In this blog post, we would like to give you a comprehensive insight into the Federal Volunteer Service (BFD), a stylish alternative to the former civilian service, which expired in 2011, where volunteers can get involved in social work. We explain what opportunities and rights volunteers have, as well as legal regulations and current court rulings that are of particular relevance to participants.

Table of contents

  1. Federal Volunteer Service – Basics and Background
  2. Types of federal voluntary service
  3. Volunteers’ rights and duties
  4. Advantages of the Federal Volunteer Service
  5. Labour law provisions
  6. Legal disputes and judgements
  7. FAQs – Frequently asked questions about the Federal Volunteer Service
  8. Federal Volunteer Service: An Alternative

Federal Volunteer Service – Basics and Background

The Federal Volunteer Service is an initiative introduced in Germany in 2011 to promote civil society engagement. This programme was introduced to replace the abolished civilian service and offers opportunities for volunteering not only in emergency services, but also in other areas such as social work, culture and ecology.

In the social sector, volunteers can get involved in institutions such as nursing homes, kindergartens and hospitals where they can provide essential support services and improve community care.

In the cultural field, museums, theatres and music schools offer many opportunities for volunteers. They can help organise events, supervise visitors or support creative workshops.

In the ecological field, there are also a variety of opportunities, including conservation projects and environmental education. Volunteers can, for example, help maintain nature reserves, protect plants and animals or educate about environmental protection in schools and community centres.

Overall, the Federal Volunteer Service aims to strengthen civic engagement and offer citizens a wide range of opportunities to actively engage in their community and contribute to society.

Types of Federal Volunteer Service

There are different types of Federal Volunteer Service aimed at different target groups. Below you will find an overview of the most common forms:

  1. Federal Volunteer Service for young people and adults (from the age of 16, no upper age limit)
  2. Federal Volunteer Service for senior citizens (from 50 years of age)
  3. Federal Volunteer Service with reference to refugees (for asylum seekers and recognised refugees)

Volunteers’ rights and duties

The rights and duties of those working in the Federal Volunteer Service are set out in the Federal Volunteer Service Act (BFDG) and the Federal Volunteer Service Regulations (BFD-Ordnung). These include, among others:

  • Pedagogical support throughout the entire BFD
  • Entitlement to pocket money (maximum 402 € per month)
  • Social security contributions are paid by the volunteer organisation
  • Statutory accident, pension, health and long-term care insurance
  • Educational leave to attend the required seminars
  • A working time account to cover overtime or to compensate for temporary absences
  • Compliance with the Youth Employment Protection Act (JArbSchG) for volunteers under 18 years of age
  • A certificate on the skills acquired during the BFD after the end of the assignment

Advantages of the Federal Volunteer Service

Participation in the Federal Volunteer Service can offer a variety of benefits for both volunteers and placement agencies, such as:

  • Acquisition of practical experience and professional knowledge in a specific field
  • Strengthening social skills, e.g. teamwork and empathy
  • Bridging waiting periods for a university place or training place
  • Expansion of the personal and professional network
  • Opportunity for professional orientation
  • Promotion of personality development and self-reflection
  • Participation in social life for older people and refugees
  • Strengthening and supplementing the existing teams in the placement centres

Labour law provisions

The BFD is not a regular employment and therefore does not lead to a regular employment relationship with the corresponding labour law provisions. Nevertheless, some labour law provisions apply to volunteers working in the BFD, such as:

  • Working hours (according to § 4 BFDG, max. 39 hours per week)
  • Holiday entitlement (according to § 5 BFDG, at least 24 days with a six-day week)
  • Entitlement to leave of absence in the event of illness (in accordance with § 6 BFDG)
  • Observance of the Maternity Protection Act (MuSchG) for pregnant volunteers
  • Possibility of termination (in accordance with § 8 BFDG, without observing a period of notice, but after agreement between the volunteer and the assignment location)

Legal disputes and judgements

In connection with the Federal Volunteer Service, there are always court disputes and judgements dealing with various legal issues, especially in the area of labour law. Some examples of recent court rulings:

Higher Administrative Court of North Rhine-Westphalia (Ref. 13 B 1026/12): Dismissal of a volunteer due to conflicts in the assignment site is justified if the interaction is unreasonable.

Baden-Württemberg Administrative Court (Case No. 9 S 746/13): The termination of a BFD contract by the competent public body is based on an obvious unsuitability of the volunteer.

Verden Labour Court (Ref. 1 Ca 106/14): BFD is not an employment relationship and thus not an employment relationship subject to contributions in the sense of social security law.

FAQs – Frequently asked questions about the Federal Volunteer Service

Below you will find some frequently asked questions about the Federal Volunteer Service and a legally sound answer to each question:

Question: Can the Federal Volunteer Service be terminated prematurely?

Answer: Yes, according to § 8 of the Federal Volunteer Service Act (BFDG), voluntary service can be terminated prematurely by taking a leave of absence or by giving notice of termination. However, termination must be by mutual agreement of the assignment location and the volunteer, and the reasons for termination should be in accordance with the law.

Question: Is pregnancy a reason for termination in the BFD?

Answer: No, pregnancy alone is not grounds for termination in the BFD. Pregnant volunteers enjoy the protection of the Maternity Protection Act (MuSchG) and have corresponding rights, such as the right to protective measures or periods of leave for medical examinations.

Question: Can the hours worked in the Federal Volunteer Service be credited to a vocational training programme that is later pursued?

Answer: There is no generally applicable regulation on this question. The crediting of hours completed in the Federal Volunteer Service depends largely on the type of training and the competent body (training provider, IHK, HWK, etc.). It is therefore advisable to clarify this with the competent office in each individual case and, if necessary, to submit the certificate obtained during the BFD.

Question: Can qualifications acquired in the Federal Volunteer Service be officially recognised?

Answer: After completing the Federal Volunteer Service, volunteers receive a certificate attesting to the knowledge and skills acquired during the voluntary service. Whether these qualifications are officially recognised for a later professional career depends on the sector and the employer. However, there is no formal equivalence between BFD qualifications and any vocational training.

Question: Is secondary employment permitted during the Federal Volunteer Service?

Answer: Secondary employment during the Federal Volunteer Service is generally permitted as long as it does not conflict with the purpose of the voluntary service and the legal provisions on working hours (according to § 4 BFDG: maximum 39 hours per week) are observed. The consent of the assignment location should be obtained.

Federal Volunteer Service: an alternative

The Federal Volunteer Service is a great opportunity to get involved in society and gain valuable experience and skills on both a personal and professional level. In this comprehensive article, we have looked at the basics of the BFD, the different types of voluntary service, the rights and obligations of volunteers and aspects of labour law.

If you have further questions or need legal advice in connection with the Federal Volunteer Service, we will be happy to assist you as an experienced law firm. We will provide you with competent and reliable support in all matters relating to your Federal Volunteer Service and help you to protect and enforce your rights and interests in the best possible way.