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EXPLAINED: The different types of extended leave you can take in Germany

Aaron Burnett
Aaron Burnett - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: The different types of extended leave you can take in Germany
A dad on parental leave with his baby at the playground in Hanover. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marco Rauch

Whether it's parental leave, sick leave, or a sabbatical - there are plenty of situations where you might be off work in Germany for an extended period of time.

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The German social insurance and protection system provides well for people for mandatory paid holidays and even several weeks of sick leave if necessary. But what happens if you're off for a lot longer than that?

That depends a lot on your situation, and the ins and outs of it will depend on whether you're taking unpaid leave, parental leave - or another type of special leave, which we break down in turn.

Parental leave

This one is fairly straightforward, with plenty of resources to help you navigate it. Although both mothers and fathers are entitled to take parental leave, the entitlements are a bit different.

Germany's maternity protection act generally covers expectant and new mothers from six weeks prior to their due date to eight weeks after, during which they're paid their full salary.

Fathers meanwhile, are entitled to take parental leave after the birth of their children, but won't receive full salary the way mothers do during the period before and after their child is born.

Both mothers and fathers may also receive a reduced amount of Elterngeld - or "parental allowance" - for up to three years in total per child. This parental allowance is typically 65 percent of your salary for up to 12 months - up to €1,800 a month. You do, however, have to submit an application for parental leave, or Elternzeit.

You can take this leave at any time before the child's eighth birthday. You can even take it more than once, provided the time you take all together doesn't exceed three years.

During parental leave, you don't need to pay health insurance contributions unless you work part-time.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about parental leave in Germany

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Unpaid Leave

Depending on your employer, you may be able to take unpaid leave for a variety of reasons.

The reasons allowed are typically very much at your employer's discretion but can include everything from a long vacation or sabbatical to needing to care for a sick family member.

If you take unpaid leave, you are generally still covered by health insurance. But you will need to advise your health insurer - as there may be implications for what you need to pay - particularly if you're on public insurance.

If taking a sabbatical - for example - you will be covered and pay contributions like any regular employee for the first month you are off. After that, you will have to be voluntarily insured or insured through a family member - for example, through your spouse. 

Those who have private insurance will typically be able to retain it if they've had it for at least five years. If they've not, they may need to switch back into public insurance.

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Force majeure or bereavement leave

Employees can generally take this leave in the event of unforeseen circumstances, with specific arrangements generally subject to their employment contracts.

Typically, employees can take between three and five days off a year for unforeseen family events or even things like natural disasters. Separate from this, employees are also typically entitled to two days of bereavement leave in the event of the death of a close family member.

Employees in Germany can generally take some leave after a close family member dies. Photo: MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP.

Work-related leave

In most German states, your employer has to give you the equivalent of five days a year for educational improvement - known as Bildungsurlaub.

There's a fair amount of possibilities here, and you can take a course to better your skills or language knowledge - for example - provided that the course is related to your professional responsibilities. 

If your employer approves and the course is accredited. You can even leave the country for this period.

READ ALSO: Bildungsurlaub: What is Germany's 'educational holiday' and how can I use it?

Long-term sick or disability leave

Generally speaking, you can get up to six weeks of sick leave in Germany at your full salary - provided your doctor signs off.

For periods longer than this though, your employer may stop paying and your health insurer may take over for around 70 percent of your salary - up to a certain amount. This eligibility typically extends for up to 18 months out of every three years.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What happens if you're off sick for a long time in Germany?

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