the employee). Even then, however, the local occupational health and safety authority must approve the termination in advance.
If you are dismissed nevertheless, it is advisable to seek legal advice immediately in order to examine the possibilities of saving your job or at least receiving severance pay. The deadline for taking legal action is three weeks from receipt of the notice of termination.
Workplace Safety & Medical Appointments
Your workplace also needs to be safe for mother and child. For example, you are not allowed to work with toxins, stand for more than 4 hours per shift or work at night or weekends. Also overtime work is strongly restricted.
Employers are also required by law to release you from work for certain medical examination appointments. Similarly, breastfeeding mothers have the right to take legally defined time off work for breastfeeding during the first 12 months after childbirth.
Beschäftigungsverbot and Schutzfrist – What Does this Mean?
The time frame 6 weeks before and 8 weeks after your baby is born (or 12 weeks for premature babies, multiples and/or disabled children) is a protective period (“Schutzfrist”). During this period you will benefit from the “gesetzliches Beschäftigungsverbot” (“legal employment ban”).
You may continue working during the 6 weeks before your due date if you explicitly state that you want to. However, the protective period after your baby is born is mandatory and you are not allowed to work as an employee during this period.
Besides this regular legal employment ban, there are also other scenarios in which you may not work during pregnancy due to an extended Beschäftigungsverbot.
This may apply, for example, if your work is with toxic materials or involves heavy physical labor. Sometimes, this is also the case if you work in healthcare or childcare. In the event of complications during pregnancy, or if your health or the health of your child is at risk if you continue to work, your doctor may also determine an employment ban for a longer period of time.
You will need an attestation from your doctor for this, which you must submit to your employer.
Mutterschaftsgeld during Schutzfrist
During the above mentioned protective period, you will receive Mutterschaftsgeld (maternity allowance). See more in this article on Mutterschaftsgeld, which in most cases covers the 6 weeks before and 8 weeks after your baby is born. After that you may receive Elterngeld.
Parental Leave & Allowance
Hopefully this answers all your questions about your relationship with your employer during pregnancy and after giving birth, but if you run into any issues, feel free to reach out to Jon to get personalized advice.
Did you know how many government programs (soon-to-be) parents can benefit from in Germany? There's a lot and therefore I can be hard to keep track. Here's an overview so you don't get lost.