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Job Loss In Germany: 4 Tips For Survival

With the recent wave of layoffs in some employment sectors, job loss is a real threat, especially if you accept a position overseas. “What happens if it doesn’t work out?” is likely in the back of your mind. You might plan for this possibility by keeping your belongings in storage or with your family back home. You also may plan on keeping a return ticket handy.

These are reasonable options when the job doesn’t work out initially. But what if you lose your job after a long time abroad, after you are settled and integrated, through no fault of your own? For example, could your employer assign your patients to another employee and then claim to have no more work for you to justify a layoff?

Table of Contents

Things to know about the threat of job loss

Dental hygienists are truly in demand internationally, and you should find a replacement job fairly quickly. However, you may have a challenge since not all cultures understand the value of dental hygienists. You could see this in practices that employ dental assistants for preventive care. Working in this type of practice, you won’t be paid as much as you are used to, and you are easier to replace. Therefore, if job security is important to you, beware of practices that allow dental assistants to handle their patients’ preventive care.

See also the post “Dental Hygiene Preceptorship – More harm than good?”

This threat of job loss is also situation specific, i.e. immigration status, sponsorship status, employment laws, etc. For example, in Switzerland, chances are you will never lose a job as a hygienist, assuming you are good at your job and diligent about your responsibilities. This is mostly because immigrating to Switzerland is a lot stricter and more controlled by the authorities. Additionally, your employment there is probably secured by sponsorship.

By contrast, in Germany, you can be easily pushed out or forced out of your contract. This is due to a variety of reasons like whether you require sponsorship to work there or how big the dental practice is. For example, in Germany, a small business owner/employer can lay you off with impunity under a law that protects small businesses. (More on this later…)

How to protect yourself

Insurance coverage is important in Germany photo by Kindel Media

Have the proper insurance coverage

The protection of basic rights is a big thing in Germany. There are several types of insurance to protect your rights in Germany, i.e. as a tenant, as an employee, as a person who breaks something by mistake, etc. Therefore, it makes sense to research what insurance options are available for you and your circumstances ahead of time. You can search companies online (usually in German), or your bank can connect you with an insurance specialist. 

If you get a job in a larger chain or corporate practice, get employee protection insurance. This coverage gives you access to legal representation with a reasonable deductible if you face an unfair layoff. You can expect to spend at least 10 euros per month on this coverage.

Know how the employment laws protect you against job loss

In Germany, for example, any contracted employer-employee relationship can only be terminated in writing. The standard practice is to send the separation letter by certified mail, as the notice period begins on the day the letter is posted. You can also hand the letter directly to your employer and you both sign on the date provided in the letter as the start of the notice period.

Germany protects most employees from arbitrary layoffs. However, this protection mostly applies to employees of larger companies. Larger companies, or companies with 10 or more full-time employees, can only lay off workers under certain circumstances and with certain provisions, e.g. severance pay, etc. This is why you get the impression that Germans feel secure in their jobs when you work here.

Have a good offensive strategy

If you can only manage to work in a smaller practice, consider splitting your week between two offices. This offers protection in case one office cannot keep you busy and chooses to let you go. Either way, your contract notice period is usually 30 to 90 days, which buys you some time to find another position.

Now, let’s approach the job security loophole for employees of small businesses. If your company has less than 10 full-time employees on their payroll in Germany, you can legally be laid off without severance and with no justification. The apprentices, or Azubis, do not count toward this full-time employee total.

Take for example an office with 14 full-time employees: 2 dentists, 2 hygienists, 4 assistants, 1 front office, and 4 dental assistant apprentices. This equals 9 actual employees, even though it seems like an army is working at the practice. In this scenario, your employer could give your schedule to one of the assistants and claim to not have work for you. This is legal and there is nothing you can do about it since the office has only nine full-time employees.

Most dental practices fit this profile, so you should have a plan B.

Steps to take when facing a layoff

Having some savings is a good offense for a layoff photo by Skitterphoto

When you move abroad to work, the thought of job loss is probably in a distant corner of your mind. However, it never hurts to play safe. While living abroad, you should always have a plan B and C! Make it a habit to put money aside with each check. You will probably be earning quite a bit more than your living expenses, so you should still have enough cushion to live, travel and save. Two points to remember before and during a layoff are:

  1. Have sufficient savings to live on in case of unexpected events
  2. File an unemployment claim with the labor department as soon as you receive your separation letter

In the best case, if you are facing a layoff, you should be able to find another position quickly. In the worst case, you will need to apply for unemployment insurance. Don’t worry, as this works similarly to the unemployment arrangements for most Western countries. The catch here is whether you qualify for this insurance and for how long you qualify. The answers to these questions depend a lot upon your immigration status.

For those of us working strictly on a work permit or work visa, this is tricky. The work visa requirements usually stipulate full-time, continuous employment. This means it will only allow you 90 days of being without work before you lose your permit. Additionally, your employer must notify the Labor Department (Agentur für Arbeit) of the exact date the layoff begins. Unfortunately, this puts you under time pressure to figure out what your next move is.

Accessing unemployment benefits

Navigating unemployment benefits photo by Andrea Piacquadio

The paperwork and bureaucracy to be approved for unemployment payouts might take a couple of weeks to process. Your employer handles most of your paperwork. For the forms that you must submit in Germany, you can find, fill and submit all of them online (in German).

Once completed, you will be notified by mail that your case is under review. After this, a caseworker will contact you to schedule an in-person meeting (if circumstances allow) or telephone meeting with you. The first meeting is fairly casual and lasts about 30 minutes. The caseworker introduces herself/himself to you and explains to you what to expect while drawing unemployment benefits.

Your caseworker’s goal is to help you find work quickly. Therefore, he or she will want to get to know you better professionally. For example, they will ask about any skills or certifications you have. You will also need to submit an updated CV because the caseworker will begin to match you with open job opportunities. Germany is very particular about certifications. Therefore, be aware that they will only help you get work for jobs that you can prove you are certified to do.

Looking for jobs photo by Ron Lach

At this point, the Labor Department is now your employer. This means that you will work for them and receive any compensation from them until you find another employer. You are required to document and keep track of job applications and interviews and submit this record with a certain frequency. Additionally, you will only be allowed to ‘take days off’ with their permission.

Even if you have a limited window to find another job, the unemployment insurance payout may help tide you over until your first check arrives from your new job. This needs to be considered and calculated since you only get paid once per month in Germany and Switzerland.

Don’t lose hope in the face of job loss overseas

Landing a new job photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Losing your job overseas is emotionally and psychologically taxing, especially if you have responsibilities. After all, it takes a lot of effort, sacrifice, and a measure of faith to make such a move. Additionally, maybe this job is your only opportunity to see the world and enjoy the working expat experience. Nevertheless, don’t fall into the spiral of despair. You still have to find enough energy to chart your next course in life, find another position overseas or return home.

Again, dental hygienists are still in demand in Germany and in other places in the world. Chances are, you will quickly find another position and move on with your life. However, if things don’t work out as you hope, or if the jobs available aren’t what you are looking for, don’t lose hope. There is always activity in the international dental hygienist job market.

Network and meet other hygienists working internationally in the IDHDP Facebook group

Typically, offices that employ(ed) dental hygienists, who are trained to an international standard, appreciate the care their patients receive. They usually like to keep that standard of care for their patients. Especially in bigger cities, these dentists know similar-minded dentists and network amongst themselves to keep finding foreign-trained hygienists if one leaves.

Therefore, don’t lose hope! There is usually more than one avenue available to find another position and not have to move back home before you are ready for it.

Featured image by Anna Shvets

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