German companies can't ask about employees' vaccine status, says minister
BERLIN, Sept 1 (Reuters) - German companies will not be granted the right to find out whether their employees are vaccinated against COVID-19, although provisions could be made for some particularly risky workplaces, the labour minister said on Wednesday.
Many countries are making vaccination mandatory for some sectors - such as healthcare staff or public sector workers - and some companies - particularly in the United States - have started demanding that employees are inoculated.
But Germany has strict data privacy laws because of its history of Nazi and Communist state surveillance of citizens, meaning that companies have no right to find out about health issues relating to their staff.
German businesses have been pushing to be able to ask staff about vaccination and the government is trying to get more people to get the shots as infections rise again. Almost 61% of the population has had both shots and 65% at least one.
The cabinet agreed on Wednesday that companies must allow their employees time off to get vaccinated and said companies could take into account the vaccination status of their staff if they knew it when deciding on protective measures.
Labour Minister Hubertus Heil told ARD television he understood that many employees were also interested in knowing the vaccination status of their colleagues, but German law means that employers cannot ask for this information.
"Health data of employees is particularly sensitive," Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht told the Funke media group, but added that granting employers the right to that information might be possible in particularly risky workplaces.
Heil said pragmatic solutions were needed, for example in hospitals or prisons.
Exemptions to privacy laws have already been made to allow restaurants to reopen, with staff and customers required to show that they are vaccinated, cured or test negative.
Heil said the same could apply to other risky environments but that such a move would be up to the health minister.
Several thousand people marched through the streets of Berlin on Saturday and Sunday in unauthorised protests against coronavirus vaccinations and restrictions.
The country reported 13,531 new cases on Wednesday and 23 fatalities, bringing the total number of cases to more than 3.9 million and the death toll to 92,223.
(Reporting by Emma Thomasson; editing by Barbara Lewis)