The German government was set to pass a new workplace coronavirus hygiene ordinance on Wednesday but rejected the suggestion to give employers legal ground to ask their workers whether they have been vaccinated. Even as other countries mandate vaccinations for certain professions, Germany has avoided forcing anyone to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Germans hold their privacy laws dear, and employers are limited in what they are allowed to ask. So far, questions regarding personal health information, including vaccination status, are not permitted under German law. But with many employees heading back into their workplaces after months of working from home, the relevance of their vaccination status has led some lawmakers to push for a temporary change in the law.
However, Wednesday’s ordinance is not set to include such a measure, instead forcing employers to inform workers about the risks of a COVID-19 infection and the options for getting vaccinated. Workplaces must also allow employees to take time off if they have a vaccination appointment.
Employers demand the right to ask
German Labor Minister Hubertus Heil told public broadcaster ARD before the Cabinet meeting that the ordinance — which will be valid until November 24 — will mean that employers “are involved in vaccination education as part of occupational health and safety and make vaccinations possible during working hours. The goal is for as many people as possible to be vaccinated.”
He also told the local newspaper Rheinische Post that employers have a “duty to offer free [COVID-19] tests twice a week.”
The Confederation of German Employers’ Associations (BDA) leveled criticism at the government for not giving them the right to ask about their employees’ vaccination status.
“Companies and businesses now need a clear confirmation that they may ask after the vaccination status of their employees in order to ensure the necessary measures to protect the health of all their employed staff,” BDA President Rainer Dulger said on Monday.
Health Minister Jens Spahn has expressed support for the idea of allowing such questioning, at least for the next six months.
Lawmakers look for other solutions
“We must act constitutionally,” Heil told ARD. He suggested that workplaces with particularly high infection risk, such as courthouses, could introduce regulations similar to restaurants, which require those who enter must show that they have either been vaccinated, recently tested negative or have recovered from an infection.
“That’s possible, but my colleague Spahn must make a legally secure suggestion,” Heil said.
Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht added that an employer’s right to inquire about a worker’s vaccination status can only be valid in exceptional cases.
“Health information of employees is particularly sensitive, and the question of a vaccination against coronavirus is part of that,” she told the Funke media group.