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

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

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Employers are keeping private investigators busy with requests to monitor sick leave in Austria (Photo by cottonbro/Pexels)

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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What is the ‘friendship economy’ in Austria and how does it work?

The so-called 'friendship economy' in Austria impacts many aspects of daily life, from getting a job to securing a dream apartment. Here’s how it works and why it might be changing.

What is the 'friendship economy' in Austria and how does it work?

Ever wondered why some people in Austria easily walk into a great job? Or manage to get the sought-after apartment in the right location?

Well, it might be down to the ‘friendship economy’ (Freunderlwirtschaft). Or, as the saying goes, “it’s not about what you know, but who you know”.

Here’s what it means in Austria.

FOR MEMBERS: How much do you need to earn for a good life in Austria?

What is the ‘friendship economy’?

The ‘friendship economy’ involves the use of personal contacts to access opportunities, like a job promotion or a salary increase. 

According to the latest Global Corruption Barometer by Transparency International, 40 percent of people surveyed in Austria admit to using personal networks in this way. Whereas the average among EU states is just 33 percent.

However, the tide might be turning as more people in Austria put a higher value on correct behaviour – especially in the workplace.

A recent study by Austrian job portal Karriere found that half of all those surveyed would not apply to a company if the management did not act with integrity. This came above issues like equal opportunities, diversity and sustainability.

Georg Konjovic, CEO at Karriere, said: “People want to work in companies that take their social responsibility seriously. 

“This applies to the ecological footprint, dealing with minorities and the management culture in the company. Anyone who does not actively address these issues will lose their attractiveness as an employer in the long term.” 

READ ALSO: ‘Bad-tempered locals’: Vienna ranked the world’s ‘unfriendliest city’

How corrupt is Austria?

The Global Corruption Barometer shows 29 percent of people believe corruption has increased in Austria.

Plus, nine percent of public service users in Austria say they paid a bribe in the past 12 months to get what they want. This is above the EU average of three in ten people admitting to paying a bribe or using a personal connection to access public services.

Furthermore, business executives are believed to be the most corrupt in Austria (according to 24 percent of respondents), followed by bankers (20 percent) and the leader of the country (15 percent).