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Too Unwell to Work? How to Get a Sick Note
sick person on couch

Too Unwell to Work? How to Get a Sick Note

Cold and flu season got you down? A case of the sniffles might not be a good enough reason to miss work—but if you’ve got a fever or are too tired to focus on your tasks, then it’s probably best to stay home. (Your coworkers will thank you!)

And what if you’re sick enough to miss several days of work in a row? Then you’ll likely need to get an Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung (a sick note, a.k.a. AU-Schein or Krankschreibung) from your doctor. So when exactly do you need a sick note? And how do you get one? 

Why do I need a sick note?

A sick note confirms that your illness is severe enough to warrant missing work. In other words, it’s proof that you weren’t just playing hooky. 

When is a sick note necessary?

It’s standard for German employers to require a sick note from the fourth day of illness. So if you first call in sick on a Monday, then you’ll need a sick note if you’re still unable to work on Thursday. However, German law says that employers can ask for a sick note as early as the first day of illness. Some employers even write such clauses into employee contracts, so make sure you know your workplace’s policy.

Important to note:

  • You should file a Krankmeldung, or notice of illness, with your employer as soon as you know you’ll be absent from work. This can be in digital form (e.g. over email) and should include the amount of time you expect to be out of office. If you wake up coughing and sneezing, you might send your boss an email saying, “I’m feeling under the weather today and won’t be able to work. I hope to be back in the office tomorrow.”
  • Weekend days count toward the four-day rule. So if you call out of work on Friday, you’ll need to present a doctor’s note if you’re still sick on Monday.
  • Some employers still require a sick note in physical form, so you might have to bring the note to the office—even if you’re still sick. Again, check with your boss or HR department to be sure.

Do I have to go to the doctor’s office?

It’s a huge pain to drag yourself out of bed for a five-minute chat with your doctor. But this may be the only way to get a sick note. 

German law is requiring the rollout of a new, fully digital sick note system in January 2021. But your employer—or your doctor—may still be stuck in the past. If your workplace is on board with a high(er)-tech solution, you can check out services like AU-Schein.de, which provides digital sick notes (currently for a fee). 

Need help finding an English-speaking doctor? Read our tips.

Does my employer need to know why I’m sick?

You are under no obligation to discuss personal health matters with your boss, and your sick note won’t include the reason for your absence—it will only say that you are unable to work. However, if you know in advance that you’ll be out of office for awhile (e.g. due to a surgery), you’ll want to give your employer some warning. This can be as non-specific as “I’m having surgery and I’ll be out of the office for a week from [DATE].” 

Still looking for German health insurance? We can help.


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