I'm working as an apprentice for a software company based in germany. I am working full time.

For about a year now, I've got some kind of recurring medical condition that renders me unable to work for about 2-3 days every month. I have talked to various doctors and it is still not clear, what causes the symptoms I'm enduring.

Everytime I get sick, I send in a doctors note (which does only state the duration of the sickness, no reasons), so I'm in the clear, legally speaking.

What I want to avoid is being seen as a lazy person, who only pretends to be ill. This is not the case. The last time I spoke to someone from HR (about 8 months ago), she showed disbelief in my health history, because appereantly you have to be sick for longer periods ("If you are really sick, you wouldn't be sick for only two days at a time"). Nobody has mentioned anything about my sick days since.

Another difficult aspect about this is that in the next 12 months, the company will have to decide if they want to employ me after my apprenticeship has ended. I fear I'm jeopardizing my chances by telling my manager about all of this. I have already worked from home a little when I was sick, to show good faith, but due to my status as an apprentice and the nature of my work, this is not always possible.

I've got a meeting scheduled with my department manager at the end of the week to discuss my performance and current projects I'm working on.

Should I bring up the condition in this meeting? If I choose to not bring it up, but he does, what do I do? Do I tell my colleagues?

  • 2
    "she showed disbelief in my health history" Her opinion is completely irrelevant (but it's incredibly unprofessional of her to say something like that); what matters is that your boss is content with your overall performance.
    – pmf
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 8:29
  • Some questions: Do you know already in advance like likely I will be sick on this and that day? Are you sick that you can't work at all or are you maybe "a little sick" that you could do some work but not other work? I think if you avoid being regularly sick especially on Monday and Friday then this is already a good sign for them that they understand you are really sick.
    – Edgar
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 8:35
  • @Edgar I typically feel a few days in advance that my illness is coming back. I can do some work, while I am sick. I don't really know, how to avoid being sick on certain weekdays. Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 9:38
  • 2
    We all know there are some people who pretend to be sick. And those people are most likely "sick" on Friday or Monday for an extended weekend. If you would always be sick on these days that would be certainly a red flag. If you are sometimes sick in the middle of the week and sometimes on the weekend and sometimes on Monday or Friday then this looks like "real sick" and likely the people in your company will realize this.
    – Edgar
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 10:11
  • 1
    @Bilkokuya - One of many reasons why anyone in HR who is practicing medicine without a license deserves a good beating. Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 20:19

4 Answers 4


IANAL (I Am Not A Lawyer)

I am going to slightly frame-challenge your question. I am not familiar with the situation in Germany, so I will answer from a point of view based in Netherlands. I assume something similar is available to you. You probably will want to do research into this. I know that getting this arranged in Netherlands is something you want to carefully consider. It is not always an advantage.

Your employer is worried about your value to the company. To them, you work less days and need to be paid an equal amount as your colleagues. This makes you less valuable to them. Telling them the reasons for your sick days won't suddenly make you more valuable, unless you would somehow start costing your employer less. Of course your employer may be humane and/or your employer may not want to navigate the legal minefield that illnesses and contracts are, and they may keep you on anyway, but I would not count on it.

In Netherlands you can get a medical assessment done and be deemed partially unfit to work. If you are deemed partially unfit for work, you and/or your employer will be eligible for government support. This support comes in various shapes and forms, including a bonus for employers for hiring someone with an illness or not having to pay your sick days off.

Your doctor or employment-related government body (UWV in Netherlands) may know where to start. Again: research what implications this has, especially related to your future!

  • Sophie: To get a partially unfit for work status, OP first need to have some kind of diagnose. But as said above if certain conditions are met the employer can get reimbursed by the (mandatory public) health insurer for those sick days. Employers usually know how to handle this, once they are aware of the situation.
    – Daniel
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 11:10

"If you are really sick, you wouldn't be sick for only two days at a time"

There is at least one reason this person works in HR and not in a medical profession and that reason is she has no idea what she is talking about. That person has no experience in HR either or she would know better. Just ask someone with migraines whether they come for a day or two or if the neatly line up. Hint: they don't conform to company policy either. So this should be a red flag in two regards: one you are talking to an unreasonable and either inexperienced or plain stupid person and two you have set off their warning flags. Justified or not, you will need to keep that in mind dealing with HR.

Another difficult aspect about this is that in the next 12 months, the company will have to decide if they want to employ me after my apprenticeship has ended. I fear I'm jeopardizing my chances by telling my manager about all of this.

