Coronavirus: Doctors in Germany can now grant sick leave by phone

Doctors in Germany are now able to grant sick leave over the phone to some patients – rather than in person – in a bid to relieve the burden on health workers as coronavirus cases increase.

Coronavirus: Doctors in Germany can now grant sick leave by phone
An 'Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung', or sick note, which until now the employee submits directly to their employer after receiving it from a doctor. Photo: DPA

For the next four weeks, patients with mild respiratory tract infections, such as a common cold, will no longer have to visit the doctor for a sick note (known as an AU-Bescheinigung or Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung in German).

They can call their doctor and be granted up to seven days of sick leave after a telephone consultation.

Usually employees in Germany who become ill are required to visit the doctor in person and then submit a sick notification on paper directly to their employer.

READ ALSO: Follow the latest on the coronavirus situation in Germany here

Under current German law (Entgeltfortzahlungsgesetz, or the Continued Renumeration Act), an employee can stay home sick for up to three days without having to contact a doctor or presenting a note to their employer.

Health insurance organisations and doctors came to the agreement in a bid to ease the pressure on health workers in view of the spread of coronavirus in Germany.

“We are in an extraordinary situation – and this also requires extraordinary measures”, said the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (KBV) and the Central Association of Statutory Health Insurance Companies (GKV-Spitzenverband) in a report in German daily Welt on Tuesday.

In response to an enquiry by Welt, the KBV said that in view of the current packed-out waiting rooms due to the coronavirus outbreak and the flu season, they were “interested in relieving the burden on the practices where possible”.

The new measures, which kicked on Monday March 10th, are initially only in place for four weeks.

However, it would still be up to the doctor to decide whether he or she wanted to see the patient personally – “for example, because the symptoms described indicate a more serious illness”.

There is a different protocol in place for those suspected of having coronavirus (COVID-19).

If someone is suspected of having the virus, sick leave can also be granted, and patients would likely be asked to self-isolate or given medical treatment.

According to the Robert Koch Institute, people who show respiratory symptoms or other general symptoms such as a high temperature or cough after being in touch with a confirmed coronavirus patient are suspected of having COVID-19.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus: How, where and when to get tested or self-quarantine in Germany

People with these symptoms who have recently returned from a high-risk area or have been in contact with someone who's been in a high-risk area are also suspected cases.

Anyone with concerns or if they suspect they have the virus is urged to call the national hotline on 116 117 or their doctor to be advised on the next steps. Some states have also set up their own coronavirus advice lines.

READ ALSO: The 10 rules you need to know if you get sick in Germany


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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.