Do you know your rights as an employee in Germany? How many paid sick leave can you take in Germany? Do you know you may change your annual leave to sick leave if you are sick on your vacation? What happens if you need to take a long term sick leave? Do you know you can take sick leave as well if your kid is sick? In this post, you will find everything you need to know about taking sick leave in Germany.
When I first started working in Germany, I noticed something really odd to me. When I had a cold with running nose or coughing, my boss and my colleagues told me to take sick leave and go home. They didn’t seem to appreciate at all that I was still working in the office even though I was sick. On the opposite, they seemed to be really annoyed by the fact that I was in office. They made me feel that I was going to infect all the others in the office and it was a selfish act from my side.
You are encouraged to take sick leave in Germany when you are sick
At first, I thought they were just joking. Then I found out that they really meant it. Everybody was scared to see someone being sick because they didn’t want to get sick themselves. This is completely different from how it is in my home town Hong Kong! Normally, nobody would take sick leave in Hong Kong just because of a cold. I even knew people who still went to work when they had a fever! People in Hong Kong did not want to take sick leave because management would not like it. Some people consider taking sick leave as being lazy at work. And if you are still working even though you are sick, it shows that you are responsible and hardworking.
In Germany, you are encouraged to take sick leave if you are sick, even if it is just a cold. It is not uncommon to hear someone having sick leave for one week because they have a flu. This sounded completely crazy to me because this would never happen in Hong Kong. Well, an average employee only has two to three weeks paid vacation leave in a year and 2 days paid sick leave per month in Hong Kong.
How to take sick leave in Germany?
In Germany, you need to provide a sick note (Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung) to your employer if you take more than three consecutive days of sick leave. So, you would need to provide the sick note by the fourth day of work latest. But the policies can be different for different companies. For example, some companies may already request you for a sick note on the first day of sick leave. That is why you should check with your employer to make sure you comply with the policy.
You should inform your employer in Germany as soon as possible once you decide to take sick leave. You do not have the obligation to tell your employer what sickness you have. From the doctor, you will receive three copies of sick note: one for your employer, one for the health insurance, and one for your own record. It is best to always ask for a sick note if you visit the doctor. Because you never know how long your sickness will last. In the end, you may have to take more than 3 days of sick leave.
Changing your vacation leave to sick leave in Germany
If you are sick during your vacation, you may be able to change your vacation leave to sick leave in Germany! Shocking, right? I couldn’t believe it when I first heard about it. For example, you are taking 5 days’ annual leave this week and then you get sick. If this happens in Hong Kong, you are just unlucky and your sickness will ruin your vacation plan. However, in Germany, you need to go to a doctor and get a sick note. If the doctor gives you a sick note of 5 days, you may be able to apply 5 days sick leave this week instead of using your annual leave. This is because your vacation is supposed to let you be relaxed from work, but it is not for you to be sick at home. You cannot relax when you are sick.
Can you go to work when you are supposed to take sick leave in Germany?
If you go to the doctor and he gives you a sick note for that day, you can still go to work, as long as you do not provide the sick note to your employer. However, if the doctor gives you a sick note for two weeks, and you feel already better after the first week, can you still go to work in the second week?
This happened to my colleague. He felt fine again in the second week so he went to work. The sick note he provided to HR indicated that the sick leave should be two weeks though. This actually created a lot of hassles for him, because HR wanted him to go back to the doctor and change the sick note from two weeks to one week. The reason is that if something happened to him at work during the second week, the insurance might not cover since he was supposed to stay home according to the doctor. In the end, it was a lot of hassles for him to go back to the doctor and explain the situation and get the administrative work done.
How much can you get paid when you take sick leave in Germany?
If you have worked for at least 4 weeks before your illness, you can get 100% of your salary from your employer for up to 6 weeks of continuous sick leave period in Germany. If you have the same sickness more than one time in a year, these days will be accumulated. For the same sickness, this 6-week period will start again if one year has passed since the beginning of your first sick leave, or six months 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.
After the 6-week sick leave, you will get sickness benefits from your health insurance in Germany. This is called Krankengeld. You will receive 70% of your gross income, with a maximum of 90% of your net income. If your salary includes single payments like an extra month Christmas payment, this amount will also be used to calculate how much sickness benefit you will get. You can get this sickness benefit for up to 78 weeks in three years for the same illness.
Sick leave with private health insurance in Germany
If you have private health insurance, the sickness benefit after the initial 6-week period will vary based on the plan you choose. You would need to check with your insurance for the exact coverage.
Sick leave for self-employed people in Germany
If you are self-employed, you can receive sickness benefit starting the 7th week of being ill for up to 78 weeks under public health insurance. In case you want to receive payment also before the 7th week, you would need to buy additional health insurance to cover that period.
