Thyra Dane

Author of Romance. Blogs about Scandinavia, Vikings and books.

Scandinavia is known for our generous benefits for people who get sick. You can take time off from work with full pay (you’ll need your doctor to sign some documents if you’re sick for extended periods of time) or almost full pay if you get sick. A common cold or cancer – you have a right to keep your job and to keep your monthly income.

One would think that this was something new. You know – crazy Scandinavians and our welfare state – but actually it’s not. I found an article that referred to the first mentioning of sick pay. Guess when that was? Around year 1000. Go Vikings! (no, not the football Vikings – the real ones).

King Magnus Lagabøte's (1238-80) law.

King Magnus Lagabøte’s (1238-80) law. Not the first law that addresses sick pay.

The Gulating Law, which was written down in the 11th century, and had an even earlier origin, had several laws and provisions regarding employment. An employee had the right to five day’s wages (not really a lot if you have an ax in your head, but it’s better than nothing) if he or she got sick. In the 13th century the law was expanded. Now the employer had to pay sick pay for half a month.

Sick pay and the welfare state reminded me of this (from Memecenter):


We certainly have shitty winters!

We certainly have shitty winters!

Stay healthy, everyone!

12 thoughts on “Vikings had sick pay

  1. Eric Swanson says:

    I think that the Nordic countries have good programs with regards to health care, education and job training, though there isn’t anything which cannot be better (Viola Falk). Perhaps this is because of the climate and seafaring traditions in the Nordic countries. Cooperation and caring for one another was / is essential for survival. As well, I think that equality between men and women promotes happiness. I see Nordic social policy focusing on things that will make people happy. The interesting thing to me is that happy people also seem to do well economically. To me the American focus on profitability and production of goods and services is opposite of what it ought to be. Focus on programs that will educate and train healthy citizens so that they can go out and earn a living.

    1. thyra10 says:

      I agree. I do think happy people is good business sense for a country. And for good reason. If you trust your business partners and you have faith in the future, you’re much more likely to start up new businesses and to take risks.

      There will be more people who are able to take those risks if more people are educated and healthy.

      In Scandinavia the small businesses rule (even if the big businesses like LEGO and IKEA are more famous). The small businesses know that the state has their backs – if someone is sick, the small business only has to pay for sick leave in the very short beginning and the state will step in.

      As you said, there’s always room for improvement but I’m happy that the system basically functions well.

  2. Alison Griffiths says:

    That’s incredible, you guys were the real cradle of civilisation. It’s amazing how, in Europe, we take our welfare systems for granted. I couldn’t imagine living in a country where you get turned away from a doctor or hospital for not having the money to pay.

    1. thyra10 says:

      I’m not so sure that everything the Vikings did could be considered civilized 😉

      I agree with you. I would be a nervous wreck if I lived somewhere where medical treatment wasn’t free. Cancer might mean having to sell your house, for instance.

      1. Eric Swanson says:

        Paying medical bills is the biggest cause for personal bankruptcy in the USA. The financial elite like it because they can reposses houses at bargain basement prices. And high medical payments also hit the “middle class”. I know a tenured university professor who may lose her home to pay for her husband’s cancer treatments. As well, his treatment has been impacted by their health care policy that limits them to a max $50,000 in out payments per year, regardless of how serious the medical problem is or how many family members need treatment. This limit has affected the treatments and timing of treatments that are affordable for this young family. It seems that insurance agents steer medical treatments in my country. 🙁

  3. Alison Griffiths says:

    How forward thinking is it that the Gulating Law applied to men and women?!

    1. thyra10 says:

      Absolutely! We seem to think that the equality between genders has only moved forward in history, but it hasn’t. It moved backwards from the Vikings and up until a couple of generations ago.

  4. fffbone says:

    Years ago I heard a story on the news saying some man robbed a bank so he would get caught and go to jail. He had cancer and he’d be covered by being in jail. Very sad,

    1. thyra10 says:

      Oh, that’s just sad!

      When I visited Florida last summer I lost a piece of my hearing aid inside my ear. It took the doctor about 30 seconds to remove it but they added all kinds of additional things to my trip to the ER (I even had to talk to a psychiatrist – after all, I might be suicidal with that thing in my ear!). All in all the price for that 30 second procedure was more than the plane tickets for me and my family – much more! I was SO happy that I had travel insurance but also worried for everyone who would have to pay that amount of money out of their pocket – or who would not see a doctor and face additional problems later.

  5. fffbone says:

    They had you talk to a psychiatrist ! Sounds like someone wanted to get as much money from you as possible. Did they give you a prescription too? Might get an infection from that. (said with sarcasm).
    How long did you spend in the ER?

    1. thyra10 says:

      Oh, absolutely. There was absolutely no reason for most of the treatment they gave me – apart from the hospital wanting to make some money.
      I was a “fast track patient” because – apparently – this was serious business. I guess I spent about an hour all in all and none of it was spent waiting. The procedure I came for took under a minute. Ridiculous!

  6. Know-All says:

    The more things change, the more they remain the same?? In a positive way! 🙂

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