Germany records small dip in unemployment at end of year

German unemployment held steady in December, official data showed Tuesday, as government measures that closed most shops over the Christmas period caused a jump in those on short-time work (Kurzarbeit).

Germany records small dip in unemployment at end of year
A woman walks past a closed store in Frankfurt. Photo: DPA

The seasonally adjusted jobless rate in Europe's top economy stood at 6.1 percent in December after three months of falls, according to the BA federal labour agency.

The figure marks a slight dip from November: Unemployment fell by 37,000 people, seasonally adjusted, to 2.7 million, although the figure is still nearly half a million higher than in December 2019.

Germany tightened virus restrictions last month, closing non-essential shops after already shuttering culture and leisure facilities in November.

READ ALSO: How to apply for 'Kurzarbeit' in Germany when your working hours are reduced

The shutdowns prompted employers to rely more heavily on a government-subsidised scheme that allows them to reduce workers' hours to avoid layoffs.

BA data showed another 660,000 people were placed on short-time employment between December 1st and 28th.

Most observers expect the curbs to continue until the end of January as infection rates remain stubbornly high in the country.

Germany on Tuesday reported 11,897 new coronavirus cases and 944 deaths, ahead of a meeting between Chancellor Angela Merkel and regional leaders to decide on extending the shutdowns.

READ ALSO: How long will Germany's tough lockdown measures be in place?

“The rising number of short-time workers, as well as the longer-term impact from the ongoing second lockdown and a high risk of insolvencies in 2021, clearly argue against too much optimism,” said ING bank analyst Carsten Brzeski.

BA chairman Detlef Scheele said the pandemic was having a “very visible” impact on Germany's labour market.

“The stabilising effect of short-time work has, however, secured employment and prevented higher unemployment,” he added.

Before the coronavirus, Germany's unemployment rate had hovered at a record low of around five percent.

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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.