Bildungsurlaub – Paid Educational Leave in Germany


written by A. L. Hart Havens on January 15, 2021

The recent Liberated Services essays on the German welfare system (Hartz IV), German weapons laws (Kleiner Waffenschein), and foreigners’ advisory councils (Ausländerbeirat) marked the first three in a series of articles by Liberated Services highlighting a wide range of fascinating, outrageous, and little‑known aspects of life in the socialist Western European country of Germany.

Today’s article, which marks the fourth installment of the series, sheds some light on the legally enshrined right to annual educational leave afforded to most German employees.

In essence, the Bildungsurlaub paid educational leave program is designed to allow employees in Germany to independently select and attend one of approximately 6,000 week‑long government‑approved seminars each year without having to sacrifice any pay, vacation, or benefits. Bildungsurlaub was first introduced in 1974.

In an odd departure from the familiar German style of bureaucracy emphasizing uniformity, each German state is responsible for creating its own rules and requirements when it comes to Bildungsurlaub. This has not given rise to any major discrepancies with the exception of Saxony and Bavaria, which do not offer Bildungsurlaub in any capacity whatsoever. Additionally, some states have provisions in place permitting very small companies to deny their employees’ Bildungsurlaub requests.


An Extra Week of Paid Vacation Every Year

As for the other 14 of Germany’s 16 states, employees are typically permitted to begin applying for five consecutive days of Bildungsurlaub per calendar year after six months of continuous employment.

Some states even allow carryforwards to the following year, thereby enabling employees to take 10 consecutive working days of paid educational leave every other year. Each day of paid educational leave must include a minimum of six hours of instruction in order to qualify as Bildungsurlaub.

Employees in Germany are at liberty to attend seminars anywhere in the world as long as these are accredited as Bildungsurlaub by the government of their German state of residence. And although they continue to receive their full salary and benefits during Bildungsurlaub, employees are usually required to cover their own expenses arising in connection with seminar attendance such as enrollment, travel, and overnight accommodation costs.

Despite the attendance requirements and expenses associated with the program, Bildungsurlaub is broadly viewed as an appealing opportunity to pursue a hobby or fulfill an intellectual pursuit while tacking on an extra week of time off to an already generous six weeks of vacation and virtually unlimited paid sick leave.


Goofing off on the Employer’s Dime

Incredibly, employees are not required to demonstrate to their employers that a prospective seminar would or could give rise to an on‑the‑job performance improvement. In fact, employees are expressly permitted to enroll in civic and cultural education seminars bearing no discernible relevance to their occupational fields.

Although the majority of Bildungsurlaub seminars cover rather mundane topics like computer literacy, bookkeeping, and mainstream politics, employees also have the option of enrolling in courses featuring more exciting activities such as learning to speak Spanish in Buenos Aires, taking a whiskey-tasting tour of Dublin distilleries, and hiking across a North Sea island – all during regular working hours and at full pay and benefits!

The benefit of attending Bildungsurlaub seminars as pertains to an employee’s career advancement prospects is certainly questionable, however, particularly in light of the program’s presumed lack of popularity among employers. But Bildungsurlaub nonetheless remains the legal right of employees across Germany – with the exception of Saxony and Bavaria, of course.

Information about each state’s rules, requirements, and seminar offerings is available in German at www.bildungsurlaub.de.