Obtaining a Medical Certificate for Sick Leave Will Be Possible Via Telephone Again

After the permissibility of obtaining a medical certificate for sick leave via telephone ended with the expiration of protective measures following the COVID-19 pandemic on March 31, 2023, this option has now been permanently reintroduced in Germany since December 7, 2023. The essential conditions for this are:

  • The patient must not have severe symptoms
  • Patients must be personally known in the doctor’s practice
  • It is not possible to determine incapacity for work during a video consultation

General Practitioners still have the authority to decide whether the incapacity for work can be determined on the basis of a telephone call or whether an examination in the practice is necessary. An initial medical certificate can be issued via telephone for a maximum of five days and it cannot be extended via telephone call. If the medical certificate is issued during a video consultation, it can be issued for up to seven days. Patients, who are not personally known to the practice can only be given a medical certificate for up to three days.

Facilitating the Immigration of Skilled Workers

In implementing the European requirements, national legislators have expanded the overall immigration options for skilled workers.  Since November 2023, a number of legal changes have been in effect to reduce bureaucratic hurdles in the recruitment of skilled workers (we reported). Among other things, any degree is now sufficient to engage in any qualified employment.

Further legislative changes will come into force in March and June 2024. Individuals with a minimum of two years of professional experience, whose professional qualifications are officially recognized in their country of origin, can work in Germany without the need for their professional qualification to undergo a lengthy German validation process. Facilitations are also applicable to the execution of qualification measures in Germany. Additionally, the new so-called opportunity card (“Chancenkarte”) will be introduced. Through a points-based system, a simplified mechanism is established for the entry of qualified third-country nationals seeking employment in Germany.

Increased Compensatory Levy for Severely Disabled Employees

For companies with more than 20 employees, there is an obligation to employ severely disabled individuals. Last year, the “Act to Promote an Inclusive Job Market” was announced and some of its provisions has taken effect on January 1, 2024. According to this law, employers who do not fill any or enough jobs with severely disabled employees despite being obliged to do so must pay a compensatory levy. The maximum monthly rate will now be increased from EUR 360 to EUR 720 and applies to jobs that are vacant from the beginning of the year. Special regulations continue to apply for employers with fewer than 60 and fewer than 40 employees.

Establishment of Whistleblowing Reporting Channels

On December 17, 2023, the transition period for smaller companies with 50 to 249 employees to establish suitable reporting channels under the Whistleblower Protection Act expired. This obligation already existed for larger companies. Whistleblowers should be able to report misconduct via internal reporting channels without having to fear negative consequences. Companies that have not set up reporting points for whistleblowers may face, among other penalties, the imposition of fines.

Facilitations for Child Sickness Benefit

Parents of sick children will benefit from some relief. The scope of entitlement to child sickness days will increase to 15 working days per child and parent (instead of 10 previously) or 30 working days for single parents (instead of 20 previously). Since December 18, 2023, parents of sick children have also been able to apply for a medical certificate from the pediatrician’s office for a maximum of 5 days by telephone. The regulation will initially apply for a limited period until June 30, 2024.

Although the entitlement period was previously even longer, this extended period was based on temporary special regulations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which expired on December 31, 2023.

Increase in Minimum Wage and Adjustment of the Mini-Job Threshold

On January 1, 2024, the minimum wage has been raised from EUR 12.00 to EUR 12.41 per hour. Accordingly, the earnings threshold for mini-jobs increases to 538 EUR from previously 520 EUR. Due to the dynamic adjustment related to the minimum wage increase, mini-jobbers are allowed to work up to 43.35 hours per month. In practice, this means that employment contracts where a lower hourly wage was agreed upon may need to be adjusted if necessary. Additionally, the minimum training allowance is also increased. Apprentices in their first year of training will receive a monthly minimum remuneration of 649 EUR, subject to deviations specified in collective agreements.

New law to strengthen the promotion of job training and further education

In 2024, numerous reforms are taking place in the field of vocational training support for apprentices and employees. Starting April 1, 2024, young individuals who have not yet conclusively made their career choice will have the opportunity for a subsidized career orientation internship, including the coverage of travel and accommodation expenses. The Federal Employment Agency also offers a training allowance for employees in companies that have been particularly hard hit by structural change. The goal is to retain employees despite technological transformation through on-the-job training and thus to prevent unemployment. However, this support measure applies only to employers with more than ten employees and where there is a company agreement or company-specific collective bargaining agreement. From August 1, 2024, young people will also be entitled to funding for external vocational training if they meet the eligibility requirements.

In the following, we have summarized additional relevant updates for you:

  • As every year, the contribution assessment ceilings are rising. The statutory health insurance contribution ceiling is raised to 62,100 EUR annually. The annual contribution ceiling for pension insurance increases to 90,600 EUR in the western part and 89,400 EUR in the eastern part of the country.
  • The integration subsidy for older employees will initially be extended for anadditional five years until the end of 2028. The remuneration of employees over the age of 55 can then be subsidized for 12 to a maximum of 36 months.
  • The total social security contribution rate in 2024 will be raised from 40.45% to 40.9%.
  • The income limit for parental allowance will decrease for couples to 175,000 EUR (previously 300,000 EUR) and for single parents to 150,000 EUR (previously 250,000 EUR). The receipt of parental allowance will still be possible for up to 14 months after childbirth, but only one month at a time. Births from April 1, 2024, onward will be the reference point for the new thresholds.
  • Companies with more than 1,000 employees (previously 3,000) have been obliged to implement the requirements of the Supply Chain Due Diligence Act since January 1, 2024. In particular, the law stipulates certain due diligence obligations to protect the environment and human rights.
  • The tax-free guarantee of the inflation adjustment premium of up to EUR 3,000 is only possible until the end of the year.

Outlook for 2024

We expect numerous other employment law changes to happen in the course of the year:

  • There will be innovations in the determination of works council remuneration. The current draft bill provides for statutory specifications regarding the minimum remuneration of works council members as well as the explicit standardization of the prohibition of discrimination and favoritism for the works council.
  • As part of the Growth Opportunities Act, the tax-free meals allowance for business trips and the tax-free allowance for company events are to be increased.
  • In its paper on digital strategy, the German government announced its intention to enact modern regulations on employee data protection in order to pave theway for a modern working world with new technologies.
  • The Family Start Time Act is expected in 2024. This will entitle the non-birthing parent to time off in the first ten working days after giving birth. The partner will receive a partnership wage from their employer, which is to be paid from the so-called U2 levy in accordance with the maternity protection regulations. The aim is to enable parents to share responsibilities as partners.
  • A legislative regulation on working time recording is still pending. The draft by the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs to amend the Working Hours Act from April 18, 2023, has been in the parliamentary process since then. According to the draft, the start, end, and duration of daily working hours should be electronically recorded. Flextime should still be possible. This draft follows two fundamental decisions by the ECJ and the German Federal Labor Court.
  • On June 6, 2023, the European Pay Transparency Directive came into effect to strengthen wage transparency. The principle of equal pay for equal work for women and men is intended to be reinforced. However, the implementation deadline runs until June 7, 2026. In the future, employees will have detailed information rights, for example.
  • The rights of European works councils could be strengthened at European level in the future. In February 2023, the European Parliament urged the Commission to submit a proposal for a revised directive on European Works Councils (2009/38/EC) by January 31, 2024. This proposal includes numerous modernization suggestions serving the unified representation of interests across Member States’ borders. Up to now, European Works Councils have mainly had information and consultation rights.

However, there are no plans to introduce the kind of co-determination rights enshrined in the German Works Constitution Act.

We will keep you regularly informed about these and other developments. We wish you a happy new year 2024!



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