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NEWSLETTER

What do Denmark’s proposed welfare reforms mean for foreign residents?

Denmark’s government on Wednesday presented proposals to reform rules on certain types of social welfare including the two main forms of unemployment benefit, dagpenge and kontanthjælp.

What do Denmark’s proposed welfare reforms mean for foreign residents?
Denmark's government on Tuesday presented proposals to reform unemployment welfare.Photo: Philip Davali/Ritzau Scanpix

Among the proposed changes are a reduction in the monthly payments and eligibility period for dagpenge for newly graduated students.

Proposed rule changes could also see language requirements for foreign students who remain in Denmark to look for work after completing their studies.

What is the difference between dagpenge and kontanthjælp?

People not currently in employment can qualify for welfare payouts known in Danish as dagpenge, funded in part by the state and in part by membership fees, by joining an A-kasse or unemployment union.

Non-A-kasse members can apply for ‘social assistance’ or  kontanthjælp, the lowest level of benefit. It is only available to those over 30 years old, who are legally resident in Denmark, and who have no other means of support.

EXPLAINED: Should I sign up with a Danish union and get unemployment insurance?

What changes are being proposed?

New university graduates who do not have children could receive as much as 4,000 kroner less per month in dagpenge, according to the proposal presented by the government on Tuesday.

Specifically, the rate would be reduced from 13,815 kroner to 9,500 kroner monthly, or 12,000 kroner per month for persons over the age of 30.

This would not apply to people with children, who qualify for 15,844 kroner per month, an amount the government does not want to change.

Dagpenge is usually calculated based on previous incomes or tax payments for people with earlier connection for the labour market, but this is not the case for those who have just completed their studies, hence the standard rates.

In addition, the period in which new graduates are entitled to the regular dagpenge rate will be decreased from two years to one, in a move designed to encourage recently-educated people to take jobs more quickly, including unskilled roles.

People who receive dagpenge are already obliged to meet a number of requirements including applying for a set number of jobs weekly, always being available to start work and regular contact with job centres.

“Newly educated people have just received a good education. This must be used on the labour market, not in unemployment,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said during the presentation of the proposal on Tuesday.

“Maybe you won’t get your dream job immediately. But that is not crucial. (What’s crucial) is to create value,” she added.

How does the proposal affect foreign residents?

International students are likely to be impacted by the proposal if they want to remain in Denmark to begin their careers after graduation. That is because the government wants to introduce language criteria to the dagpenge rules.

According to the proposal text, new graduates will be required to meet certain language criteria in order to be eligible for dagpenge, although no further detail as to the criteria is given.

The rules, which would not apply to people in employment, would limit access to the dagpenge system for foreign nationals who have recently completed their studies in Denmark, the government said.

What else is being proposed?

Students should be better rewarded for working during their studies, according to the government.

As such, an increase is proposed to the limit to which students can earn from part time jobs without a corresponding reduction to the state student grant, SU.

Meanwhile, people encompassed by integration rules could see their access to the kontanthjælp system curtailed, under the proposed reforms.

Danes and Denmark residents with a so-called “integration obligation” (integrationspligt) could be required to undertake mandatory work for 37 hours weekly in order to qualify for the kontanthjælp benefits.

That work could include “for example, going down to the beach to pick up cigarette butts or plastic”, employment minister Peter Hummelgaard said at Tuesday‘s briefing.

The exact work would be organised by local municipalities, Hummelgaard also said.

“The most important thing for us is to get people out of the door,” he said.

The requirement would apply to people who have not passed the prøve i dansk 2 language test or sixth grade in the national school system.

Persons would have to have received kontanthjælp benefits in three of the last four years, or be in receipt of the lower “selvforsørgelses- og hjemrejseydelse” (self-provision and repatriation benefit) given to many refugees, in order to be encompassed by the mandatory work requirement.

Around 20,000 people, thought to primarily consist of women with backgrounds in the Middle East, North Africa, Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan, are estimated to be those who would be impacted by the rule.

Pensions are another area in which changes are proposed, with the government planning to scrap a deduction in state pensions for people whose partners are still working.

That would increase the incentive for partners to remain in work, according to the proposal.

What is the reaction to the proposal so far?

The National Union of Students in Denmark (Danske Studerendes Fællesråd, DSF) accused the government of turning its back on students.

“(The proposal) is built on a myth that the dagpenge rate is so high that young people don’t want to get a job, because it’s not financially beneficial. But that’s not the reality we are hearing. The challenge is that it’s enormously difficult to get on to the labour market in many sectors,” DSF chairperson Mike Gudbergsen told news wire Ritzau.

Gudbergsen called instead for better incentives for businesses to hire new graduates.

