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Sick Leave in Germany: Rules You Need To Keep in Mind

Woman turning off alarm clock on her phone

Germany is one of the best countries in the world for employees; surely, one of the biggest benefits is paid sick leave. Workers are encouraged to take days off when they are feeling unwell. Thus, you won’t see coughing colleagues in the office. However, you should keep in mind several rules when taking sick days to avoid any problems.

The main rules of sick leave in Germany include two elements; firstly, the employee must immediately report the illness to the employer and estimate the expected duration of absence. Secondly, the worker must present a medical certificate issued by the doctor after 3 calendar days of absence at the latest.

You have probably already asked yourself many questions about sick leave in Germany since it can get quite complicated. In this article, we go into all the details about taking sick leave in Germany and the exact steps you need to follow.

Main rules of sick leave in Germany

Germans take sick leave quite often; for example, last year, people were ill for 10.9 days on average. But what do employees need to consider when reporting sick leave and what deadlines are important?

Generally, the employee must follow these rules when taking sick leave in Germany:

  • The employee must immediately report the illness to the employer and communicate the expected duration of absence
  • The employee must present a medical certificate issued by the doctor after 3 days of absence (calendar days) at the latest

So, if the worker doesn’t provide some of these elements when taking sick leave, the employer can issue an official warning note; this will count as a violation of working terms.

When can you take sick leave in Germany?

Woman wrapped in blanket and snuggled on her bed

Your employer will prefer you to take sick days if you are feeling unwell instead of coming to work. Generally, the employee can take a paid sick leave after working for at least 4 weeks in the company.

You can be sick for up to 6 weeks of continuous sick leave period in Germany and receive 100% of the salary. If a worker has the same kind of illness more than one time a year, these days will be accumulated. If it’s a different illness, the 6-week period will start again from zero.

Taking sick leave in the first 4 weeks of work

You could also take sick days before working for four weeks in the company; however, these days will be unpaid by the employer, so you need to deal with health insurance instead. Most health insurance providers will pay you a salary in full amount for sick leave.

Sick leave during the probation period in Germany

Employees on probation period are also entitled to sick leave.

Similarly to a full-time worker, you should stay home if you feel sick, even if it’s your probation. This is to prevent your colleagues and managers from sickness. However, you should inform your employer as soon as you know that you aren’t coming to the office.

Besides, you must visit a doctor and send a sick note to the company no later than after the third day of illness. Depending on the contract, your employer may request a health certificate already on the first day of sick leave.

You should clear these details in advance.

If you are wondering whether you get paid during the sick leave on probation, then it will depend on how long you have been working in the company.

If it’s less than four weeks, then you aren’t entitled to the wage paid by the employer. However, your health insurance company will reimburse this money instead.

Consequently, you must reach out to the insurance company when taking sick leave in the first four weeks of the probation period.

Reasons for sick leave in Germany

Taking sick leave in Germany can be for different reasons. Overall, it’s about your physical & mental well-being, but also the health of your kids.

There are some distinctions between sick leave in Germany. The law categorizes it as short-term and long-term leave. Long-term sick leave includes both physical or mental complex illnesses, whereas short-term is more about your physical capacity to work and simple sickness.

Sick leave for childcare

Child hugging her stuffed bear

Germany is a very family-friendly country, so you can call in sick when your child is ill. Often it’s the case that kids aren’t allowed to go to school or kindergarten, so they need someone home for support.

Also, expats or foreign employees don’t have their families in Germany, so they can ask a grandma to care about the child for a day.

Therefore, this ability to take off when your kid is sick is super valuable. In order to take official sick days, you must present a certificate from the pediatrist as a sick note. It should state that your child needs your care.

According to German law, the employer must continue to pay 90% of the net salary if you are taking less than 5 sick days in a row (the 5th day is included). All days above that will be unpaid.

If we look at exact statements from the law, it says:

Due to the new announcement in January 2021, an employee is entitled to 20 days per child per year and a total of 45 paid days per year for all kids in the family. For single parents, a double amount of days applies – 40 days to a maximum of 90 days for all kids.

These rules only apply if:

  • your child is younger than 12 years or needs special help because of a disability,
  • you present a medical certificate/doctor note about the child’s need in care during the illness
  • there is no other person in your household who can take care of your child

False sick leave

Taking fake sick days can lead to big troubles, so we will definitely not recommend it; you can always take a day off in such a situation! If an employee calls in sick without reason, the employer can terminate he/her without a deadline and even claim back the paid amount of wage for the corresponding period.

How to take sick leave in Germany?

Pug wrapped in blanket

Now you know the main rules for taking sick leave in Germany, but what exactly should you do? Read below the detailed information and go step by step.