You should tell your Ausbilder. He knows you, he knows your work, if the company has any common sense, that person will have the decisive vote on whether they keep you after your apprenticeship. Your Ausbilder does not need (and probably does not want) to know the medical details. But they should be able to help you navigate the workplace including HR, that is their job.

I have already worked from home a little when I was sick, to show good faith

Stop that immediately. Not only does that incur a lot of legal problems for you and the company (for example you are not covered by their insurance if you are officially not working), it also sends the completely wrong signal. You are sick. Not fit for work. Saying that you might indeed be able to work nonetheless is counterproductive. It makes them think you are not really sick. You are. You got the papers to prove it. So stop working.

I can understand your need to be helpful, but if you want to do that, prepare everything at work so that somebody else can pick up where you left as easy as possible. Commit and push every evening. Comment a lot. Communicate a lot while you are at work, so people know what needs to be done when you are out.

You actually do have duties to your employer while you are out sick: to do everything you can to get well again as quickly as possible so you can be back at work as soon as possible. That means stop working and do whatever helps.

  • My Ausbilder does work in another department. I have never spoken to her, actually. I think the decision, which apprentices they employ is made by persons, who don't know and can't judge the quality of my work. "Saying that you might indeed be able to work nonetheless is counterproductive." I agree. I will stop doing that. Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 6:15

Legally speaking, you don´t have to disclose anything. You employer has the right to let you go though, if your health status prevents you from performing the work you were hired to do, and there is no foreseeable end to that condition. And they have the right to inquire about your health status by asking you to see a Doctor appointed by them or the health insurer (Betriebsarzt). (They won´t get told the actual diagnose, but if it is legit and if you´ll be able to perform in the future)

As your apprenticeship ends soon, you are in a special situation where they could just not offer to employ you after that.

In this case I would probably disclose your situation and offer to keep them updated on plans for improvement. It is not unusual for a company to support their staff through a difficult time and get a very loyal employee in return. This of course depends how valuable you are to them in general and how well you do when you are not sick. Obviously this also depends on the individual boss, but disclosing will at least not worsen your situation, as your sick-status is already obvious.

In any event also apply to other jobs at the end of your apprenticeship so you have alternatives ready as long as you do not have a signed follow-up contract.

  • I have already heard of the possibility to terminate an employee based on his health condition if there is no forseeable end. I thought that this only applies if you are sick constantly, for weeks or months. Am I mistaken? Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 9:45
  • 1
    I like this answer. I suggest before you disclose anything I would start with a sentence that you are willing to disclose details (if that is true). Because there is a good chance that they don't want to know the details for legal reasons. Offer to disclose before you actually disclose.
    – Edgar
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 10:19
  • @I'm back at it: It largely depends if you will be able to perform at your job. In your case I doubt that a court would find it justifiable to let you go (assuming you are a programmer or the likes, here) As long as you are in the apprenticeship you have nothing to fear anyways, as it is almost impossible to get you fired during those. (As long as you don´t sabotage anything)
    – Daniel
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 11:06

This is, of course, a delicate situation. What I would, personally, do is to disclose my problems to my manager, just as you've put it here: "I'm having this problem, it's making me unable to work. I'm trying to fix it, I've visited X doctors, but they don't know what's wrong. I value this job and I want to assure you that even if I'm not working those days, I'm doing my best to catch up in the rest of the time".

Also, don't forget that:

  1. Your manager needs to plan. Currently he's planning based on what his perception for your availability is
  2. The company still needs to pay your salary, as per the law

Keeping people in the dark about things that concern them will lead to them making assumptions. And they will make the easiest assumption (that you're an a-hole).

Now, this will go either way:

  1. They will accept and focus on what you're offering in the time you are actually there and they will review you based on your work
  2. They will choose not to continue with you. This is unlikely, they've trained you for years so they could use you, but if it happens, really no great loss, you will quickly find something else, especially in this wonderful field of work.

PS: don't be late in getting some Rechtsschutzversicherung that covers work related issues. With your condition, you will need it sooner rather than later

  • Depending on the size of the company they can get some part of the salary back from the health insurer. So that may not be such a big issue in Germany.
    – Daniel
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 8:53
  • Thanks for your advice! I've already got a supposedly great Rechtsschutzversicherung. Just to clarify: I've got a department head (with whom I meet on friday) and a team lead (direct supervisor). Should I tell both or only the department head? Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 9:54

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