Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Dealing with employees who falsify medical certificates

Employees are entitled to take personal leave if they are not fit for work because of an illness or injury. Employers can require their employees to produce medical evidence that would satisfy a “reasonable person” of their incapacity for work. Unfortunately, pulling a “sickie” is all too common and some employees try to abuse the system. In a recent case, the Fair Work Commission clarified an employer’s rights to scrutinise medical evidence and discipline employees who abuse the process.

Case Study

In February 2015, Ms Bluzer, had a dental procedure while in Bali and submitted a certificate from the Balinese dental clinic in support of her request for leave. Ms Bluzer’s leave request was rejected, as the certificate didn’t state that she was unfit for work.

The following year in February 2016, Ms Bluzer travelled to Bali for dental treatment once again and on that occasion produced a medical certificate in support of her leave request which contained the words “so was unable attended work“.

Shortly after this, the employer reviewed its records and found that Ms Bluzer had sought to convert another part of her annual leave for the first Bali trip in 2015 to personal leave, and asked her to submit an application in support of that request.

She then supplied a certificate by email, which also contained the phrase “so was unable attended work“.

The grammatical error in both certificates roused the employer’s suspicion as to its authenticity of the certificates which were signed by different dentists. The employer conducted an investigation and found that the medical certificates were falsified. Bluzer’s employment was terminated soon after.

Ms Bluzer made an unfair dismissal claim and argued that the similarities were either as a result of an auto-correct feature or “it was a coincidence which she could not explain”. The Commission did not accept Ms Bluzer’s explanation and found that the employer had a valid reason to terminate her employment and the dismissal was not unfair.

On the issue of whether an investigation was appropriate, the Commission stated that “a possibly falsified medical certificate would be a sufficient concern to kick start a disciplinary process but an issue about a backdated and reissued medical certificate would not necessarily do that.” The Commission also commented that employers should be wary of when disciplinary processes can be too heavy-handed and when they are required to prevent abuse of the system.

Absence from Work Certificates

Employers should be aware that there are a number of “absence from work certificates” being advertised to employees, as cheap and fast medical evidence to support a request for personal leave.

For example, some pharmacies have recently started offering absence from work certificates for as little as $20. We understand that these certificates are issued by pharmacists and may contain the following general wording:

    “In my professional opinion, based on the information provided to me at the time, they will be unfit to attend work for the period commencing XXX until XXX inclusive.

    This opinion was provided in my capacity as a pharmacist for the purpose of informing the employer of the named person that they are unfit for work due to illness/injury. (Cross one out)”

Lessons for Employers

While most employees will provide legitimate medical evidence, there may be those seeking to abuse their personal leave entitlements. We encourage employers to maintain a critical eye when receiving medical certificates from employees and to consider whether further scrutiny is required.

A medical certificate issued by a registered medical practitioner is generally sufficient proof that the employee was absent from work due to the stated illness or injury. However, employers should consider implementing policies and procedures which clearly specify that a medical certificate signed by a medical practitioner is the required form of evidence. Employers should also be aware that modern awards and enterprise agreements may contain alternative terms relating to the kind of evidence that an employee must provide to be entitled to personal leave.

HR Legal works with employers to develop leave policies, perform workplace investigations and navigate disciplinary processes. If you require assistance in relation to these areas or help understanding the requirements under the applicable industrial instrument, please contact us.


This article was produced by HR Legal. It is intended to provide general information only in summary format on legal issues. It does not constitute legal advice, and should not be relied on as such.

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