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WORKING IN AUSTRIA

What are the rules about turning on the heating in the workplace in Austria?

We’re all well aware of the need to conserve energy in Austria this winter, but what does the law say about heating in the workplace? Here’s what you need to know.

What are the rules about turning on the heating in the workplace in Austria?
The minimum recommended temperature for offices in Austria is 19 degrees. (Photo by Kübra Arslaner / Pexels)

People in Austria are used to warm buildings during the cold winter but this year could be different.

While it’s unlikely that people will be shivering at their desks, workplaces will be cooler than previous winters and most people will have to dress warmly.

This is due to pressure on companies through rising energy costs and the government’s recommendation for minimum temperatures in workplaces amid energy saving plans.

FOR MEMBERS: READER QUESTION: When should I turn on my heating in Austria this year?

However, there are already reports of employers lowering the heating below official recommendations, leading to complaints from employees. And it’s not even full winter yet.

So what are the rules when it comes to heating public buildings and workplaces in Austria? Here’s a quick explainer so that you know your rights this winter.

What does the Austrian Federal Government say about heating?

In September, Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler (Greens) urged operators of public buildings to lower the thermostat to 19C during the winter to save energy.

Likewise, the Labor Law in Austria states that in workplaces with low physical exertion, like in offices, the thermostat must be set between 19C and 25C.

For jobs that require normal physical activity (standing in a sales room or in retail), the temperature should be set between 18C and 24C. And for active jobs, such as in a warehouse, the minimum temperature is 12C.

READ MORE: How expensive are gas and electricity in Austria right now?

Unfortunately, for outside work, there is no minimum temperature. But employers are obligated to assess any hazards to health.

The reason for these rules is that working in cold conditions can impact performance, cause health issues and lead to an increased risk of accidents, according to the Arbeitkammer.

This year, the issue of being cold at work is even more prominent as many companies seek to lower heating bills and conserve energy.

One example is at the municipal administration building in Linz, Upper Austria, where the office temperature was just 16C, as reported by ORF. Following complaints from employees, the temperature has now been set at 21C, which is still below the 23C of recent winters.

What can you do if you are too cold at work?

Lawyer Raphael Schanda from Körber-Risak told ORF that employers have a “duty of care towards their employees” when it comes to heating in the workplace in Austria. 

However, if you are too cold at work and suspect that the heating is below the recommendations set by the government, then speak to your boss or the relevant line manager.

If this results in a conflict, then the next step can be to contact the HR department and refer them to the government guidelines for heating the workplace.

READ ALSO: What is the new cost of living ‘credit’ for self-employed people in Austria?

Ways to keep warm this winter

Everyone feels the cold differently, and while 19C might be comfortable for some, for others it will be too cold. Especially for people that sit all day at a desk.

To counteract any discomfort from feeling cold, here are some tips:

  • Wear warmer clothes and layer up.
  • Move around regularly – get up from the desk and walk.
  • Drink warm drinks.
  • Wear fingerless gloves.
  • Block any draughts from windows or doors.

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WORKING IN AUSTRIA

EXPLAINED: How to register as self-employed in Austria

Working as a freelancer in Austria is an attractive prospect for international residents. But the process might not be as easy as back home. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: How to register as self-employed in Austria

Anyone that has set up a business as a freelancer in Austria will know how confusing it can be. Especially if they are from countries like the UK and US where starting a business as a sole trader is fairly easy.

In Austria though, there are several steps to registering as self-employed, with limited information in English on how to navigate the process. 

So to help foreigners in Austria get started, we spoke to Vienna-based business consultant Miglena Hofer to break down the steps when registering as self-employed.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What can I deduct from my tax bill in Austria?

Obtain a business licence (or not)

The first step to becoming self-employed in Austria is finding out if you need a business licence.

Sounds simple enough, right? But for those without strong German language skills, it can quickly become tricky.

Miglena Hofer told The Local: “There is a lack of information about the process in English, especially explanatory information. 

“In Austria there are also different types of self-employed people. The two main types are business owner and operator, and the new self-employed [such as writers, photographers].” 

“Almost everything requires a business licence in Austria. Even if you only intend to cover costs with your work, it still counts as a business.”

READ NEXT: ‘Brutal’: What it’s really like to learn German in Austria

The Ministry of Labour and Economics has a list of regulated trades that need a business licence in Austria (only available in German). Professions include electrician, hairdresser, florist and masseuse. 

If you do need a business licence, an application has to be submitted by the first day you plan to start working in your business. 

To apply for a licence, visit the Gewerbe­informations­system Austria (Business Information System Austria). This website has the option to translate the information into English.

Any professions that don’t require a business licence, like journalists, artists and teachers, are classed as new self-employed (Neu Selbständige) and can move on to the next steps.

Notify the tax office 

This involves filling in the form Verf24 and sending it to the tax office (Finanzamt) to inform them that you are self-employed. There is a deadline of four weeks after you have started operating for this part of the process.

You also have to make an appointment at the WKÖ (Austrian Economic Chamber) and become a member. This involves paying an annual fee (which varies depending on the type of business) and in some places, like in the Alps, you might have to pay a tourist tax.

However, finding information or help in English at this stage can be difficult, and business consultant Miglena advises anyone struggling to reach out for help.

FOR MEMBERS: Digital nomad visas: How does Austria compare with other countries?

She said: “Many Austrians refuse to give advice in English, which is a curious thing. This applies to all kinds of professional services, but it’s important that we are understood.

“I don’t want people to be afraid. I want to make starting a business in Austria easy. Once you know how to do it, it’s fine. But it’s easy to feel lost and be overwhelmed by legal German words.”

Set up social insurance

The final stage in the process is to register with SVS – the social insurance fund for self-employed people in Austria.

It is mandatory for everyone living in Austria to have social insurance (or comprehensive private health insurance). It gives people access to public health care and includes pension contributions.

Registering with SVS has to take place within four weeks from the date of starting a business. You will then receive an e-card (if you don’t already have one) and start paying social insurance bills on a quarterly basis.

The good news about SVS payments though is that they are tax deductible, so don’t forget to include them in your bookkeeping.

Useful vocabulary

Business registration – Gewerbeanmeldung

Business licence – Gewerbeschein

New self-employed – Neu Selbständige

Social insurance – Sozialversicherung

Tax – Steuer

Tax office – Finanzamt

Useful links

Austrian tax office

Business Information System Austria (GISA)

Social insurance

Self-employed in Austria

Ministry of Labour and Economy

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