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Calling in sick for work? We’ve all been there. Find out how to properly do it

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Calling in sick for work is allowed in Germany! Just do it properly

Calling in sick for work when you are sick is important. Especially in these COVID times. Those who are not fit enough for work have to stay at home. In 2020, employees in Germany were on sick leave for an average of 11.2 working days. But when do you have to see a doctor? Do you have to stay in bed while you are sick? And how are you financially secure if you cannot work?

Calling in sick the right way

  • If you are sick as an employee, you cannot work and stay at home. Your employer must continue to pay you your salary in full for up to six weeks. This is called continued payment in the event of illness.
  • After that, the health insurance company will step in. It pays you sick pay if you are legally insured, but only 70 percent of your gross wage.

This is how you do it

  • Report to the HR department or your supervisor as soon as possible – preferably first thing in the morning that you are sick and how long it will probably take.
  • Make sure in the employment or collective agreement from when you have to submit a medical certificate and then go to the doctor in good time.
  • As a legally insured person, you send the certificate of incapacity to work to your employer and to your health insurance company.

What happens if you get sick as an employee?

calling in sick

With the employment contract you have committed to work for your employer. The principle applies: without work, there is no wage. It is different when you are sick. Then nobody will ask you to appear at work – but you will still get a salary. A social achievement that is regulated in the Continued Payment Act. But there are a few rules of the game that you have to observe.

You must inform your employer about your absence and the expected duration immediately, i.e., as soon as possible. This is either in your employment contract, in the collective agreement relevant to you and also in the law (Section 5 (1) EntgFG). The best way to call in sick should be clarified with your boss. Calling at the beginning of the working day is the fastest and most common way. If you send your sick note by email, you will have proof that you notified the company in good time. It is also possible that a third party informs the employer – for example someone from the family or your partner.

You do not have to explain what exactly you suffer from. Something different can result from your employment contract if you have to do with particular risks of infection at work: work in health care, in nursing, pharmaceutical production, gastronomy or in childcare.

If the illness occurred as a result of operational processes, you must point this out in order to protect the rest of the workforce. There is always an obligation to notify the employer if there is a risk of infection for colleagues. This is also the case with Covid 19 disease. For example, if you were in the home office during the illness and therefore had no contact with other employees, you do not have to report the type of illness to the employer. You can find more on this topic in the Corona and Labor Law guide.

When do you have to present a medical certificate to your employer?

calling in sick

From when you have to submit a medical certificate depends on your employment contract. If it does not regulate anything about reporting sickness, the law applies: If you cannot work for more than three calendar days, you must submit a certificate on the following working day – i.e., usually on the fourth day of the illness (Section 5 (1) EntgFG).

If you are sick on Monday morning, you have to present the medical certificate on Thursday; if you’ve been sick since Thursday, the fourth day would be Sunday. If you normally do not work on Sunday, then according to the law it is sufficient to present the medical certificate on Monday, because then the next working day is decisive (Section 5 (1) sentence 2 EntgFG).

In the case of brief illnesses, you therefore generally do not need to see a doctor. However, your employer can also ask you to submit a medical certificate earlier. He can make this dependent on the individual case or already write it in the contract. Not think you remember the agreement, your employer must salary for the period of sickness do not pay (§ 7 EntFG), you can admonish and even terminate in certain circumstances.

To be on the safe side, you should therefore check your contract to see when you need to submit a medical certificate.

Who do you have to send the medical certificate to?

calling in sick

The certificate of incapacity for work (Ar­beits­un­fä­hig­keits­be­schei­ni­gung – AU), often also called the “yellow certificate” or sick leave, is issued to you by a general practitioner, specialist or dentist. He uses the model of the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians. A doctor may only give you the certificate if he has examined you personally. To do this, you usually have to go to practice. A telephone diagnosis was only sufficient in Corona times. A sick note after a video consultation is also possible if your doctor offers this. Then he can declare you unable to work for a maximum of seven days.