The Red-Green Alliance, a left wing party which props up the government, strongly criticised the plan to introduce mandatory work weeks for people in the integration system, saying it was “tantamount to state-backed social dumping”.

“It’s an incredibly poor proposal and I believe we should go in a totally different direction and help people into real jobs with union-sanctioned wages instead,” Red Green Alliance political spokesperson Mai Villadsen told Ritzau in a written comment.

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WORKING IN DENMARK

EXPLAINED: What are the rules for taking sick leave in Denmark?

If you are unwell and unable to work, Danish employment law allows you to take sick leave if you are in employment, self-employed or receiving social welfare credit.

EXPLAINED: What are the rules for taking sick leave in Denmark?
Photo: billiondigital/Depositphotos

People who work in Denmark are entitled to take sick leave and it’s important to take care of yourself when you become ill. 

In Denmark, mental health conditions such as depression or stress are treated on equal footing with injuries and physical illnesses. The latter can range from the ‘flu to more serious conditions where you have to be hospitalised for treatment.

Taking sick leave under the Danish employment provisions might difficult to grasp, especially if you are a foreigner in Denmark and used to having different rules or practices in your home country. But if you are legitimately ill, then you are entitled to take sick leave in these situations. You might be asked to provide proof of your illness from your doctor at any time. 

To get sick pay in Denmark, you must live and pay tax in the country (a few exceptions apply under special circumstances).

It is your employer and/or the relevant local municipality which is responsible for paying out sick pay, depending on a number of conditions, primarily related to the length of time for which you have been sick, and also for how long you worked for your employer before illness.

In 2022, municipal sick pay of up to 4,465 kroner per week can be paid out.

The steps you must take vary depending on whether you are employed, self-employed or receiving unemployment insurance (dagpenge). This is addressed below.

Employed

Who is entitled to sick leave?

One of the following requirements must be fulfilled if you are to qualify for municipal sick pay (sygedagpenge):

  • You must have worked for 240 hours within the last six months prior to your first day of sick leave. For at least five of these months, you must have worked at least 40 hours in total that month.
  • Had you not been sick, you would have qualified for unemployment cover (dagpenge) in relevant circumstances. This requires membership of an insurance provider known as an A-kasse (which provides for sick pay if you are unemployed at the time you become sick).
  • You have completed a vocational education programme (erhvervsmæssig uddannelse) lasting 18 months or longer within the last month.
  • You are enrolled in certain types of internship or education programmes or work at a reduced number of weekly hours for health-related reasons (flexjob).

What steps do I need to take?

On your first day of illness, you should let your manager know that you are taking the day off and log it according to company procedures. This informs your employer (especially the payroll department) that you have taken a sick day.

You must inform your employer that you are sick within two hours of the time you would normally have started working, unless there are extenuating circumstances (such as being unable to call due to a hospitalisation) which prevented you from getting in touch.

This is important for a couple of reasons, but if you are going to be out for a significant period, your company will be eligible for partial reimbursement by your municipality. It’s also important that there is a clear first day of illness logged in case it turns out to be a long illness. 

If you do not call in sick on time, you only have the right to sick pay from the time at which you informed you employer.

You employer is required to inform the municipality of your sickness within the first five weeks of your first sick day. Once the municipality has registered your sickness, it initiates processes including payment of sick pay and measures aimed at helping you gat back to work.

If or when the municipality is responsible for paying you during sick leave, you will receive a form via the secure digital mail system e-boks (also accessible via borger.dk and Digital Post), which you must fill in and return by the given deadline, usually 8 days after it is sent by the municipality. You should contact the municipality if you do not receive the form.

If your employer is paying your sick leave, they can apply to the municipality to refund them using the municipal sick pay you would otherwise have received. In this case, you will receive a statement containing the information your employer has passed on to the municipality. You should check to make sure the details are correct.

What about extended absences?

If you end up taking a long period of sick leave, then your employer will contact you about conducting a sickness absence interview. This is a mandatory interview that has to be completed within four weeks from the first day of the illness. The employee is also obligated to attend, which can be in person or by phone, unless this is impossible due to the nature of the illness.

The purpose of this interview is to talk to you about making a plan to come back to work. If you think that you will be on sick leave for more than eight weeks, then the employer is entitled to ask you for a return-to-work plan. The terms of your return can be discussed and agreed upon, according to what makes sense in your situation. You could, for example, ask to return on a part-time basis at first and gradually work back up to full-time.  

You don’t have to divulge the nature of your illness, but your company has the right to ask you for a ‘Fit for Work’ certificate or mulighedserkæring. This applies to both short-term and long-term illnesses.

You and your employer fill out one part, and your doctor also has a part in the completion of the certificate.  The overall point is to evaluate how the illness has impacted your ability to perform your job duties.

How long can I take off sick?

