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WORKING IN GERMANY

Working in Germany: The 10 rules you need to know if you fall ill

It’s the time of year when many of us are coming down with the flu - not to mention the dreaded Covid. If you fall ill, you’ll be happy to know that the German attitude to sickness isn’t to “man up” and fight through it. If you know these laws you’ll be okay.

A sick person lies on a sofa.
Know what to do when you're too sick to work in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

Inform your employer before you go to the doctor

Many people make the mistake of going to their doctor and only later informing their employer. Don’t make this mistake as it has led to the odd legal dispute between a company and a sacked employee.

Legally, you need to have informed your employer that you’re sick before the start of the work day – otherwise you are contravening the terms of your contract. If you don’t do it, your boss has the right to give you an Abmahnung (an official warning). If you do it a second time, your employer then has the right to terminate your contract.

Remember, if you don’t feel like being interrogated by your boss over the phone, you don’t have to. An email or a fax are both legally recognized as methods of communicating your sickness.

“There have recently been legal cases where an employee informed their employer via Whatsapp and the court found that to be okay since the company used Whatsapp for communicating,” Benjamin Pfaffenberger, a labour law specialist at Winheller Attorneys tells The Local.

If your company communicates using Slack or other online messaging services, this should also be okay.

Know the difference between a Krankmeldung and Krankschreibung

While you need to tell your employer that you are sick before the start of the day, you only actually need to provide proof in the form of a doctor’s note on the fourth day.

To use the German jargon, you need to give your boss a Krankmeldung (notification of sickness) before the start of work on the first day. But you only need to hand in a Krankschreibung (doctor’s note) on the fourth day (unless it’s written in your contract to submit it earlier). 

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Be aware that you have to hand in your Krankschreibung, also known as a “gelbe Schein”, on the fourth calendar day after first calling in sick. So if you stay away from work on a Friday, you will have to provide your boss with a doctor’s note on the Monday, if you still don’t feel up to heading into the office.

Photo: DPA

Your boss has the right to know

It is also important to note that, all of the above only applies if your boss is of a trusting nature. Ever since 2012 your employer has been given the right to request a sick note even on the first day that you don’t come into work. The Federal Labour Court decided in that year that a suspicious boss can demand this immediate proof of illness.

Pfaffenberger advises that one should always go to the doctor on the first day, just in case your boss follows up.

“Even for a cold the doctor will typically write you off work for a four day period or so, so you don’t need to keep going back every day,” he says, adding that the doctor will write a fixed date on the note by which you have to come back in for a reassessment.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

The Entgeltfortzahlung

This mouthful of a German word is the legal term for your right to payment when you are ill. You are entitled to Entgeltfortzahlung (continued payment) for a minimum of six weeks.

“Some employers will grant you more time than this. Three months is typical,” says Pfaffenberger. “If your entitlement is only the legal minimum there will be no mention of it in your work contract, but if you have a longer period this will be stated in the contract.”

You have a right to this payment even if you are just a part-time worker or a doing a mini job. The only condition is that you have already been in the job for at least four weeks.

Receiving Krankengeld

If you are sick for longer than six weeks your health insurance company will start paying you Krankengeld (sick money). This money will be 70 percent of your salary and you have a right to it for 78 weeks. To get it though, your doctor has to declare you unfit to work.

Depression and burnout are common reasons for people to need this extended time off the job, Pfaffenberger explains.

READ ALSO: Five things to know about Germany’s new workplace Covid rules

Knowing your limits

Being off work sick doesn’t mean that you are bound to your bed. It just means that you can’t do things that risk aggravating the illness. So if you are suffering from burnout or depression your doctor might advise you to get out. On the other hand if you have a flu, it is probably advisable to stay indoors.

Labour law specialists recommend getting a letter of permission from your doctor for any planned activity. At the same time, if your boss spots you in a cafe when you have the flu, it will be bad for relationships of trust in the office, labour law specialist Dr. Nicolai Besgen told business-on.

Saving your holiday

If you already have a holiday booked and then fall ill, don’t worry. You will get the holiday back as long as you report to your employer that you are sick. Again the same principle applies, by the third day you need to hand in a doctor’s note.

Photo: DPA

Getting the sack

If an employee keeps calling in sick, their boss does have the right to sack them – but the legal requirements for doing so are very high.

“It is very difficult for an employer to sack someone who is longer-term sick,” says Pfaffenberger. “They need to wait 24 months and then assess whether the person is able to come back to work.”

According to Der Westen, your company can cancel your contract if it believes that there is no realistic chance of you taking up your job again once you have recovered. So a construction company for instance could cancel the contract of an employee who has been crippled by an accident.

Acting quickly

It does occasionally happen that a company will sack an employee for calling off work once too often. If this happens to you and you feel you have been treated wrongly, you have to act quickly.

“You need to file a claim with the regional labour court within three weeks of receiving the notification of termination of contract,” Pfaffenberger says. “After three weeks the contract termination becomes legally effective and it cannot be changed.