You present the certificate to the personnel department of your employer. You will pick it up no later than the day you have to present it. Obtaining a certificate retrospectively is difficult because the doctor has to infer your health in the past. The doctor should write you a sick note for a maximum of three days in the past, according to the guidelines of the statutory health insurance funds (Section 5 (3) AU-RL).

Legally insured persons receive the certificate as a “yellow certificate” in three copies:

  • One is for the health insurance company; In addition to the probable duration of the illness, it contains the diagnosis. You must present this copy of the certificate of incapacity to work to the health insurance company within one week. This is how you secure your entitlement to sick pay (Section 49 (1) No. 5 SGB V).
  • The second bears the note “Copy to be presented to the employer”. Your employer’s HR department will receive this certificate. No diagnosis is noted on it.
  • You keep the last copy for your records.

Even privately insured persons must submit a certificate to their employer. Many doctors also use the form here. However, this is not mandatory, a certificate from the doctor would be sufficient. If the sick leave is irrelevant for the entitlement to daily sickness allowance, privately insured persons do not have to inform their insurance company at all. Nevertheless, privately insured persons, especially freelancers, are well advised to have their incapacity for work certified by a doctor as early as possible – in the event that the illness lasts for a longer period of time and thus a claim to daily sickness allowance arises.

An example:

The doctor will initially write you sick for a week, but according to the health insurance contract, you are only entitled to daily sickness benefits from the eleventh day of sickness – then you do not have to submit this first medical certificate immediately, but instead, if necessary, together with the follow-up sick note.

There is no maximum length of sick leave. Doctors usually write you sick for a week or two. If you are still not healthy after that, you can take another sick leave. To do this, you have to go to the doctor again before the end of the first sick leave. You must send the new certificate of incapacity for work (follow-up certificate) to your employer and the health insurance company.

From October 1, 2021, the sickness notification should work digitally

Statutory insurance should actually no longer have to send the certificate of incapacity to work to the health insurance company from January 1, 2021. Doctors should do this with an electronic procedure. However, the technology required for this is not yet available for all practices and health insurance companies. The start of the electronic AU has therefore been postponed to October 1, 2021.

For you this means: there will be a little less work for you in the future when you are sick. However, the electronic procedure does not replace the doctor’s obligation to issue a medical certificate to the patient. You then have to send that to your employer. No comparable regulation is planned for private health insurance. It remains to be seen whether it will introduce a similar simplification for workers.

Definitely a certificate if you get sick while on vacation

If you get sick while on vacation, you can save your vacation days. To do this, you also have to present a medical certificate to your employer – from day one. You can read more about this in the guide sick on vacation.

What do you have to consider in the case of longer illnesses?

calling in sick

In the first six weeks in which employees are excused for illness, the employer continues to pay the salary (continued payment of wages). If you have statutory health insurance, you can receive sick pay after the six weeks. However, this is less than your salary, usually 70 percent of your gross salary. We have put together for you how this is calculated and other tips about health insurance benefits in the sickness benefit guide.

As a privately insured person, you may be entitled to daily sickness allowance if you have also insured it.

What can you do while on sick leave?

You can do anything that does not adversely affect the healing process. Shopping, walking and going to the cinema are allowed. However, it is strictly forbidden to pursue other paid sideline activities. For this, there can be a warning and, in the event of repetition, even termination.

You can also travel. In the case of bronchitis and asthma, a trip to the sea can even be beneficial. In principle, you do not have to inform your boss or the health insurance company about this. To avoid possible trouble, you should ask your doctor to be on the safe side and have him approve the trip for you. An exception is a stay abroad while you are receiving sick pay – here you need the consent of the health insurance fund in order to continue to receive the money.

Work is possible despite sick leave. Your health insurance certificate is not a “work ban”, but a kind of prognosis for the duration of the illness. Basically, you decide for yourself whether you are able to work. However, your employer can send you home to fulfill their duty of care towards you and your colleagues.


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Michelle Halterman
USA, China, South Africa and now Munich - Michelle has come a long way in the world. She is an outdoor person and loves to be in nature with friends and on her mountain bike. Or she meets up with friends for pasta, vino, cappaccino & Co.
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