German unemployment rate rises for first time since June

German unemployment was stable in February with a small increase, official data showed Tuesday, amid the pain of prolonged shutdowns to slow the spread of Covid-19.

German unemployment rate rises for first time since June
A woman walked past a closed cafe in Munich at the weekend. Photo: DPA

The seasonally adjusted jobless rate in Europe’s top economy stood at 6 percent, the same level as in January, according to the BA federal labour agency.

However, the number of unemployed people rose slightly for the first time since June, with an extra 9,000 people out of work.

In total, there were 509,000 more people unemployed than in February 2019.

Germany closed restaurants, bars, gyms and cultural centres in November before adding schools and non-essential shops in December as it was hit by a second coronavirus wave.

The measures have since been extended until March 7th, though some schools, hairdressers, attractions and shops have been allowed to reopen in parts of the country.

READ ALSO: ‘I look normal again’: German residents rejoice as hairdressers reopen

The shutdowns have prompted employers to rely more heavily on a government-subsidised scheme that allows them to reduce workers’ hours so as to avoid outright layoffs.

Another 500,000 employees were placed on the short-time working scheme in February, compared with 745,000 in January.

A total of almost 2.4 million workers were on short-time working arrangements in December.

“Short-time work continues to secure employment on a large scale and prevents unemployment,” BA chairman Detlef Scheele said.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What you need to know about Germany’s ‘Kurzarbeit’ job support scheme

The average German worker saw a drop in real wages in 2020 for the first time since 2007, according to federal statistics agency Destatis.

Germany recorded 3,943 new Covid-19 cases in the past 24 hours on Tuesday and 358 deaths, according to the Robert Koch Institute health agency.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and German regional leaders are due to meet again Wednesday to discuss possible further relaxations of the shutdown measures.

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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.