Sick leave in Germany: sickness benefit insurance (krankentagegeldversicherung)
As mentioned above, you will not get 100% of your salary anymore after the initial 6-week period of sick leave in Germany. So, if you are unlucky and need to take long term sick leave, it can cause you some financial problems, especially when you still need to pay for your fixed expenses like rent and so on. But don’t worry. As I mentioned in my article, Insurance in Germany – Which one do you need, you can almost insure anything you can think of in Germany. For example, ARAG provides a very affordable sickness benefit insurance which can cost as low as a few EUR per month, depending on the coverage you choose. The insurance can make sure that you still get the difference between your salary and the sickness benefit you receive after the 6 weeks.
Common types of sickness for a long term sick leave in Germany
You are probably thinking that you are healthy and never take more than a few days of sick leave in a year. Why would you need insurance for that?
The fact is that more people are taking a long term sick leave than you think in Germany. You may not hear about that so much, because when something happens to those people, you normally don’t see them anymore. They are either staying in a hospital or going through different therapies. That’s why you won’t see them in the office and won’t feel it so much that such shitty things can happen in life.
Long term sick leave in Germany includes both physical or mental illness. The most common types of physical sickness include muscular-skeletal issues or back pain. This is especially common in the winter after the Christmas holiday. Every year we are missing several people in the office because they either break their arms or legs after skiing. And this can take a long time to heal.
Taking sick leave in Germany due to mental illness
Now you may think that you do not go skiing and you are mentally healthy, so you are safe. Are you sure you are and will stay mentally healthy? To my surprise, there are more and more people taking sick leave in Germany due to mental incapability. According to a study from DAK-Gesundheit, every employee took 2.4 days on average in 2018 due to mental problems. And there is an increasing trend that people are taking more mental sick leave in Germany than in the past.
Mental incapability does not mean that you have to go crazy and have hallucinations and all that stuff. Actually, the most common case for mental incapability is caused by depression. Nowadays, employees have a lot of stress and time pressure at their workplaces which are negatively affecting their mental health. The increasing trend of mental health issues can also be due to people being more open to seeking help for mental problems. Don’t underestimate mental health issues. People who suffer from mental problems may need medicines and psychological therapies until they can feel good again.
Mental incapability caused by sudden events in life
A colleague of mine did go through one of those therapies after his wife was diagnosed with cancer. It was a disaster for him and he couldn’t concentrate on work anymore due to all the stress and pressure from the sickness of his wife. He ended up taking a few months of sick leave in Germany until he was capable to work again.
Another friend of mine lost her baby in her first pregnancy. Even though she was physically fine again, she couldn’t let go of the fact that she lost her baby and she couldn’t focus on work anymore. She had to see a psychologist and took a long term sick leave as well in Germany.
Can you be fired because of taking sick leave in Germany?
As the German labor law is very favorable to the employees, it is not easy for a company in Germany to fire an employee due to a 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.
Sometimes, a company in Germany will invite an employee to a meeting to discuss about his health, if the employee has a long term sickness or taking frequent sick leave. The aim of the meeting is to see if there is anything that the company can do to improve the health of the employee, e.g. by providing a less stressful work scope or work environment. The employee doesn’t need to join the meeting if he does not want to. However, not attending this meeting may affect his legal position in case he got laid off in the future due to his sickness.
Unpaid sick leave for family care in Germany (Pflegezeitgesetz)
Pflegezeitgesetz is the law on family care time. This allows the employees to take up to 10 working days of unpaid sick leave in Germany to take care of their close relatives in urgent cases. If your company has more than 15 employees, you are even allowed to take up to 6 months of unpaid sick leave for this purpose. You will need to inform your company at least 10 working days beforehand. You can use this time to take care of your family and your employer cannot fire you during this period.
I think this law is very good especially for us expats in Germany. For most of us, our close relatives like our parents are still in our home country. We do not have the chance to see them very often. And if something happens to them, it is good to know that we have the option to take some unpaid sick leave to take care of them or deal with any urgent situations.
This actually happened to my friend. She is from Hong Kong but she works in Germany just like me. Her mom was diagnosed with cancer in Hong Kong and the doctor expected that she could only have a few months more. In the end, my friend took a few months of unpaid sick leave to accompany her mom to treatments and spend time with her mom in her last months.
Sick leave for child care in Germany
I think Germany is a very family-friendly country. In case your kid is sick, you can also take up to 10 working days of sick leave for each child under 12 years old (with a maximum of 25 working days in a year). This is very helpful for expat parents like me as we do not have family nearby to support us in case our kid is sick. When a kid is sick, he may not be allowed to go to kindergarten or school. It means that someone will need to stay home and take care of the sick kid. It is a very difficult situation especially for families where both parents are working. With the help of the sick leave for child care, at least one parent can stay at home to take care of the kid until he is good again.
Note also that single parents can take up to 20 working days as sick leave for child care in Germany, with a maximum of 50 days per year.
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Do you know anyone taking long term sick leave in Germany? Leave a comment below and share your experience!