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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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WORKING IN GERMANY

7 tips for how to survive as a freelancer in Germany

Taking the decision to go it alone and freelance in Germany can be a daunting prospect. But, if you do it right, it can be an exciting and liberating path. Here are some of our top tips on how to survive.

7 tips for how to survive as a freelancer in Germany

1. Get a tax advisor

The German tax system is complicated, even for Germans. All the associated paperwork uses the Amtsprache (authority language) which is more like legalese than ‘normal’ German, and mistakes when filling out tax forms can cause you, at best, a massive headache and, at worst, a costly fine. So it’s best that you employ someone who knows what they’re doing to help you out.

That person is called a Steuerberater (tax advisor) in Germany. They will help you register with the tax office, correspond with them and submit your tax declarations.

Be aware that, in Germany, different deadlines apply for tax returns depending on whether you employ an official tax advisor or not. If you are doing the tax return on your own, the deadline for submitting your annual tax return is earlier than if you use a tax advisor’s services. 

READ ALSO: What NOT to do when you’re freelancing in Germany

When looking for a tax advisor, a top tip is to use your network to get recommendations. Ideally, you want someone who will do more than just fill in the forms for you, but who will actually advise you on how best to manage your business finances so that you can make tax savings.

2. Keep your accounting in order

The better you keep your own accounts in order, the easier it will be for your tax advisor to compile your tax declarations and therefore the cheaper their services will be.

As a freelancer, there are a lot of costs you can deduct from your taxes – from train tickets, working materials, to meals out – so it’s best to keep hold of all your receipts and to keep them in good order.

2 euros and 50 cents lie on a receipt in a beer garden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

In Germany, you’re obliged to keep hold of receipts for two years, in case of a tax inspection, so it’s a good idea to photocopy the type of machine-printed receipts you get from restaurants so that they stay legible for a long time.

There are also a few things to be aware of when writing your own invoices. Firstly, make sure that you include your tax number. This isn’t the 11-digit Steueridentifikationsnummer that everyone gets when registering in Germany, but the 10-digit Steuernummer you get from the Finanzamt after registering yourself as a freelancer. 

Most companies won’t pay you if you don’t have this on your invoices so make sure you include it.

You should also make sure that you number your invoices properly – ideally in ascending order so that you can easily keep track of them. You are not allowed to issue two invoices with the same number and if you do so and the finance office notices, you could face an inspection of your whole accounting system.

There are numerous great accounting software programmes you can use to help you, such as Lexoffice and Sevdesk and, even if you have to pay for them, the costs will be tax deductible!

3. Find out if you’re eligible for financial support

In Germany, there are several opportunities for freelancers to gain financial support and to cut their outgoings, and its worth finding out if you’re eligible for them.

If you’re claiming unemployment benefits under ALG 1 and are thinking about becoming a freelancer, the employment office offers a special type of financial support to help you to get your freelance business off the ground.

Called the Grundungszuschuss (“foundation grant”) the payment is a six-month grant equalling your monthly entitlement under ALG 1 plus €300 towards your insurance costs can be applied for those in receipt of this unemployment benefit.

READ ALSO: Will freelancers benefit from Germany’s €300 energy allowance?

If you are engaged in some form of artistic profession in Germany – which can include journalism to pottery – you may be entitled to membership to the Kunstlersozialkasse (artists’ social insurance).

Being a member of the KSK means you only have to pay half of your health insurance and pension contributions, and the KSK will pay the rest.

4. Work out how much you think you will earn

As with starting any business, you need to have some idea of your expected earnings from the outset.

If you’re just starting out as a freelancer, or have some freelance gigs on the side of an employment position, then it might be worth considering registering yourself as a Kleinunternehmer (“small business”).

As a Kleinunternehmer, you can currently earn up to €22.000 per year without having to charge VAT and having to submit only yearly tax declarations. 

An income tax declaration form lies on a table. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Hans-Jürgen Wiedl

Be aware that if you are registered as this kind of freelancer, you must include the following sentence in your invoices: ‘Gemäß § 19 UStG wird keine Umsatzsteuer berechnet’ which means ‘In accordance with Paragrah19 of the German VAT law, no VAT has been added to this invoice.’

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about your German tax return in 2022

If you think you will earn more than €22.000 per year, you will need to pay Umsatzsteuer (VAT) and will have to submit tax declarations in advance and more often. Depending on how much you earn, this could be every month or every quarter. 

5. Get your insurance in order

In Germany, it’s a legal requirement to have health insurance.

If you’ve just made the move from employment to being a freelancer and want to keep the same health insurer, you should get in contact with your health insurance provider straight away to tell them about your change of circumstances. They will ask you to re-register and to tell them your projected freelance earnings for the year, so they can amend your monthly fees.

If you don’t keep your health insurer provider updated, you could continue to be charged the higher rate that you had from your previous salary.

The insurance cards of the health insurance companies DAK, AOK, Barmer and Techniker-Krankenkasse TK lie with euro notes under a stethoscope. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Daniel Karmann

It’s not just health insurance you need to think about as a freelancer. It’s also wise to think about protecting yourself from any sort of claims that could arise as a result of any working mishaps. 

If, for example, you lose your laptop which contains confidential client information, you need to be protected against claims.

That’s why it’s good to have both Betriebshaftversicherung (business liability insurance) and Rechtschutzversicherung (legal protection insurance).

6. Plan your time wisely

All of these bureaucratic obligations take time. So it’s really important that you take account of that when planning your time. For example, planning half a day a week to deal with your invoices, filing, emails to clients, and conversations with authorities can be really beneficial when scheduling your working time. 

7. Grow your network

As a freelancer, networking is absolutely crucial to success. 

Keep an up-to-date profile on websites like LinkedIn and German equivalent XING and keep in contact with anyone you’ve ever worked with, no matter how brief the contact was. 

Having a network is not only about getting more clients, but also about building a support network in your field to exchange advice, tips and generally for your own enrichment. 

Participating in workshops related to your field, going to seminars, and meet-ups, can be great ways of broadening your network. 

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