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CHILDREN

How parents in Germany can take paid time off to care for their children during lockdown

The coronavirus crisis has put a particular burden on working parents. For those struggling to care for their children while working, there are a few paid options for time off.

How parents in Germany can take paid time off to care for their children during lockdown
A mother works from home with her two young children. Photo: DPA

On Tuesday Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany's 16 state premiers decided to extend the country's partial lockdown until at least the end of January. It would see the continued closure of daycare centres (Kitas) and schools, even though some states have looked for wiggle room to keep schools partially open.

The extension has put a particular burden on many working parents who are seeking to care for their children who are out of the classroom all days. For parents unable to meet their work duties while taking care of their kids, Germany offers a few options to take paid leave, both short and longer term.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: These are Germany's new tougher lockdown rules

Here's what you need to know.

More sick days are now allowed

The federal and state governments agreed on Tuesday to double the number of sick days for children (Kinderkrankentagegeld) this year. 

Accordingly, each parent will be allowed to take 20 sick days for the child this year, instead of 10. Single parents will get 40 sick days instead of the usual 20.

READ ALSO: What working parents in Germany need to know if their child is sick

The regulation is explicitly intended not only for when children are sick, but also for when they need to be cared for at home because school or daycare centres are closed or have limited hours of operation.

The number of sick days for children had already been increased last year. Children's sick pay is paid by the statutory health insurance if parents cannot go to work because of caring for a sick child. It amounts to 90 percent of net earnings.

Longer term leave

In addition to the newly decided sick leave, parents also have the option of taking ‘Corona-Sonderurlaub,’ a measure which was already in place last year. 

Coronavirus special leave is intended for parents whose children are up to twelve years old or have a disability, and who have no other reasonable care option for their children.

This means that if one partner is at home anyway, the other partner is not entitled to the special leave. It also becomes difficult if the employer offers the possibility to work remotely or in a 'Home Office' – then it is initially assumed that childcare and work are possible in parallel.

A mother cooking with her child at home. Photo: DPA

However, quite a few employers are willing to compromise, especially if a parent is caring for multiple or very young children, and it is worth asking about their own arrangements in the company.

The website of the Federal Ministry of Health states: “Employed persons must make use of an offered and reasonable possibility of location-flexible working (e.g. Home Office) and look after their children themselves.”

Yet it also recognises that parents cannot always determine the location or set-up of their work. “The state respects entrepreneurial freedom; it is not its business to determine workplace organisation,” stated the website.

How long is special leave available and how is it paid?

Each parent can claim special leave for 10 weeks if there is no other reasonable care option. For single parents this can extend to 20 weeks. The leave does not to be taken all at once.

READ ALSO: Parents in Germany to get up to 20 weeks pay to cover costs of caring for kids

However, during this time period, parents can expect to receive only a third of their normal salary: the compensation payment is only 67 percent of the net salary and is capped at a maximum of €2,016 per month. So there can be large losses for those who are higher earners.

The employer pays out the money and later gets reimbursed from the relevant authorities. He or she can also apply there for an advance on these payments.

Do I have to use up regular annual leave first?

Many employees are starting off 2021 with a fresh number of vacation days. Does that mean they need to use them up for parental leave?

In short: no.

The Ministry of Health says that employers cannot order employees to use up their new leave right at the beginning of the year due to Germany's shutdown.

However, the Ministry says it is reasonable to first use up old leave from 2020 – if available – before taking special leave.

“There is nothing explicit about this in the law itself,” says Jens Niehl, a specialist lawyer for labor law in Düsseldorf, told Spiegel Online. 

“The requirement is simply: there is no other reasonable care option available. Such a possibility could, of course, be the employee's own leave – it's a matter of interpretation whether and to what extent that is reasonable.”

However, companies are allowed to order Betriebsurlaub (company holidays), meaning that the whole company halts its operations, usually for a period of two weeks, and employees are ordered to take vacation time. 

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For members

RETIREMENT

Reader question: Can I get a retirement visa for Germany?

Unlike in EU countries such as Portugal or Spain, Germany does not have a visa specifically for pensioners. Yet applying to live in the Bundesrepublik post-retirement is not difficult if you follow these steps.

Reader question: Can I get a retirement visa for Germany?
Two pensioners enjoying a quiet moment in Dresden in August 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

Due to its quality of life, financial security and health care, Germany snagged the number 10 spot in the 2020 Global Retirement Index. So just how easy is it to plant roots in Deutschland after your retirement?

Applying for a residency permit

As with any non-EU or European Economic Area (EEA) national looking to stay in Germany for longer than a 90-day period, retirees will need to apply for a general resident’s permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) under which it will be possible to select retirement as a category. 

READ ALSO: How does Germany’s pension system measure up worldwide?

This is the same permit for those looking to work and study in Germany – but if you would like to do either after receiving a residency permit, you will need to explicitly change the category of the visa.

Applicants from certain third countries (such as the US, UK, Australia, South Africa, Japan, South Korea, Israel, Canada, and New Zealand) can first come to Germany on a normal tourist visa, and then apply for a residency permit when in the country. 

However, for anyone looking to spend their later years in Germany, it’s still advisable to apply at their home country’s consulate at least three months in advance to avoid any problems while in Germany.

Retirement visas still aren’t as common as employment visas, for example, so there could be a longer processing time. 

What do you need to retire in Germany?

To apply for a retirement visa, you’ll need proof of sufficient savings (through pensions, savings and investments) as well as a valid German health insurance. 

If you have previously worked in Germany for at least five years, you could qualify for Pensioner’s Health Insurance. Otherwise you’ll need to apply for one of the country’s many private health insurance plans. 

Take note, though, that not all are automatically accepted by the Ausländerbehörde (foreigners office), so this is something you’ll need to inquire about before purchasing a plan. 

READ ALSO: The perks of private health insurance for expats in Germany

The decision is still at the discretion of German authorities, and your case could be made stronger for various reasons, such as if you’re joining a family member or are married to a German. Initially retirement visas are usually given out for a year, with the possibility of renewal. 

Once you’ve lived in Germany for at least five full years, you can apply for a permanent residency permit, or a Niederlassungserlaubnis. To receive this, you will have to show at least a basic knowledge of the German language and culture.

READ ALSO: How to secure permanent residency in Germany

Taxation as a pensioner

In the Bundesrepublik, pensions are still listed as taxable income, meaning that you could be paying a hefty amount on the pension from your home country. But this is likely to less in the coming years.

Tax is owed when a pensioner’s total income exceeds the basic tax-free allowance of €9,186 per year, or €764 per month. From 2020 the annual taxable income for pensioners will increase by one percent until 2040 when a full 100 percent of pensions will be taxable.

American retirees in Germany will also still have to file US income taxes, even if they don’t owe any taxes back in the States. 

In the last few years there has been a push around Germany to raise the pension age to 69, up from 65-67, in light of rising lifespans.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Could people in Germany still be working until the age of 68?

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