German industry seeks powers to know worker vaccine status

German industry seeks powers to know worker vaccine status
A doctor in Berlin prepares a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Photo: Christophe Gateau/dpa
German bosses have come under attack from unions after asking the government to give them the authority to ask employees about their vaccine status.

Thilo Brodtmann, boss of the influential German Engineering Federation, called on the government on Tuesday to make a clear decision on whether companies have the right to ask employees about their vaccine status.

Describing such a decision on the part of the government as “overdue”, Brodtmann said that such a right would help tackle the spread of the virus in the workplace.

“It is only logical that employees must do everything they can to reduce the risk of infection to zero,” he said. “This includes at least an obligation to provide information as to whether they have been vaccinated or not.”

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But workers unions complained that this would constitute an intrusion into the employee’s right to privacy on health matters.

Anja Piel of the German Trade Union Confederation described the proposal as a “no go.”

“Information about whether someone has been vaccinated, like all other employee health data, is subject to privacy protections; it is of no concern to employers,” she stated.

Debate on the topic was kick-started on Monday, when the head of the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations, Rainer Dugler, said that knowing whether workers were vaccinated was necessary “in order to ensure the measures can be taken to protect the health of all employees.”

Government undecided

Labour Minister Hubertus Heil said he worried that giving bosses such powers could be a “taboo breach” but added that “if (Health Minister) Jens Spahn makes a concrete proposal to update the Disease Protection Act, then I can take a look at it.”

Spahn said on Monday that he was “increasingly tending towards a yes” to updating the law for a six-month period.

“If everyone in the office is vaccinated, one can deal with it differently than if there are 50 percent who are not vaccinated,” he argued.

READ ALSO: Working in Germany: A weekly roundup of the latest jobs news and talking points

Stefan Brink, data commissioner in Baden-Würtemberg, has said that the emergency powers given to the government by the Disease Protection Act did not stretch to such wide-scale curtailments of patient confidentiality.


Baden-Württemburg data commission Stefan Brink says that asking employees for their vaccination status in certain professions goes further than the law allows. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

“Only in a very few occupations in the healthcare sector, where employees necessarily come into close contact with people who cannot effectively protect themselves, does the law provide an exception to the confidentiality principle and allow employers to ask about vaccination status,” he told Handelsblatt newspaper.

Some 65 percent of Germans have now been vaccinated at least once against the coronavirus, although the campaign has slowed significantly in recent weeks.

Amid a fourth wave of infections that has been gathering speed through August, the government has described the situation as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” due to the fact that the vast majority of patients on intensive care wards have not been inoculated against Covid-19.

SEE ALSO: Germany is seeing ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’, says Health Minister

Vocabulary list

Employer – (der) Arbeitgeber

Employee – (der) Arbeitnehmer

Overdue – überfällig

Taboo breach (literally: dam breach) – (der) Dammbruch

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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