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HEALTH

EXPLAINED: The changes around doctor’s notes in Germany you should know

Now the temperature has dropped we're more likely to pick up infections. If you need to take time off work, you should be aware of Germany's doctor's note procedure and some important recent changes.

A woman lies on the sofa with medicine for a cold
A woman lies on the sofa with medicine for a cold. Germany is in the process of digitising sick notes. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

If you feel ill or pick up an infection like the common cold or flu, you’ll think about calling your doctor. It could be to find out if you need any treatment, or you might need to get a sick note which can be given to your employer for time off work.

Some employers ask their employees to submit an incapacity to work certificate (the Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung or AU-Bescheinigung) on the first day of illness.

Most companies, however, are more accommodating and do not require the certificate (also known as a gelbe Schein or Krankschreibung) until on or after the third day. Your employment contract clarifies what applies in the case of each employer. The rule should be listed under “sickness” or “continued payment of remuneration in the event of sickness”.

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What’s changed about sick notes from the doctor?

Germany is in the process of digitising the sick note procedure as a way of minimising bureaucracy (something we can all get on board with).

Previously, three copies of the sickness certificate were given to the patient from a doctor. But since October 1st, the doctor issues only two documents – one for the patient to keep as a record and one for the employer.

The health insurance company should now be informed automatically by the doctor. 

A doctor signs an incapacity to work slip in Germany.
A doctor signs an incapacity to work slip in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Paul Zinken

And from July 2022 at the latest, the health insurance organisation will be responsible for informing the employer about the sick note. Patients can therefore concentrate entirely on getting well – and don’t have to worry about submitting certificates to their boss. 

Germany had originally planned to fully digitise sick notes at the start of this year, but this was pushed back to allow medical practices and insurers time to prepare. 

READ ALSO: How Germany plans to ditch paper sick notes for digital ones

Some health insurance firms, such as Techniker Krankenkasse (TK), have been running pilot projects for sick notifications to be transmitted digitally to employers so you may have already come across this procedure. 

Should I be aware of anything else?

This rule is fairly new so patients should double check with their doctor to find out if they plan to forward your sick notification to the health insurer. 

As we are in the transitional phase, it might not yet be practised by all doctors. If the doctor has not got a system in place yet for sending the sick note to the health insurance firm, then you can ask for a copy and send it yourself. Some insurance firms allow people to upload it via an app. 

Those who have statutory health insurance must forward the sick note to their insurer quickly so as not to lose any entitlement to sick pay.

When reporting that you’re sick, it’s important to inform the boss by e-mail or telephone (depending on the procedure in your work place) as soon as possible. This is called a Krankmeldung or notification of sickness.

The sick note should  be forwarded to the HR department or your manager. In many cases, a mobile phone photo of the sick note is sufficient; larger companies have a separate postal address where the sick leave certificates must be sent.

If you feel ill or unwell, you should generally avoid the office or your workplace to protect other colleagues from infection. If you are able to work, check with your boss whether you can work from home during that time. 

If you suffer from fever, cough or cold, it’s probably best to consult a doctor. If they suspect that it is Covid-19 you will be offered a PCR test free of charge and advised to self-isolate.

Is the AU certificate also available via video consultation?

Since July 2020, doctors have also been able to issue sick notes via video consultation (Videosprechstunde)

But there are some rules to keep in mind. For instance, the sick note is valid for a maximum of seven days when first issued through the video consultation. If an extension is needed, the patient has to go to the doctor’s office. If the patient first received the sick note in person from the practice, he or she can extend the sick note via a video consultation once.

The National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (KBV) emphasises that an important prerequisite for issuing the sick note via video consultation is that the patient is “personally known to the practice through previous treatment”. So you can’t access this service with a new doctor. 

Meanwhile, doctors can also give sick notes for respiratory illnesses such as Covid-19, flu or the common cold over the phone due to the pandemic. This rule is in place until at least the end of 2021. 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

In Germany, the number of patients who are requesting a video appointment with a doctor is growing.

According to a representative Allensbach survey commissioned by the medical technology group Fresenius, 46 percent of those surveyed were open to video consultations at the end of last year, compared to only 22 percent four years earlier. In the same period, the proportion of those who ruled out video consultations with their doctor fell from 70 to 41 percent.

