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WORKING IN GERMANY

German Labour Minister wants to allow more remote working after pandemic

Employees in Germany should be able to choose to work from home if possible even after the pandemic has ended, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) said on Wednesday.

Working from home
A woman works from home in Wittenberge, Brandenburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

“I am in favour of learning fundamental lessons for the world of work from the Covid-induced large-scale experiment on working from home,” Heil said. 

With the pandemic forcing employers to allow more flexibility, the incumbent Labour Minister said he saw an opportunity to create “modern rules for mobile working in Germany” and enshrine the right to work from home in German law.

“A modern regulatory framework for mobile working is coming,” he promised. 

During the previous legislative period under the CDU/CSU-led Grand Coalition, Heil came out in favour of allowing employees to work from home for a minimum of 24 days per year.

But with the backing of the SPD’s new coalition partners – the Greens and FDP – it seems new legislation will go further to allow employees to choose where they work at any time. 

According to the Labour Minister, the new proposals stipulate that employers must allow their employees to work from home in future – unless remote working is impossible for logistical reasons. 

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“If employers refuse, there must be operational reasons against it – for example, because you work at the blast furnace in the steelworks and of course you can’t work from home,” Heil explained.

“But if the employer can’t give any operational reasons, then the legal right to be able to use home office applies. This gives many people the opportunity to work from home even after the pandemic and make family and work more compatible.”

For many people, remote working is a “new freedom”, Heil said. 

According to the SPD politician, the new legislation will also allow for more flexible arrangements where employees work from home occasionally but also have access to the office. 

Culture shift

With the onset of the Covid pandemic in spring 2020, the culture around remote working Germany has undergone major changes. 

Many employers who were previously unwilling to allow flexible working have been obliged since November to offer their employees the opportunity to work from home if there are no compelling reasons not to. 

While the shift has been a welcome one for many former commuters, the Labour Minister also pointed out what he described as “the downsides of home office”, which he said he would attempt to limit at all costs.

Hubertus Heil (SPD)

Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) speaks in an interview with dpa in January. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Britta Pedersen

“Work must not make people ill,” he said. “Even in a home office, there has to be an end to the working day.”

The regulatory framework on which his party, the SPD, the Greens and the FDP have agreed takes this into account.

According to the latest data from the Munich-based Ifo Institute, 27.9 per cent of employees worked at home at least some of the time in December last year. In August, the rate was 23.8 per cent.

In March last year, the Ifo Institute estimated that around 56 percent of the German workforce would be able to carry out their work remotely. 

READ ALSO: Are too many workers in Germany going into the office amid pandemic?

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HEALTH

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

Due to high Covid infection numbers throughout the summer, it’s now possible to get a sick note from a doctor over the phone again for some illnesses. Here’s what you need to know.

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

What’s happened?

In spring 2020, German authorities changed the law so that people with a mild upper respiratory tract illness, such as the common cold, were able to get an incapacity to work certificate or AU-Bescheinigung by simply calling and speaking to their GP.

The rule was extended several times and finally reversed on June 1st this year due to falling infection figures. Since then people have had to go back to the practice – or do a video call if the doctor’s office has that system in place – to get a sick note.

Now, due to a decision by the Joint Federal Committee, the regulation has been reintroduced and patients can call their GP again for a sick note.

Can I get a sick note over the phone for any illness?

No. As before, the regulation only applies to patients suffering from a mild upper respiratory tract illness. Though Covid has not explicitly been named in the announcement, it seems that it is intended to be covered by the regulation.

If the doctor is convinced that the patient is unfit for work after a telephone consultation, then they can issue a sick note for up to seven days.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The changes around doctor’s notes in Germany you should know

If the symptoms persist after seven days, the certificate can be extended once more for another week.

Why now?

According to the Chairman of the G-BA, Josef Hecken, the regulation has been introduced now as a response to rising Covid numbers and in anticipation of the cold and flu season in the coming months: “We want to avoid full waiting rooms in doctors’ offices and the emergence of new infection chains,” he said.

The telephone sick leave rule is a simple, proven and uniform nationwide solution for that, he said. The rule is also necessary because video consultation hours are not yet available everywhere.

What else should I know?

The health insurer DAK is calling for telephone sick leave in the case of light respiratory diseases to be made possible on a permanent basis in Germany. DAK’s CEO Andreas Storm said that this should “not always be up for debate, because it has proven itself.” 

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

The social association VdK also welcomed the reintroduction of the rule. The VdK’s President Verena Bentele said that the regulation would help to protect high-risk groups in particular from potential infections.

What are the rules to know about sick notes in Germany?

Germany has a strict system in place. If you are sick, you need to give your employer a Krankmeldung (notification of sickness) before the start of work on the first day (of your illness).

However, you also need to hand in a Krankschreibung (doctor’s note) on the fourth day of your illness. Some employments contracts, however, require you to submit a sick not earlier than the fourth day so check with your boss or HR on that point. 

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