New sick leave rules get Swedes back to work

Swedes spent less time on long-term sick leave and more returned to work as a result of new sick leave rules introduced in 2008, according to a new report.

New sick leave rules get Swedes back to work

In rural areas, however, the number of people who headed back to work failed to increase, the Swedish Social Insurance Inspectorate (Inspektionen för socialförsäkringen – ISF), reported on Wednesday.

“We see clear signs that more are returning to work due to the time limits. One can say that the time limits mean that those who can return to work do so,” said ISF researcher Pathric Hägglund to the TT news agency.

The ISF, which came into being in July 2009, is charged with carrying out independent reviews of how Sweden’s social insurance system is administered.

It was created in part to examine the results of sweeping changes to Sweden’s sick leave rules which went into force in July 2008 on the initiative of the centre-right Alliance government.

According to the tougher rules, people on long-term sick leave undergo an examination after three months to determine whether they can return to their old workplace, either in their former role or in some other role.

After six months, they undergo another examination to determine their capacity to find any job in the labour market.

In addition, the length of time a person can receive sickness benefits amounting to about 80 percent of earnings is limited to 364 days during a 450-day period.

In some cases, people are then allowed to receive extended sick benefits, which are capped at 75 percent of earnings, for an additional 550 days. People with illnesses deemed to be serious or chronic, however, can continue to receive full benefits for an unlimited amount of time.

In ISF’s report, Hägglund looked into what happened when people receiving benefits underwent their six-month review.

According to the study, about 60 percent more people receiving sickness benefits returned to work after six months after the new rules went into force.

The study also revealed, however, that most of the people who returned to work lived in large cities. Among residents in rural areas there was no marked increase in the number of people returning to work.

“In an average rural municipality there was no effect. That can have to do with the fact that the job market is a little worse in rural areas. It can also have to do with norms,” said Hägglund.

Effects of the new rules were also larger among older workers than younger workers, which Hägglund believes may have to do with the fact that older workers are better rooted in the job market.

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How parents in Germany can take paid time off to care for their children during lockdown

The coronavirus crisis has put a particular burden on working parents. For those struggling to care for their children while working, there are a few paid options for time off.

How parents in Germany can take paid time off to care for their children during lockdown
A mother works from home with her two young children. Photo: DPA

On Tuesday Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany's 16 state premiers decided to extend the country's partial lockdown until at least the end of January. It would see the continued closure of daycare centres (Kitas) and schools, even though some states have looked for wiggle room to keep schools partially open.

The extension has put a particular burden on many working parents who are seeking to care for their children who are out of the classroom all days. For parents unable to meet their work duties while taking care of their kids, Germany offers a few options to take paid leave, both short and longer term.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: These are Germany's new tougher lockdown rules

Here's what you need to know.

More sick days are now allowed

The federal and state governments agreed on Tuesday to double the number of sick days for children (Kinderkrankentagegeld) this year. 

Accordingly, each parent will be allowed to take 20 sick days for the child this year, instead of 10. Single parents will get 40 sick days instead of the usual 20.

READ ALSO: What working parents in Germany need to know if their child is sick

The regulation is explicitly intended not only for when children are sick, but also for when they need to be cared for at home because school or daycare centres are closed or have limited hours of operation.

The number of sick days for children had already been increased last year. Children's sick pay is paid by the statutory health insurance if parents cannot go to work because of caring for a sick child. It amounts to 90 percent of net earnings.

Longer term leave

In addition to the newly decided sick leave, parents also have the option of taking ‘Corona-Sonderurlaub,’ a measure which was already in place last year. 

Coronavirus special leave is intended for parents whose children are up to twelve years old or have a disability, and who have no other reasonable care option for their children.

This means that if one partner is at home anyway, the other partner is not entitled to the special leave. It also becomes difficult if the employer offers the possibility to work remotely or in a 'Home Office' – then it is initially assumed that childcare and work are possible in parallel.

A mother cooking with her child at home. Photo: DPA

However, quite a few employers are willing to compromise, especially if a parent is caring for multiple or very young children, and it is worth asking about their own arrangements in the company.

The website of the Federal Ministry of Health states: “Employed persons must make use of an offered and reasonable possibility of location-flexible working (e.g. Home Office) and look after their children themselves.”

Yet it also recognises that parents cannot always determine the location or set-up of their work. “The state respects entrepreneurial freedom; it is not its business to determine workplace organisation,” stated the website.

How long is special leave available and how is it paid?

Each parent can claim special leave for 10 weeks if there is no other reasonable care option. For single parents this can extend to 20 weeks. The leave does not to be taken all at once.

READ ALSO: Parents in Germany to get up to 20 weeks pay to cover costs of caring for kids

However, during this time period, parents can expect to receive only a third of their normal salary: the compensation payment is only 67 percent of the net salary and is capped at a maximum of €2,016 per month. So there can be large losses for those who are higher earners.

The employer pays out the money and later gets reimbursed from the relevant authorities. He or she can also apply there for an advance on these payments.

Do I have to use up regular annual leave first?

Many employees are starting off 2021 with a fresh number of vacation days. Does that mean they need to use them up for parental leave?

In short: no.

The Ministry of Health says that employers cannot order employees to use up their new leave right at the beginning of the year due to Germany's shutdown.

However, the Ministry says it is reasonable to first use up old leave from 2020 – if available – before taking special leave.

“There is nothing explicit about this in the law itself,” says Jens Niehl, a specialist lawyer for labor law in Düsseldorf, told Spiegel Online. 

“The requirement is simply: there is no other reasonable care option available. Such a possibility could, of course, be the employee's own leave – it's a matter of interpretation whether and to what extent that is reasonable.”

However, companies are allowed to order Betriebsurlaub (company holidays), meaning that the whole company halts its operations, usually for a period of two weeks, and employees are ordered to take vacation time.