Doctors in Germany can continue to grant sick leave by phone

Doctors in Germany have been able to grant sick leave over the phone to some patients - rather than in person - since the pandemic began. Now the rule is being extended by three months.

Doctors in Germany can continue to grant sick leave by phone
A doctor filling out a sick note. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Paul Zinken

In view of the fourth Covid wave, sick leave for patients with mild respiratory tract infections, such as a common cold, can be issued by GPs over the phone until the end of 2021. 

Usually people in Germany have to visit a doctor’s office in person to get a sick note that they can then submit to their employers if they need time off due to illness. 

The special regulation for issuing incapacity to work certificates via a telephone consultation was extended by three months, health insurance organisations and doctors decided Thursday. 

READ ALSO: The 10 rules you need to know if you get sick in Germany

The aim is to cut down on contact to minimise Covid infection risks – as well as relieve the burden on health workers. 

Telephone sick leave for some patients is available for up to seven days and can also be extended by phone for an additional seven calendar days. To do so, doctors must carry out “in-depth telephone questioning” on the the patient’s health condition.

Under current German law (Entgeltfortzahlungsgesetz – the Continued Renumeration Act), an employee can stay home sick for up to three days without having to contact a doctor or presenting a note to their employer.

However, workplaces can have their own rules on sick leave so check with your boss if you’re unsure. 

Meanwhile, a special Covid rule on staffing is to be phased out of hospitals, reported broadcaster BR24. As of October 1st, requirements for a minimum number of nurses in certain wards – which had been suspended due to the Covid crisis – are to take effect again.

It means that minimum staffing levels have to be restored, particularly within critical areas such as the care of premature babies and children following heart surgery or cancer treatment.


Sick leave – (die) Krankschreibung

Incapacity to work certificate – (die) Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung or AU-Bescheinigung 

Covid special rule – (die) Corona-Sonderregelung

Be phased out – auslaufen

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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.