BERLIN (Reuters) -The German government is looking into whether it could temporarily ease data privacy rules to allow companies to find out whether their employees are vaccinated against COVID-19, ministers said on Wednesday.
Many countries are making vaccination mandatory for healthcare staff and public sector workers and some companies – particularly in the United States – have started demanding that employees are inoculated.
But Germany has tough laws regulating data privacy 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 deciding on protective measures could take into account the vaccination status of their staff, if they knew it.
Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said the government was looking into the question of whether companies could be allowed to ask about vaccination, particularly for jobs he described as vulnerable.
He said there were difficult discussions within the coalition government on the issue, particularly between Labour Minister Hubertus Heil, from the Social Democrats (SPD), and Health Minister Jens Spahn from the Christian Democrats.
Heil told ARD television he knew that many employees were also interested in knowing the vaccination status of their colleagues, but the law means that employers cannot ask for it.
“Health data of employees is particularly sensitive,” Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht, also from the SPD, told the Funke media group, but added that granting employers the right to that information might be possible in 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.
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 and Christian Kraemer; editing by Barbara Lewis)