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German government set to introduce permanent ‘right to work from home’

Germany's Labour Minister Hubertus Heil wants to bring in a ‘right to work from home’ law, which will apply long after the country’s coronavirus lockdown has ended.

German government set to introduce permanent 'right to work from home'
Archive photo shows a woman working from home in Baden-Württemberg. Photo: DPA

Around 25 percent of Germans have been working from home during the lockdown, an increase from 12 percent before the strict measures to contain the spread of Covid-19 were put into place.

Now Heil wants to introduce a permanent right that would allow German employees to decide whether they'd like to work from home for part of the week, or full-time, if their job allows them to do so.

“I am working on a new law for a right to work from home, which I will present by autumn,” he said.  

“Anyone who wants to, and whose workplace allows it, should be able to work from home – even when the corona pandemic is over.

“You can either switch to working from home entirely, or you can decide to do so once or twice per week.”

Under the plan, workers who would prefer to continue to work from the office would be allowed to do so.

“We want to enable more working from home – but not to force them to do so,” he said.

In an interview with German daily Bild Am Sonntag, Heil said that the right to work from home has come about as a response to seeing how successfully it had operated during the coronavirus lockdown. 

Germany’s Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz also said the current times were likely to be a turning point for many.

“The past few weeks have shown how much is possible when working from home – this is a real achievement that we should not forget about,” he said.

Heil said the law would however include protections to ensure that working from home “doesn’t eat into the private sphere”. ‘Home office’ must have a closing time, Heil said, “and not at 10pm”.

READ ALSO: How freelancers and small businesses can apply for coronavirus payments in Germany

More support for parents

Heil also announced that he would extend continued payment of wages to parents who are unable to work during the coronavirus crisis due to a lack of childcare.

The government is paying 67 percent of wages, up to a maximum of €2,016 for an initial period of six weeks, if parents have to stay home to look after their children under the age of 12 due to school and nursery closures.

However, Heil said this would be extended beyond six weeks.

“Parents must have security – that is why we are creating a follow-up regulation,” Heil said. The current scheme expires in mid-May.

Unlike schools, there is as yet no concrete plan for a gradual opening of Kitas and care for younger children.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus in Germany: Who will receive financial help and how much?

Vocabulary

Right to work from home – (das) Recht auf Arbeiten von zu Hause

In Germany 'working from home' is also known as (das) Homeoffice

Law – (das) Gesetz

Closing time/end of the working day – (der) Feierabend

Continued payment of wages – (die) Lohnfortzahlung

We're aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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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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