Germany scraps law allowing workers to get sick notes over the phone

From Friday, people will no longer be able to get sick notes over the phone in Germany as a rule brought in during the pandemic comes to an end.

Pictured is a person with the flu.
A record number of workers called in sick in Germany in 2022. Photo by Brittany Colette on Unsplash

The special regulation allowing employees to obtain proof of illness over the telephone expired at the end of March.

The concession was originally introduced by the federal committee of doctors, clinics and health insurance companies to prevent the spread of infection at the height of the Covid pandemic. It has been in place for three years. 

The chairman of the committee, Josef Hecken, told DPA that sick leave by telephone had fulfilled its function during the pandemic as an “easy-to-implement way to distinguish between mild and severe cases of illness and to avoid full waiting rooms”.

However, with the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) currently considering Covid ‘low risk’, the regulation will be allowed to expire on March 31st. 

Nevertheless, Hecken said the rule can be re-introduced at any point in the future at short notice if required.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

Sick notes by video call

Despite the end of sick notes by phone, there will still be a solution for those who would prefer to steer clear of the waiting room when they aren’t feeling their best.

People with insurance will be allowed to apply for a sick note via video call – provided their GP offers this service and they don’t need a physical examination.

Patients who are looking for an online consultation also have the option to search for video appointments using portals such as Doctolib and Jameda. 

“Quite independently of the pandemic situation, insured persons can also obtain a sick note during a video consultation – not only for minor respiratory diseases,” explained Hecken.

Under German law, people who are off sick from work need to submit a doctor’s note to their company by the fourth day of illness at the latest.

GPs assess the level of illness and how much time the employee should take off from work and this information is then forwarded onto their employers – usually by their public health insurer.  

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


sick note – (die) Krankschreibung

calling in sick – (die) Krankmeldung  

video appointment – (die) Videosprechstunde 

waiting rooms – (die) Wartezimmer

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Do German employees with Covid-19 and no symptoms still have to go to work?

The Covid-19 pandemic may be officially over but the number of reported cases is going up around Germany. If an employee tests positive, but has no symptoms, do they still need to show up at work?

Do German employees with Covid-19 and no symptoms still have to go to work?

During the bulk of the Covid-19 pandemic, anyone with the virus was required to stay home for a certain period of time, whether they showed symptoms or not.

Now the pandemic may officially be over, but “Covid-19 is still with us,” as Germany’s health minister Karl Lauterbach said last week upon announcing the availability of the newest booster vaccine

There are currently three Covid-19 variants circulating around Germany, with the reported number of cases going up.

READ ALSO: Could there be a new wave of Covid-19 in Germany this autumn?

Workers around Germany may get tested – be it because a close contact had the virus or out of curiosity – and find they also have Covid-19, but are completely free of symptoms.

Does this mean they still need to show up at their workplace, if working from home isn’t possible, or should they stay home until they have officially recovered?

Employee must indicate infection

If a person infected with Covid exhibits typical signs of the virus such as a coughing, a cold or a fever, the case is usually crystal clear: they can and should rest at home, as with any sickness. 

In accordance with German law, they’ll need to get a sick note from their GP if those symptoms last for longer than three days. 

However, positive test alone “does not automatically make you unfit for work,” lawyer Alexander Bredereck told Germany’s RND editorial network. “And if you are not on sick leave, you actually have to work. Therefore, the employee is in a difficult situation here.”

He continued: “If the employee simply stays at home without a sick note, in the worst case he can risk a warning or even dismissal for not showing up for work.”

However, if someone goes to work despite the positive test result, they may endanger their colleagues – as they can become more severely infected. 

Furthermore under German labour law, the employee is usually obliged to inform their employer of the Covid-19 infection.

READ ALSO: How sick leave pay in Germany compares to other countries in Europe

Uncertain legal situation

“At the moment, there are no legal requirements that employees and employers have to adhere to,” says Bredereck. 

In February 2023 Germany’s ‘Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance’ on Covid-19 – which would have required those with an infection to stay home at least five days – came to an end.

Since then, Germany’s Ministry of Labour has simply recommended that each employer implement their own hygienic requirements to protect their employees from Covid and other infectious diseases such as the flu, which is soon expected to see a spike in cases as the autumn/winter season takes hold. 

If there is a high incidence of infection in one particular region, the Ministry of Labour recommends that, in addition to the usual hygiene measures, social distancing measures should be implemented again and people should reduce their contacts. 

This suggests that workers should not endanger other workers in this situation.

Stay transparent

To solve the dilemma and avoid conflicts, Bredereck recommended that employees simply stay transparent with their management.

“Don’t take any unnecessary risks or get into trouble with your boss,” he said. “Ask your employer what you should do.”

Alternatively, the employee could also turn to their GP for a sick note, which for regular patients is also available via phone in some cases. 

“Then the doctor has to decide what makes sense, and the employee is on the safe side,” explained Bredereck.