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I'm working in an office space where I don't have fixed daily hours but a weekly amount of hours in my contract. Electricity is necessary to do my job (on computers).

We had a power outage due to a snow storm, resulting in ~2 hours without electricity. In those 2 hours, I took my 30 minute mandatory pause. When it seemed like the outage would take longer, the manager told us to either call it a day and go home, or wait it out and continue working when power was back. I waited it out and continued work after the outage. However, the company is of the opinion that the time we waited until the power came back is not work time.

I did a little research online and so far found that time spent in the workplace unable to work because of reasons beyond my own ability to work is at the employers risk. I know that I need to accept different tasks that would be possible during the outage and are doable by my abilities. However, I wasn't asked to do something else.

My question is whether the company or my research is correct and if the company can subtract 1.5 hours from my worktime ? Did giving me the choice of going home (which of course means doing overtime on other days to meet the weekly quota) or staying put the risk in my lap ? Should I have actively asked to get other work assigned ?

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3 Answers 3

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If you were in the office, and ready to take instructions what to do from your manager, then you were legally working and need to be paid. There's plenty of things you can do in an office without electricity unless it's too dark. If the manager didn't ask you to do anything, it's the company's problem, not yours.

If you took the opportunity to leave for 90 minutes to do your weekly shopping, then you shouldn't get paid.

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  • Huh. If you leave the workplace, I wonder what stores are open during a power outage. There’s a de facto mandate for electronic cash registers (TSE: Technische Sicherheitseinrichtung). The mentioned snowstorm will probably have affected an outdoor substation thus an entire region, not just a single company, will have had no electricity. Besides, who would go outdoors during a snow storm anyways? I mean, this is Germany, so it’s not like in Buffalo, NY, but still. Feb 6, 2023 at 1:24
  • It also applies if you leave the office and waste 90 minutes looking for an opened store.
    – gnasher729
    Feb 8, 2023 at 8:11
  • Since the hours are flexible, I think it might depend on what the contract says. Who can make the call what those hours are. If the manager is allowed to decide whether a person should work on a specific day or time, then the manager indeed made that call after a few hours. The hours following might not be working time in this case. It might also raise a few eyebrows if they did overtime on that day. With no ability to actually work, the interest of the company in overtime is zero and you cannot force a company to pay overtime if they did not order it and had no benefit from it.
    – nvoigt
    Jul 28, 2023 at 5:54
  • @KaiBurghardt Many grocery stores in the US have backup generators, due to the large monetary loss from failure of refrigeration.
    – user71659
    Jul 29, 2023 at 2:19
  • −1: I have now downvoted this answer, because it makes the claim being “ready to take instructions” already legally qualified as working. It does not, it is really just the offer to perform work (unless, of course, being somewhere present is the job [usually it is not]). I did not vote earlier, because in summary it does not make a difference (nitpicking, you know). — @user71659 Certainly backup generators may power refrigerators, but I doubt they start immediately automatically (like as a failsafe at a hospital) nor are they properly dimensioned to power the entire store. Aug 6, 2023 at 16:45
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Assuming you are a regular employee and were present and ready to do work during your contractually agreed working hours, you are entitled to your salary for that time, even if you could not actually do anything productive.

The fact that your work needs electricity is something the employer has to make sure is available, there is no way for a single employee to somehow change that.

This is part of what is called "Betriebsrisiko":

Der Arbeitgeber hat das Risiko der Unmöglichkeit der Arbeitsleistung aus im Betrieb liegenden Gründen schlechthin zu tragen und bleibt zur Lohnfortzahlung verpflichtet, auch wenn diese Gründe nicht betriebstechnische Störungsursachen haben oder auf einem Versagen der sachlichen oder persönlichen Mittel des Betriebes beruhen, sondern von außen auf das Unternehmen einwirken (BAG, 09.03.1983 - 4 AZR 301/80). Damit sind gerade die Ursachen angesprochen, die von außen auf typische Betriebsmittel (z. B. Maschinen, Fabrikgebäude, Heizungsanlagen) einwirken und sich für den Arbeitgeber als ein Fall der höheren Gewalt darstellen, z. B. Naturkatastrophen (Erdbeben, Überschwemmungen, Brände), Unglücksfälle sowie extreme Witterungsverhältnisse. In allen diesen Fällen hat der Arbeitgeber das Betriebsrisiko zu tragen (so BAG aaO, bestätigt durch BAG, 23.9.2015 - 5 AZR 146/14, Rn. 22).

