How Austrian employers use private detectives to check if workers are sick

Amanda Previdelli
Amanda Previdelli - [email protected]
How Austrian employers use private detectives to check if workers are sick
Employers are keeping private investigators busy with requests to monitor sick leave in Austria (Photo by cottonbro/Pexels)

How far can your employer go to monitor your sick leave? In Austria, they are hiring private detectives to check on workers.


In Austria, a person is entitled to six weeks of paid sick leave (the number of weeks increases the longer the worker has been employed in the same company), and employees need to inform their employer of their incapacity for work immediately.

An employer can require a medical certificate from the first day of incapacity to work, but this is usually only required on the fourth day of illness - though to be on the safe side, you should consult with your family doctor as soon as possible in order to get the official doctor's note.


The situation in Austria, then, becomes very particular: many employers trust their workers to stay home when sick without a note for a couple of days.

Additionally, if a doctor's note is required, it is up to the doctor to determine which day the leave starts.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: When can I get a day off work in Austria?

That means that if you get sick on a day and end up going to your doctor only the next day asking for a sick note, you might get it.

Since the relationship between family doctors and their patients tends to be a close one in Austria (different from other countries where there are no family doctors per se), this is a widespread practice.

On the other side of all this trust, Austrian labour law allows for the so-called "sick leave monitoring", which has led to some unique situations.


Private detectives monitoring workers on sick leave

According to ORF, employers can monitor sick leave if there is a "legitimate interest on the part of the employer", and is stipulated in the Trade Regulation Act.

Employers can then monitor the sick leave not exactly to check if the worker is lying about a sickness (they can ask for a doctor's note to confirm the illness) but to evaluate whether or not the person on sick leave is doing anything that could "hinder" their recovery process.


Apparently, companies are massively resorting to private detectives to do such work, and the broadcaster said that the monitoring of sick leave already accounts for up to 40 percent of requests to these professionals.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What are Austria’s new rules around sick leave for employees?

Wien Heute tagged along to check the work of one of these private detectives while on assignment. With binoculars, a bona fide stakeout van, and recording equipment, they follow an employee who was supposed to stay home by doctor's orders.

The worker is filmed going to an ice cream parlour and to a public pool in Vienna. The detectives (they work in pairs, one staying in the van and another on foot) record all of their movements. 

A final report with all the evidence is handed over to the employer. In this case, the woman could not only lose her job but also ultimately have to pay the costs for the detectives herself.


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