All about sick leave and sick pay in Germany

All about sick leave and sick pay in Germany

by Adriana Stein

Updated September 7, 2023

Being sick is never fun, but what’s even worse is being sick and not knowing how to take sick leave or how to get a doctor’s note in a foreign country. 

Everyone gets sick from time to time, so it’s best to be prepared and understand sick leave and sick pay in Germany ahead of time. I’ve compiled this guide to help you understand how to qualify for sick pay, so that if ever you are sick, all you need to do is rest.

First things first, you should know you’re in great hands here in Germany when it comes to sick. Before we jump into the finer details, here are the most important German vocabulary words you need to know to express yourself better and fully understand how sick pay works.

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  • Krankenversicherung: health insurance
  • Krankengeld: sick pay
  • Kranktentagegeld: sick pay for freelancers
  • Kranktengegeldversicherung: insurance that provides sick pay for freelancers
  • Pflegezeitgesetz: a law for taking paid leave (as sick pay) to take care of sick family members
  • personenbedingte Kündigung: dismissing an employee for workload negligence due to personal circumstances
  • betriebliches Eingliederungsmanagement (BEM): a policy that outlines the reintegration into your job after you’ve been sick or injured for an extended period of time
  • Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung: doctor’s note to take a sick leave

Yeah, I’ll repeat that one… Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung. I wouldn’t want to get that word in a spelling competition!

Okay, now that you got the scoop on the vocabulary, let’s talk about how you can qualify for sick pay and comfortably go on sick leave.

How can you qualify for sick pay or sick leave in Germany?

Health insurance for everyone! In Germany, it’s a law that your employer must enrol you in the statutory health insurance program. Almost all of Germany is covered under this system, although you can always opt-in for additional private insurance (btw this excludes freelancers who can independently choose to be privately or publicly insured). 

On an awesome note, the basic premise for getting sick pay is pretty simple in Germany: as long as you pay for public health insurance (even if directly from your salary in the form of taxes), you qualify for sick leave.

How does sick pay work for full-time employees?

To piggyback off the previous section, full-time employees should let their employers know immediately once their illness is confirmed, which involves getting a doctor’s note (Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung) and providing your health insurance (Krankenversicherung) with a copy. 

From there, your insurance provider gives you further directions either stating your acceptance to receive sick pay or promoting you to apply for unemployment benefits.

For even further security, Germany has a law that states you’re obligated to your full salary throughout the six-week timeframe that you’re sick. After that, if you’re still in need of time off, your employer will pay 70% of your regular salary for up to 78 weeks.

How to get a doctor’s note for sick leave in Germany

If you’re to the point where going to the doctor is necessary, you’ll need a

Doctor’s note (Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung) in order to take sick leave. This serves as proof of your illness, so your employer knows you’re not just playing hooky! Your doctor will provide you with 3 copies, one for your employer, one for your health insurance, and one for you to keep. 

Now that you’ve acquired an Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung, you have the right to 6 weeks’ worth of paid sick leave. But what if you take up all those 6 weeks? Don’t worry, there are other options. Read on!

How to turn your holidays into sick leave

Let’s say, for instance, that you take a 9-day holiday to the Philippines. But… you catch an illness during your travels, and end up not being able to enjoy your holiday. In this case, you can visit a doctor, get an Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung, and trade it for your holiday. And voila – those holidays are now swapped with sick days!

If you haven’t noticed by now, Germany’s system is certainly set up in a way that truly cares for your well-being. I guess you picked an awesome country to live in

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Can you be fired for taking too much sick leave in Germany?

The concept of personenbedingte Kündigung (dismissing an employee for workload negligence due to personal circumstances) is usually the last step after an employer has tried multiple times to fix the situation (but it’s pretty rare that it gets to this point).

However, if you’ve recently been diagnosed with a serious illness or an injury that requires a longer recovery period, and it’s been more than 6 weeks, your job will offer you betriebliches Eingliederungsmanagement (BEM), in English known as integration management. 

So, how does BEM work?

To put it simply, your job will provide modifications that allow you to get back to your full potential by slowly integrating you back into your job. For example, maybe you get into a car accident and break your leg, so you need an additional chair to put your foot up occasionally. A gradual reintroduction to previous work tasks is a realistic possibility to get you and your employer on the same page again.

What is Pflegezeitsetz?

A recent law went into place back in 2015 called the Caregiver Leave Act, or Pflegezeitgesetz. The reason this exists is to provide caregivers with greater flexibility. For example, if you’re a parent and have ever needed to take your child out of school and had to miss work yourself, you know how challenging this can be. So the goal with the law is that it provides an additional paid option for sick leave.

Can you take sick leave to take care of your children?

As noted earlier, Germany is very family-oriented, so with the Pflegezeitgesetz, you’re allowed up to 10 working days to take care of children or any close family member. This is a great option, especially if you’re an expat in Germany and don’t have nearby family members to help take care of your kids. In case both parents are working, the Pflegezeitgesetz makes it possible for only one parent to leave work. 

Additionally, single parents get up to 20 working days for sick leave to care for their child which tops off at 50 days throughout the year.

How to get sick pay when you are a freelancer

So, you have flexibility, and no boss on your back, which is of course amazing! But… what if you fall ill suddenly? Here’s what to do as a freelancer in Germany when that happens. 

You’re eligible to receive sick pay (Krankentagegeld) after 43 days have passed under public health insurance. If you’re privately insured, there are additional options to increase your monthly payment to reduce the waiting period. In any case to combat this as a freelancer, make sure to create your own security by incorporating possible health expenses into your hourly fees. That way, you’ll cover that void between the time you’re sick, and the 43-day mark.

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