German president urges firms to allow staff to work from home ‘whenever possible’

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier made an appeal on Friday, calling for more employers to let people work from home as the country battles high Covid-19 infection rates.

German president urges firms to allow staff to work from home 'whenever possible'
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Friday. Photo: DPA

Steinmeier issued the joint appeal in Berlin with trade union and employer federation representatives.

He urged firms to allow staff to work from home “whenever possible”.

“It is more necessary than ever,” Steinmeier said.

Addressing employees, Steinmeier said, “If you have the opportunity and haven't done it yet, work from home. Don't go to the office unless you absolutely have to.”

“We also need to reduce contacts, where at all possible, in the workplace. Less is more, especially these days.”

It came as German politicians mulled introducing tougher restrictions to the country. Authorities are worried about the number of people using public transport, which could be helping to fuel the spread of Covid-19.

There are also major concerns over the virus variants.

READ ALSO: German Covid-19 cases top 2 million as Merkel urges 'significantly tougher' measures

'More can be done'

The President of the Confederation of German Employers' Associations (BDA), Rainer Dulger, said that companies and trade unions have so far handled the pandemic situation responsibly, but that “more can be done”.

The implementation of hygiene plans and occupational health and safety rules had resulted in the workplace being “a comparatively safe place”.

“Nevertheless, we now have to further limit contacts and reduce mobility,” he said. “Working at home contributes to this.”

But he acknowledged that it is not suitable for every job.

“It is now important that all opportunities to do home office are used to further limit and push back the incidence of infection,” said the president of the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB), Reiner Hoffmann.

New virus variants 'worrying'

President Steinmeier stressed that too many people were still falling ill with Covid-19 in Germany.

“The high number of people dying from the virus is sad and distressing,” he added.

He said the mutations, such as the variant that originated in the UK, further exacerbate the risk of infection.

“That worries me a lot,” he said.

According to a representative survey conducted by the opinion research institute Civey on behalf of Spiegel, a majority of Germans are in favour of compulsory working from home in view of the situation.

The survey found 56 percent of the more than 5,000 respondents were in favour of a ban on working in the office, provided that home office is possible. Just under a third of those surveyed were against it.

In neighbouring Switzerland mandatory working from home is to be introduced from Monday.

More and more people in Germany are being vaccinated against the virus, Steinmeier continued.

“This is our light on the horizon.”

But there is still a lot of work to be done, he stressed. “That is why it is now up to everyone,” he said, calling for a “joint effort from the whole of society”.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


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.