Inform your company ASAP

As soon as you recognize feeling unwell, you should inform the employer; it can be the HR department or another person of reference. In most cases, the employer must be informed before your working day starts, but working contact might state different rules.

This means that if, for example, the start of a shift worker’s work falls at 6 am, he/she should inform the company at the latest shortly before 6 am.

Employees don’t have to disclose the type of illness they have. But they must state the expected duration of the sick leave to the employer. The note can be made by phone, email, or SMS.

Most companies, especially big ones, have a standard process for calling in sick, which requires the worker to contact the manager and someone from the HR department.

There are no official regulations on what a sick report should look like for the employer. You can do it as you prefer, but most companies prefer a phone call.

Bring the sick note

In Germany, you need to provide a sick note from the doctor (Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung) to your employer if you take more than 3 consecutive days of sick leave.

This is the most important step when taking sick leave in Germany; you must go to the doctor and get an official document about the state of your health. It should be delivered to the employer no later than the fourth calendar day of the leave.

All days are counted, even the weekends and holidays. If you are sick for a shorter amount of time, no note is required.

However, your employer can request a sick note from the first day of sickness, it all depends on your contract. If this happens, you must present a document from the doctor already on the first day of sick leave.

Note that your sick note must be comprehensive, i.e. it must cover all the days you are missing due to the illness.

Sending a sick note per email – an option?

The sick note from the doctor can be sent to the employer via post, submitted directly, by email (scan), or by fax. If the company demands the original, it must be submitted immediately.

Can you get a sick note from the doctor over the phone?

Usually, no; in Germany, sick workers always need to go to the doctor to get a document for the employer. But here are the good news, due to the Covid pandemic, until 31.03.2021, you can ask your doctor for a sick note via phone when having symptoms of a cold.

Sick leave in this situation can be only a max of 7 days. However, if you are feeling ill longer, the doctor can extend the sick leave for another 7 days, also over the phone but only once.

It can even be made via WhatsApp, although it can cause some additional charges for convenience. After that, you will immediately receive the sick note letter digitally via WhatsApp or in two days per post. Be aware that this document is valid for 3 days.

Obtaining a doctor’s note remotely is only possible for certain illnesses such as common colds, back pain, migraines, cystitis, gastrointestinal flu, period pain, and stress.

What if you don’t manage to get a sick note?

In Germany, an employee must fulfill his/her duties and get a sick note from the doctor. If a worker didn’t manage to get or submit the doctor’s certificate in time (on the 4th day of illness), a company will issue a warning.

In the warning, the employer will describe exactly which employee duty has been breached in that case – the obligation to report health state or the obligation to provide evidence.

In that case, your company may refuse to pay you a wage during these missing days. However, if finally, you submit the sick note, just with some delay, the employer must pay the wage for the entire period you were absent.

Should you stay home during sick leave?

Cup bedise a box of tissue and a disgarded eye glasses

Often we regret staying home on our sick leave, feeling like we are wasting time. Can an employee go shopping, walk or travel instead? Well, generally speaking, nothing stops you from traveling or vacationing on sick leave. Nevertheless, it might harm your reputation in the company.

Additionally, it depends on the type of illness. If a doctor prescribes bed rest, you should stay at home; basically, what the doctor allows is allowed. Otherwise, you can do what your wish if you don’t afraid of colleagues’ judgments.

The rule is that an employee is obliged to do everything that serves the recovery – and to avoid anything that can harm the health.

Can you work on another job during sick leave?

In contrast to traveling or shopping on sick leave, employees are strictly prohibited from doing any paid work. For example, you might be thinking about going back to work, or you have some side hustle to work on.

But if you are considering going back to work earlier than the doctor’s note says, you can do it. In most cases, the employer will send you to the doctor to get a new sick note with shorter dates.

Thus, one may go back to work earlier, but there is no such obligation to start working earlier than the end date of the note if you are feeling better.

There were also some cases when people took sick days and go work somewhere else. Be aware that this is illegal in Germany. The possible consequences of this range from a damaged relationship with the management, and mistrust in the company, up to termination without notice.

Can you take sick leave on vacation?

Many people think holidays are holidays and no sick leave is possible. This is not correct. In Germany, you aren’t gonna waste your precious free days being sick in bed!

All employees are encouraged to register for sick days if it happens, even on the holidays. Workers are expected to prioritize their health and take time to recover. In that case, the employer must be informed immediately again, but you must go to the doctor on the first day of vacation and not after the 3rd like in the regular situation.

Thus, you must get a sick note on the first day of being sick on holiday or the first day you want to register as sick; the rest will be counted as a normal vacation.

