The nose is running, the head is buzzing. And although the sick leave specially obtained from the doctor actually calls for rest, as is well known, the world keeps turning. The fridge is empty. It needs milk, butter and bread. But what if the boss suddenly stands next to you in the supermarket queue? Trouble is inevitable, say many professionals.
Julia Neuper knows the answer to the question. “Going shopping is usually not a problem,” explains the lawyer specializing in employment law. The expert from the law firm Bird & Bird knows that a possible warning or even dismissal of an employee who goes shopping with a runny nose would never stand up in a court.
Basically, the case law says that an employee who is unable to work must behave in such a way that he is soon healthy again. He has, so to speak, to refrain from anything that delays recovery. If you have a herniated disc, you should not carry heavy bags. However, there is no question that an employee who is on sick leave also has to eat and drink.
“It depends on the type of illness and therefore on the individual case, what the employee is allowed to do during his sick leave,” explains Julia Neuper. “Basically, what the doctor allows is permissible.” If you are unsure, you should ask carefully. Often, however, more is allowed than initially assumed.
It is often even recommended to go for a walk, because in the rarest of cases, light exercise in the fresh air delays healing. The situation is different if, for example, an employee is on sick leave due to a knee operation and still goes on a hike. It’s the same with going to the cinema. In the case of migraine symptoms, going to the cinema could delay healing.
If you’re feeling depressed, a little distraction might do you good. However, Julia Neuper believes that it is always advisable not to go to the pub in the evening. “Alcohol weakens the body and delays the healing process,” she warns. Whoever is caught by the superior at the bar has a bad hand.
“In principle, what the doctor allows is permissible.”
In principle, an employee may even work if he is on sick leave. “A certificate of incapacity for work does not constitute a ban on employment, but contains the statement that someone is not able to work at the time it is issued and the prognosis of how long this condition is likely to last,” explains the lawyer.
It could be that the prognosis is not correct and the employee returns to the desk earlier. “If the doctor writes me off sick for a week, but I feel fit again after three days, I can go back to work,” says Julia Neuper. There would be no problems with insurance.
Whichever scenario occurs: Julia Neuper advocates always asking the doctor in case of doubt which activities promote healing and which tend to delay healing, instead of deciding for yourself what is right and wrong. “If an employee behaves contrary to recovery, this represents a very clear breach of duty of the employment relationship, which also entitles the employer to take legal action,” warns the expert.
In concrete terms, this means that the supervisor can issue both a warning and, in serious cases, dismissal without notice. However, employees could save themselves this hassle.