But lodging the complaint is certainly worthwhile.

You will have to undergo a medical examination which will be provided as evidence in the court, but “the burden of proof is on the employer. I know of very few cases in which the employer has won in court,” explains Pfaffenberger.

If the dismissal isn’t overturned altogether, you are likely to walk away with compensation.

Pulling a sickie

It is highly inadvisable to fake an illness in Germany. If your employer finds out, they have the right to sack you with immediate effect.

But you even risk losing your job if you are too tardy in handing in a sick note. A teacher in Rostock lost her job after getting a doctor to retroactively write her off work five days after she should have handed in her Krankschreibung. The state court in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania agreed with the firing, ruling that a sick note can be written only up to two days too late, and then only if there are mitigating circumstances.

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For members

EDUCATION

What foreign parents in Germany need to know about Sprach-Kitas

Germany has a number of specialised nursery schools that focus primarily on helping children with their German language skills. Here's what foreigners need to know about them.

What foreign parents in Germany need to know about Sprach-Kitas

What even is a Sprach-Kita? 

A “Sprach-Kita”, or Language Kindergarten, is a special type of nursery school that’s been around in Germany since 2016 under the government’s Sprach-Kita Programme. The main aim is to help young children build up their German language skills to a level that will allow them to succeed at school. 

How is this different to a normal Kita or daycare centre?

Unlike most Kindergartens in Germany, Sprach-Kitas employ staff who are specifically trained in language teaching and acquisition. These specialists are paid for through Sprach-Kita Programme funding and help to shape the environment of the nursery school, making it easier for children to develop their German skills in an everyday setting.

The schools also have access to external support and advice on catering to children with language setbacks, and may work closely with parents to encourage further language development at home. 

Since the scheme was set up in 2016, around 7,000 nursery schools have successfully applied for “Sprach-Kita” status and received at least €25,000 funding through the programme. These were mostly Kitas that had already taken in a higher-than-average number of children from foreign backgrounds, such as those in popular migrant or expat areas.

Sprach-Kitas will generally be much more diverse and focus most heavily on children’s language skills, in addition to teaching young kids about cultural inclusivity.  

READ ALSO: ‘Multilingualism is an enrichment, not a deficit’: Raising bilingual kids in Germany

Who are Sprach-Kitas for?

Any young child in Germany is allowed to go to a Sprach-Kita, but the main target audience for these specialised nurseries are the children of foreign parents.

In households where German isn’t the main language spoken, children may struggle to keep up with their classmates at school due to their lower level of German fluency. That could be because the child has two international parents – such as a French mum and an English dad – or because the child has more contact with a parent who doesn’t speak German. 

According to recent statistics, around one in five nursery-age children in Germany doesn’t speak German with their parents at home. That equates to 675,000 children in total. In addition, around 40 percent of nursery school children come from a migrant background. 

Through the Sprach-Kita Programme, government is hoping to help these children integrate at an early age to set them up fully for life in Germany. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The rise in multilingual children in Germany

Do I have to pay for a Sprach-Kita? 

Parents usually have to pay a monthly fee for their child to attend a German nursery school – and the same applies to Sprach-Kitas. The fee structure is generally set by the local government, meaning it can vary widely across different regions of the country.

However, you won’t pay any more (or less) for a Sprach-Kita than you would for an ordinary nursery school. 

Where can I find a Sprach-Kita?

Around one in eight Kindergartens in Germany is currently a Sprach-Kita, meaning they aren’t particularly hard to find.

To look for one near you, the best thing to do is to hop onto the government website and look on this interactive map detailing all of the Sprach-Kitas in Germany. 

Children ride tricycles at a German kindergarten.

Children ride tricycles at a German kindergarten. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/mauritius images / Westend61 / M | Westend61 / Mareen Fischinger

However, partly due to staffing shortages, Kita places in Germany are highly competitive right now – so securing a place may involve getting in touch with a number of them at an early date. 

READ ALSO: How can Germany improve its Kitas amid teacher shortage?

Is there anything else I need to know?

Currently, the funding for the Sprach-Kita Programme is due to end at the end of 2022 – and it’s unclear what the fate of the existing language-focused nursery schools will be after this happens.

Though the three parties of the traffic-light coalition had pledged to extend the scheme in their coalition contract, it appears that the programme was one of the first victims of savage negotiations over next year’s budget.

That means the federal government are now hoping to transfer the responsibility for funding the language support over to the 16 states.  

“Responsibility in the area of daycare for children lies with the states and cannot be permanently financed by federal funding programmes,” a spokeswoman for the Family Ministry told Welt. 

The Ministry for Families has also pledged to make language acquisition a cornerstone of its forthcoming Good Childcare Act, which will see at least €2 billion in federal funding made available for nurseries in 2023 and 2024. 

That could make it possible for existing Sprach-Kitas to remain in place as specialised centres for language support. 

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