Be aware that not all certificates from abroad meet German legal requirements to be legit proof, but you must be fine with the EU. It’s important to ensure that the certificate documents the illness AND the incapacity to work. This is crucial because only those who are unable to work can save their holidays.

Taking sick leave in Germany: step by step

Follow these steps when taking sick leave in Germany:

  1. First: inform the employer about the absence directly on the first day before your workday starts, do it by phone call.
  2. Secondly: visit a doctor as soon as you can but latest on the 3rd day of the sick leave. Collect a heath certificate of incapacity to work and submit it to the employer by email no later than the 4th calendar day.
  3. Thirdly: if feeling sick for longer than a doctor’s note states, inform the employer again before a certificate expires and get it extended by the doctor in the form of a follow-up certificate.

Will you get paid during sick leave in Germany?

Stack of 100 euro clipped by a red clipper

Good news for all workers, German law requires employees to be paid 100% of their salary during the first 6 weeks of sickness. Under certain circumstances, this 6 weeks period might occur more than once a year.

What happens after 6 weeks? Well, after this period company isn’t obligated to pay employees anymore; health insurance will do it instead. Basically, you will receive sick pay (Krankengeld) from your health insurer instead of your salary.

But the amount of sick allowance ((“Krankengeld”) will be less than your regular wage, 70% of it to be exact. The maximum period for payment of this allowance is 78 weeks in 3 years for the same illness.

Also, you can be sick for more than 6 weeks per year, and it will be paid for by the employer. But the cause must be the same illness as in the previous 6 weeks; if it differs, your next 6 weeks will be in exactly 12 months from the last sick leave.

How to extend sick leave correctly?

A medical certificate from the doctor is only issued for a certain period of time. What happens if you get sick for longer?

The answer is simple, the original doctor’s note must be extended, and you don’t need a new one. The extension must be done on the last day of its validity. This is called a follow-up certificate.

Extending 6 weeks period on the sick leave

After the initial period of 6 weeks, your health insurance must take over providing sick pay (sick allowance). There are a few things to pay attention to:

  • Your doctor must confirm your incapability of working by issuing a sick note – Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung.
  • You still might work some amount of hours if you are capable. The doctor must also state it in the sick note; this most probably will affect the amount of sick pay you receive.

Sick leave with public insurance in Germany

With public insurance, you will get 100% of the salary from the employer for up to 6 weeks of continuous sick leave period in Germany if you have worked for at least 4 weeks before the illness.

After the 6-week sick leave, you will get sickness benefits from health insurance. An employee is able to receive 70% of the gross income up to the maximum of 90% of the net income.

In case of having the same sickness more than one time a year, these days will be accumulated. The period of 6 weeks will start again after one year has passed since the beginning of the first sick leave for the same sickness.

And for new illnesses, 6 months must have passed from the end of your last sick leave. If you have a new sickness, then the 6-week period will start again too.

Sick leave with private insurance

Promotional poster for German health insurance

If you have private health insurance, the sick pay after the initial 6-week period will vary based on the insurance plan you have. You would need to check with your insurance for the exact coverage

One of the top-rated private insurances for international workers, expats, freelancers, and business owners in Germany is Ottonova and Feather. Private providers set their rates independently and, moreover, offer better coverage.

But if you are looking for the cheapest coverage, check out this article. We have made a full in-depth review of all affordable providers in Germany.

Termination due sick leave

In Germany, an employee can be fired on sick leave but only under certain circumstances. For example, when an employee takes a long-term sick leave, and his/her situation is unlikely to improve in the future.

Therefore, the employee can’t continue with the work duties stated in the contract. It often can be the case with jobs that require physical activity. Whether it is possible to terminate employment because of illness depends on the circumstances of each individual case.

Overall, German labor law is favorable to the employees and not to the employer. Thus, it’s not easy for a company to fire a worker due to long-term sickness or frequent sick leaves.

The company can only do so if it can prove that it is highly unlikely that the employee will fully recover, and thus the employee will not be able to fulfill his work duties in the future.

But normally, this is hard to prove, and the German labor court seldom accepts such cases.

What if you are self-employed in Germany? Can you take sick leave?

Now we cleared everything about taking sick leave while being employed, but what about self-employed people such as business owners and freelancers?

Self-employed people in Germany can also enjoy paid sick leave, however, only starting from the 7th week of being ill for up to 78 weeks with public health insurance. Thus all sick days till the 7th week will be unpaid.

If they want to receive payments also before the 7th week, they can purchase additional health insurance to cover that period or sign for a private provider like Ottonova, which was particularly made for freelancers and business owners.

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