Acceptance of online consultations has also increased among doctors in Germany. In the second quarter of 2020, patients consulted a doctor or psychotherapist by video almost 1.2 million times – more than ever before, an analysis by the the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (KBV) found earlier this year. 

The numbers have skyrocketed during the pandemic. While there were just under 3,000 video consultations nationwide in 2019, there were almost 1.4 million in the first half of 2020. 

Here’s a roundup of some useful vocabulary:

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

Sick note – (die) Krankschreibung

Notification of sickness – (die) Krankmeldung 

Video consultation – (die) Videosprechstunde

Cold – (die) Erkältung

Sick day – (der) Krankheitstag

Sick leave –(der) Krankenstand (KS)

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WORKING IN GERMANY

How easy is it to get an English-speaking job in Germany?

Lots of foreigners in Germany hope to get a job or climb the career ladder. But are there still opportunities for English speakers who don't have fluent German? We spoke to a careers expert to find out.

How easy is it to get an English-speaking job in Germany?

The pandemic turned our lives upside down. As well as having to isolate and be apart from family members, many people found themselves in need of a new job or decided they want a change in career. 

If you’re in Germany or thinking of moving here, job searching is of course easier with German language skills. But many people haven’t had the chance to learn German – or their German isn’t fluent enough to work in a German-only environment.

So how easy is it to find a job in Germany as an English speaker?

We asked Düsseldorf-based career coach Chris Pyak, managing director of Immigrant Spirit GmbH, who said he’s seen an increase in job offers. 

“The surprising thing about this pandemic is that demand for skilled labour actually got even stronger,” Pyak told The Local.

“Instead of companies being careful, they’ve hired even more than they did before. And the one thing that happened during the pandemic that didn’t happen in the last 10 years I’ve observed the job market was that the number of English offers quadrupled.”

READ ALSO: How to boost your career chances in Germany

Pyak said usually about one percent of German companies hire new starts in English. “Now it’s about four percent,” said Pyak. 

“This happened in the second half of 2021. This is a really positive development that companies are more willing than they used to be. That said it’s still only four percent.”

Pyak said he’s seen a spike in demand for data scientists and analysts as well as project managers. 

So there are some jobs available, but can foreigners do anything else?

Pyak advises non-Germans to sell themselves in a different way than they may be used to. 

A woman works on her CV in Germany.

A woman works on her CV in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

“In your home country you have a network, you have a company you used to work for that people know,” said Pyak. “This might be partly the case in Germany if you worked for an international company. But for most employers you are a blank sheet of paper, they know nothing about you. So unfortunately if they don’t know you or your country, they will assume you are worse (at the job) than Germans. It’s completely unjustified but it’s just how people are. 

“Get the employer to see you as the individual person you are, the professional you are. This requires that you have a conversation with somebody inside the company, ideally the decision maker, meaning the hiring manager or someone in this team.”

Pyak said it’s important to go into details. 

“Don’t think of me as a foreigner, think of me as ‘Mark who has been working in IT for 15 years’,” said Pyak. “Don’t read the job advert (to the manager), ask them what his or her biggest worry is and why is that important? And then dig deeper and offer solutions based on your work experience. Share actual examples where you proved that you can solve this problem.”

READ ALSO: 7 factors that can affect how much you’re getting paid

Pyak says foreigners in Germany can convince managers that they are right for the job – even if their German isn’t great. 

“What I advise clients at the beginning of the interview is to ask very politely if you can ask them (managers) a question. And this question should be: how will you know that I’m successful in this job, what is the most important problem I need to solve for you in order to make myself valuable? And then ask why this problem is so important. And the answer to that achieves a million things for you – first of all you’ve established a measurement by which you should be measured. 

“Then when you get into detailed discussion you can always tie your answer back to the question you can solve, which usually makes up 70 or 80 percent of the job. If you can solve this problem then what does it matter if you do the job in German or English?”

So in answer to our original question – it seems that getting an English-speaking job in Germany can’t be described as easy but it is very possible especially if you have the skills in your chosen field. Plus there are ways to increase your chances. Good luck! 

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