You are allowed an initial 22 weeks off sick within a 9-month period. Before these 22 weeks are up, your municipality will assess whether your sick leave period can be extended.

An extension can be granted for a number of reasons, including the presence of a plan to return to work once you are fit again; a plan to ease back in through a period of part-time work or training known as virksomhedspraktik; diagnosis of serious illness, or pending outcomes of other types of assessments.

READ ALSO: Can you take sick leave in Denmark if your child is ill?

Self-employed

Who is entitled to sick leave?

As a self-employed person, you can take sick leave if:

  • You have run your own business for six of the last 12 months. The business activities must be considered ‘significant’ and have been ongoing in the last month before your absence.
  • You must have spent at least half of normal full-time working hours (18.5 hours per week) running the business.

If your business has not existed this long, prior spells working as an employee can count towards your entitlement.

You can receive municipal sick pay from after two weeks of sickness unless you have taken out a voluntary insurance policy which can give you sick pay from the first or third day of absence.

What steps do I need to take?

Regardless of whether you have the insurance mentioned above, you must register your sickness on the NemRefusion portal within three weeks of your first day of absence.

If you have the insurance, you must registered within a week of the first day on which the insurance covers you (i.e. the first or third day of absence).

Sick pay for self-employed people is paid out by your municipality. You will receive a form via the secure digital mail system e-boks (also accessible via borger.dk and Digital Post). You must inform the municipality how long you expect to be out for and if the sickness is expected to affect your ability to work later.

What about extended absences?

You municipality will continually follow up with you during your sick leave.

If you end up taking a longer period of sick leave, then the municipality will contact you about conducting a sickness absence interview within eight weeks from the first day of the illness.

The purpose of this interview is to talk to you about making a plan to come back to work. The terms of your return can be discussed and agreed upon, according to what makes sense in your situation.

You will be obligated to attend, which can be in person or by phone, unless this is impossible due to the nature of the illness.

The municipality is also entitled to request a doctor’s declaration of your condition, in order to help put together a plan for safeguarding your return to work, the expected duration of the sickness and other aspects.

You can request a ‘fast-track’ process with your municipality if you expect your absence to last longer than eight weeks. More information about this can be found here.

How long can I take off sick?

You are allowed an initial 22 weeks off sick within a 9-month period. Before these 22 weeks are up, your municipality will assess whether your sick leave period can be extended.

An extension can be granted for a number of reasons, including the presence of a plan to return to work once you are fit again; a plan to ease back in through a period of part-time work or training known as virksomhedspraktik; diagnosis of serious illness, or pending outcomes of other types of assessments.

Unemployment insurance (dagpenge)

Who is entitled to sick leave?

You can receive sick paid if you are unemployed and currently receiving unemployment insurance (dagpenge).

This means that, had you not been sick, you would have qualified for unemployment cover (dagpenge) in relevant circumstances, or were already receiving it at the time you fell ill.

This requires membership of an insurance provider known as an A-kasse (which provides for sick pay if you are unemployed at the time you become sick).

If you are move from dagpenge to sick leave, you are affected by different requirements. For example, you will not be obliged to send a set number of job applications per week – one of the criteria for dagpenge.

READ ALSO: A-kasse: Everything foreigners in Denmark need to know about unemployment insurance

What steps do I need to take?

You must register your sickness with your A-kasse on the first day you are ill. You can do this on the jobnet.dk platform.

You A-kasse will pay your sick pay for the first 14 days of your sickness, before informing your municipality which will then contact you via the secure digital mail system e-boks (also accessible via borger.dk and Digital Post). You must inform the municipality how long you expect to be out for and if the sickness is expected to affect your ability to work later.

What about extended absences?

Your municipality takes up ongoing contact with you during your period of sick leave.

If you end up taking a longer period of leave, then the municipality will contact you about conducting a sickness absence interview within eight weeks from the first day of the illness.

The purpose of this interview is to talk to you about making a plan to come back to work. The terms of your return can be discussed and agreed upon, according to what makes sense in your situation.

You will be obligated to attend, which can be in person or by phone, unless this is impossible due to the nature of the illness.

The municipality is also entitled to request a doctor’s declaration of your condition, in order to help put together a plan for safeguarding your return to work, the expected duration of the sickness and other aspects.

You can request a ‘fast-track’ process with your municipality if you expect your absence to last longer than eight weeks. More information about this can be found here.

How long can I take off sick?

You are allowed an initial 22 weeks off sick within a 9-month period. Before these 22 weeks are up, your municipality will assess whether your sick leave period can be extended.

An extension can be granted for a number of reasons, including the presence of a plan to return to work once you are fit again; a plan to ease back in through a period of part-time work or training known as virksomhedspraktik; diagnosis of serious illness, or pending outcomes of other types of assessments.

Source: borger.dk

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