Information for new PhD students and Postdocs who will receive a TVL employment contract

The universities are part of the public sector (German: “Öffentlicher Dienst”) in Germany which means they are state funded. Your status at the university will be “Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter” (short: WiMi) which translates to scientific employee.

1. Taxes

Income tax will be deducted automatically from your monthly gross salary. If you are employed in Germany with only one employer on a regular basis, you are not required to declare your income. However, for 90% of jobholders it makes sense to hand in an income tax declaration at the end of the year in order to get a refund. Especially, if you did not work the whole year, you will almost certainly get a refund. Please see a tax consultant about details.

2. Statutory Social Security

If you work in Germany, you are automatically subject to social security contributions and health insurance. The contributions to social security and your health insurance fee are shared between employer and employee. Your share of the fee will be automatically deducted from your gross income before you receive your net salary. That means you will be a member of the following five statutory social security organisations:
• The statutory health insurance fund which pays the costs of visits to the doctor, and for medication and therapy.
• The statutory long-term care insurance fund which offers basic insurance for the eventuality of your being dependent on long-term care owing to illness. This usually applies to people in old age.
• The statutory pension insurance fund which pays employees a pension once they have retired. Basically, the amount of pension you receive depends first and foremost on your income and the number of years you have worked in Germany. If you are not staying in Germany, you can get this money back. Please ask your HR department about details.
• Statutory accident insurance which covers the costs of medical treatment and occupational rehabilitation after an accident at work or in the case of an occupational illness.
• The statutory unemployment insurance fund which provides the unemployed with income for a certain period of time if, as a general rule, they have been insured for at least one year during the last two years and are in search of a new job.
There is only one provider for these services except for health insurance. If your gross annual income does not exceed 59,400 euros, you need to choose one of the statutory (public) health insurance companies. If your income is higher, you are free to choose between private and statutory health insurance.

As an employee, you will receive a social security card with a social security number on it. Give this number to your employer. Keep your social security card safe as you will often need the number. If you cannot find it/ have never received it, contact your health insurance.

3. VBL

The public sector offers its own additional pension for employees. It is optional but you have to inform HR right away (before signing the contract) about paying the VBL or not. If you plan to work in Germany for less than 5 years, you should talk to the HR department to get a special insurance plan. Find more information in this video by the VBL:
Please ask your HR department about further details.

4. Salary and experience levels

Your gross salary is determined by the salary group (Entgeltgruppe) and your experience step (Erfahrungsstufe). There are 15 salary groups in the TVL (Tarifvertrag der Länder) with 15 being the highest and 1 being the lowest. Most PhD students and postdocs are employed in salary group TVL 13. There are 5 to 6 experience steps in each salary group.
If a new employee has no previous experience, they automatically start in experience step 1. After one year in step 1, they move on to step 2. After two years in step 2, they move on to step 3 and so on. To start in a higher experience step than 1, you must prove to the HR department that you already have relevant working experience in your field. For this purpose, you will need to list your previous work in great detail with start and end dates and information on how many weekly hours you worked on each project. You can submit employment contracts or reference letters as proof.
After you are hired at the university and have received an employee email account, you can use this account to access your personal “university portal” and download your salary statements there every month.

5. Vacation

Full-time employees have 30 working days of vacation in a year. Part-time employees, who work five days a week, also have 30 vacation days. Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays do not count as working days. Your right to take a vacation starts after six months of employment. You will need to ask your supervisor for permission and sign a form together each time, you want to take one or more vacation days.
If you have some vacation days left, you can add the days to the following year. Note that your "left over" vacation days are only valid until the 30th of September of the next year.
Should you fall ill while on vacation, you should inform your department/ supervisor immediately and send a doctor’s note to your HR department. These days will then count as sick leave and not as vacation days.

6. Ilness / Sick leave

If you are ill, you must inform your department/ supervisor before 10:00 am and if it’s possible inform them how long you will be absent. Your department should inform you, which person within the HR department to call or write an e-mail for the notification of illness (Krankmeldung).

If you are ill for more than three days, you will need a doctor’s note for the next day(s).
Examples: You call in sick on Wednesday and are sick on Thursday and Friday as well, but come back to work on Monday = You do not need a doctor’s note as it is assumed that you were already healthy again on Saturday.
You call in sick on Friday and are still sick on Monday. = It is assumed that you were sick all weekend long, so Monday is the fourth day of your sick leave and you must provide a doctor’s note.
The doctor will give you three copies of your note, one for yourself, one for the HR department and one for your health insurance provider. You will need to send the doctor’s note to your HR department and not to your supervisor, however you must of course inform your supervisor how long you will be absent. You will also need to send your note to your health insurance provider. Some accept these online.

If you have an accident at work or on the way to work, you will need to file an accident report and send it to your HR department.

When you’re able to work again, you will need to inform your supervisor and HR department immediately (Gesundmeldung).

If you are sick for more than six weeks, the university will stop paying your salary and you will need to apply for Krankengeld "illness payment" at your health insurance provider.

7. Travelling for work (Conferences etc.)

If you want to to visit a conference or take any other work related trip, you must ask your supervisor for permission. Even if your expenses are covered, you must fill in the “Application for conducting travel”, ask your supervisor for their signature and submit it to the relevant department.

If you need some expenses to be reimbursed, you will need to clarify this on the application form and with your supervisor beforehand. There are several laws and regulations in place regarding travel reimburstements.

You may find more information here:
And on the official website of your university’s travel department.

8. Further Infos / Advice

If you have any problems or questions about your employment contract, the Personalabteilung of the university/ institution at which you are employed should help you.

In particular, the Personalrat counsels employees and represents their interests in the university administration:

FU Personalrat:
HU Personalrat:
TU Personalrat: