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Running a marathon while off sick

January 2010 - Employment. Legal Developments by Norrbom Vinding Law Firm, member of ius laboris.

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An employee may be off sick and still run a marathon – if so prescribed by his doctor. This was made clear by the Danish Eastern High Court in this ruling.

Sickness is generally a valid excuse for not working. But it means that the illness must make the employee incapable of performing his or her job.

The case concerned a social worker who, after consulting with his doctor, took sick leave because of mental problems. His doctor prescribed hard physical exercise - that would do him good. He followed the doctor's advice and ran a half-marathon. But after a short period of time, he was called to a sickness absence interview and given notice.

Marathon is healthy

His employer, however, wanted confirmation from a medical specialist that the physical exercise had a curative effect. Since the social worker had to wait quite a while to see the specialist, he was summarily dismissed on the ground that he had failed to show a valid excuse for not working. His employer did not believe that he could be incapable of performing his job if he was capable of running a marathon.

The Court held that the social worker could be ill and still run a marathon. The employer had failed to prove that he was not incapable of working because of his mental condition. Nor was there any basis for establishing that his running activities had had a negative effect on his health or prolonged his condition.