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Incapacity for work cannot be challenged by termination of employment relationship

Labor Law

Lower Saxony Regional Labor Court: Certificate of incapacity for work’s probative value not compromised by an employee's sick leave until termination of the employment relationship (decision of March 8, 2023, Case No. 8 Sa 859/22)

In the case decided, the plaintiff was initially on sick leave from May 2, 2022 to May 6, 2022. On May 2, 2022 (received by the plaintiff on May 3, 2022), the defendant gave notice of termination as of the end of the month. The plaintiff subsequently submitted two follow-up certificates showing his incapacity for work until the end of the month. The defendant had doubts about the authenticity of the illness and refused to continue to pay wages, as the plaintiff was absent due to illness for the entire remaining period of the employment relationship and already started a new job on June 1, 2022.

The Regional Labor Court emphasized that the certificate of incapacity for work had a high probative value which had not been compromised. In order for the probative value to be compromised, the defendant had to present and prove actual circumstances that give rise to doubts about the plaintiff's illness. The principles set out in the judgment of the Federal Labor Court (Case No. 5 AZR 149/21) were not relevant. The Federal Labor Court had ruled that the probative value of a certificate of incapacity for work was compromised if the certificate of incapacity for work was valid from the day the employee gave notice of termination and the certified incapacity for work covered exactly the duration of the notice period (so-called temporal coincidence). This was different in the case at hand, since the notice of termination had been given by the employer, several certificates of incapacity for work had been submitted and the temporal coincidence was lacking. The plaintiff's incapacity for work had started prior to the termination by the defendant.

The decision shows that the temporal coincidence alone is not sufficient in order to compromise the certificate of incapacity for work’s probative value. Due to the fundamental importance of the case, the appeal was allowed. According to the Regional Labor Court, the fact that the plaintiff had regained health at the start of his new job could justify a different assessment. It remains to be seen how the Federal Labor Court will rule on the matter.

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