Source

Translation:

The employer must bear the risk of the impossibility of work performance for reasons within the company and remains obligated to continue to pay wages, even if these reasons are not due to operational disruptions or are based on a failure of the material or personal resources of the company, but have an external effect on the company (BAG, 09.03.1983 - 4 AZR 301/80). This refers precisely to causes that affect typical operating resources (e.g. machines, factory buildings, heating systems) from the outside and present themselves to the employer as a case of force majeure, e.g. natural disasters (earthquakes, floods, fires), accidents and extreme weather conditions. In all these cases, the employer has to bear the operating risk (thus BAG loc.cit., confirmed by BAG, 23.9.2015 - 5 AZR 146/14, para. 22).

As an example, here is a court decision of such a case.

Please note that during a time when you cannot do your original job, assuming a normal employment contract that has the default clause "and other tasks as required by the employer" in it, your employer may ask you to do other tasks instead that day. As long as they are not dangerous, you may end up finally cleaning all your desks, watering the plants, cleaning the kitchen and sweeping the hallway. Maybe help by calling customers, landlines used to work without external electricity, maybe they still do. You get paid for working, you might be assigned other tasks.

Even if you get sent home early (lets say the heating broke and the repairman is only coming the next day), they still need to pay you for your regular working hours.

They do not need to pay you for overtime. Overtime is not something you can just "take", it needs to be accepted by both sides and obviously the company would never accept that you work "overtime" staring at walls doing nothing. So saying "oh, we cannot work today, great, today is the day I wanted to do 3 hours of overtime, pay up!" is not going to fly.

If they ask you, if you can stay longer than normal and work after the problem is solved, then obviously they need to pay overtime.

Please note that you still need to be available for work. You cannot just decide for yourself to not come in. If you leave without the company officially sending you home, you just left work and are absent. You will not be paid for that.

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    almost all phones are VOIP in Germany these days, and thus the phone box requires electricity.
    – Trish
    Aug 8, 2023 at 17:12
  • And I think your old phone needed electricity somewhere. The source was not in my home, or in my office, but it was somewhere nearby. I haven’t have a fault in years that didn’t affect the whole street.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 9, 2023 at 7:20
  • I had plenty of "the street is dark but the phone works" incidents back in the day, but I am old... we are talking rotary phones here. Today my landline is plugged into power and my router, so it would fail on multiple levels without electricity. On the other hand, today everybody has a cell phone, that might still work if the outage did not bring down all cell towers. Today when my street is suddenly all dark, I can google the outage on my phone. And calling clients saying "we are sorry, we cannot have that meeting/appointment today" might be a task that comes up.
    – nvoigt
    Aug 9, 2023 at 7:29
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Company office or co-working space?

If the workplace was provided by the company, the answer by gnasher729 applies. You were not even required to take your break at that point, if it wasn't the normal lunch time.

These days some workers are working either from home or from a self-provided offices, which would put more responsibility for providing a workspace (including power and internet connection) on themselves.

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  • That opens an interesting question, how much I am responsible for keeping my WFH workplace running.
    – gnasher729
    Feb 8, 2023 at 8:15
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    @gnasher729, especially with Corona, a lot of people have an employment contract which specifies work from the office, and the employer allows them to do their work from home instead. Any employee who wants to make use of this has to provide a home office. And then there are people whose employment contract specifies work from home. I'm only familiar with the former situation.
    – o.m.
    Feb 8, 2023 at 8:20

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