Coronavirus: Your Rights as an Employee in Germany

Working from home, sick leave, childcare – what rights and obligations do employees have?

Article

5 minute read

2020-03-19

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How do you write about an event that has already taken full control of your everyday life? In this case: from home! Would you rather work from home too, but you’re unsure about your legal rights? In this article, we answer the key questions about your employee rights during the coronavirus crisis. As an insurance company, it’s important to us to stand by your side, especially in these uncertain times. That’s why our experts in legal insurance have gathered some useful information on remote working for you.

Please note: While labour law makes clear provisions for illness, there are still many unresolved legal issues in a new situation like the current pandemic. For that reason, it’s essential to make arrangements with your employers. That will allow you to find the best solution for your individual situation.

Working from home

Should everybody work from home?

Yes, if possible. However, not everyone can work from home, and some jobs depend on employees being present in person. Examples of this are healthcare workers and supermarket and pharmacy staff. If you do have to go to work, it is absolutely essential that you follow hygiene guidelines for washing your hands, coughing and sneezing. You should also keep the recommended minimum of 1.5–2 metres away from other people.

The World Health Organization offers a wide range of helpful tips and protective measures on its website.

Do I have to work from home?

The general rule is that both sides need to agree. Your employer cannot simply force you to work from home. If an employee does not want to work from home, and there are no contractual agreements about working from home, the employer has the option to release the employee from their duties but must still pay them.

Can my employer forbid me from working from home?

Employees are not guaranteed the right to work from home. Your employment contract or company policy may include information relating to the relevant rules. But especially given the current exceptional situation, it’s important to talk to your boss. You should be able to find a solution that works for both sides.

Can I stay at home if I’m worried about catching coronavirus?

Unfortunately not. German employment law states that you must perform your work duties when you are healthy. So although you have no automatic right to stay at home, you should attempt to come to an agreement that works for both you and your boss.

If you are feeling ill, then you should stay at home and get a sick note from a doctor.

Do I have to stay at home if I’m ill?

If the health authorities order you to stay at home or go to hospital due to coronavirus infection, then you must do as they say. In serious cases, this can be enforced by a court order.

If this is not the case, but you feel unwell, the clear recommendation during the current situation is to stay at home. Many health organisations and government agencies recommend two weeks of self-isolation, especially if you have symptoms of respiratory disease such as a cough and cold. In this case you will also need a notice of incapacity to work. Due to the current situation, you should not visit a doctor in person if you have cold symptoms or suspect that you have been infected with coronavirus. Instead, you should first phone your general practitioner (GP) or family doctor to clarify what steps you should take. In special cases, you can receive up to seven days’ sick leave by telephone.

Sick pay

Do I still get paid if my place of work has to close due to the coronavirus pandemic?

If the managing directors choose to close a company due to concerns about coronavirus, this falls under the company’s own responsibility. The company must continue to pay your wage (click here for more information). However, your employment contract may contain different rules, so you should definitely check this.

Will I still receive my wages if I am quarantined?

Yes. If quarantine is ordered by the authorities, your employer must continue to pay your salary.

I am self-employed and quarantined. Will I receive some kind of compensation?

If you are self-employed or work as a freelancer, you can apply for compensation from the state, which is based on your average income. Click here for more information.

Dismissal

My child’s school/nursery has been closed. Can my employer fire me for staying at home to look after my child?

Childcare during the coronavirus pandemic is a difficult topic. Unfortunately, in this case labour law is not on the side of the employee, who may have to use up paid holiday or apply for unpaid leave. Simply not working is not an option, as this could lead to a warning or dismissal under employment law.

Politicians in Germany have given a clear statement on the matter. Hubertus Heil, the German Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, has appealed to employers to collaborate with affected employees to find solutions that guarantee the continued payment of wages. Our recommendation is to speak to your bosses or supervisors as soon as possible.

Our tip: Seek legal advice

We’re sure you have other questions concerning your personal situation. The best course of action is to consult a lawyer directly. Many legal expenses insurers offer a free hotline where you can contact lawyers day and night for help. If you have legal expenses insurance, you should check whether your insurer offers this service – and make use of it.

If you have legal expenses insurance from Getsafe, this service is available to you. But even if you don’t yet have legal expenses insurance, you can take out a policy with us and you will be covered from tomorrow. This means that, starting tomorrow, you will also be able to use the lawyer’s hotline (German language support available only). Click here for Getsafe legal expenses insurance.

Author: Kathrin