Some medical certificates that employees present to substantiate personal leave provide very little information about the employees’ condition; so, can an employer seek more information in order to assess the validity of the leave claim?
This question was recently sent to WorkplaceInfo.
Q: An employee has provided a medical certificate as evidence of their absence from work due to a personal illness.
The length of the period of illness was approximately two and a half weeks.
The medical certificate simply states the employee is unfit for work due to ‘medical illness’.
Because the employee has had a poor record with respect to absenteeism during the course of their employment and the lengthy period of absence in this instance, we asked the employee for more specific details regarding the reason for the absence.
The employee refused to agree to this request.
Can the employer challenge a medical certificate and seek more specific information from the employee’s medical practitioner where the original certificate is vague in explaining the reason for the employee’s absence, or is the medical certificate irrefutable proof that employee was unfit for work for the specified period?
A: Production of a medical certificate is usually regarded as reasonable proof the employee was legitimately absent from work because of the stated illness or injury.
The employee has a right to keep details of their medical condition confidential.
However, the employer may, in reasonable circumstances, seek further information from the medical practitioner who issued the certificate.
‘Reasonable circumstances’ could include occupational health and safety considerations, which may be relevant to the employee who is ill as well as other workers in the immediate workplace.
Other circumstances may include the employer contacting the doctor to verify the veracity of a medical certificate (eg to determine whether it is fraudulent in any way).
The employer should not expect to see a diagnosis on the certificate.
Diagnosis is generally defined to mean ‘the process of determining by examination the nature or cause of a diseased condition’.
In attempting to obtain relevant information from the medical practitioner, the employer should only enquire on the basis of identifying the symptoms (rather than the cause) that prevented the employee from attending work, and the relevance of those symptoms to the employee’s duties.
Before providing any further information to the employer, the medical practitioner is usually required to obtain express consent from the patient before disclosure of the further relevant information to their employer.
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has issued Guidelines for Medical Practitioners on Certificates Certifying Illness, which can be found on the AMA website.
Source: Paul Munro, IR Consultant, WorkplaceInfo.