Its 9.00pm on a Wednesday night and the darts competition at the local pub is in its final round.  There have been a number of beers shared as part of the battle and unbeknownst to me, one of my team is the winner of the local competition, again!  There are more beers and little sleep as a result of the celebrations.

What I do know is that this same team member is routinely absent from my business every second Thursday and I am trying to understand this. I am concerned, I ask all the sorts of questions I think I can to make sure that they are OK because I care about my people. 

I am told that it is nothing serious by my team member, but to ensure that they are getting support I decide I am going to request to see medical evidence for what I assume is something serious, but something they don’t want to discuss with me.

Nothing changes.

I continue to be concerned so I start to ask subtle questions amongst the team to ensure that there is nothing serious in play.  What I discover is the leave is a result of hangovers!

I am shocked and angry, not only angry with my team member but at the medical practitioners who have been supplying him with medical certificates for the last three months for a hangover!!

I support my team. I am reasonable.  I don’t ask for a medical certificate for every day that people are sick but only when it would be reasonable to seek one like before or after a weekend or after they have been away for two or more days.  

This is just one of the many scenarios currently happening in our businesses in Australia.  Sick leave costs Australian businesses $62 million dollars a year and as a person in the front line, the medical community has to take some responsibility for this.

The ease in which some medical practitioners, and in some states, pharmacists, issue a medical certificate is shocking.  Whilst the onus is on the employer to provide evidence refuting the accuracy of medical certificates, should there not be an onus on the medical practitioner to ensure that the illness is legitimate.

In the case Anderson v Crown Melbourne Ltd [2008] FMCA 152 (3 March 2008) Mr. Anderson was terminated from his place of work for providing a medical certificate when he was actually attending a football match between Essendon and West Coast at the Subiaco Oval in Perth. Whilst in isolation the onus should have been on the employee to be truthful, could there have not been a deeper probe into why there was a need for a medical certificate by his Doctor

There has also been a number of times where I have had concerns regarding the legitimacy of certificates and have, in fact, terminated employees for serious misconduct for providing a false medical certificate.  As most employers are unsure of their rights in this area, the following should be included to ensure that an employer is absolutely sure that the medical evidence is true.

The Australian Medical Association has issued ‘Guidelines for Medical Practitioners on Certificates Certifying Illness — 2011’. Item 7 of the Guidelines states:

“The usual requirements for a sickness certificate are:

  • name and address of the medical practitioner issuing the certificate
  • name of the patient
  • date on which the examination took place
  • date on which the certificate was issued
  • date(s) on which the patient is or was unfit for attendance

Supplementary information of assistance to the patient in obtaining the appropriate leave especially where there is a discrepancy in the period for which the certificate is issued and the date of the certificate.”

So, to the medical community, can we please work together to try and stop the costs to business on illegitimate sick leave?

Thank you for your consideration.

Whilst I appreciate we also have an epidemic of ‘Doctor shoppers’ within our businesses, some simple, deeper seeded questions around health could minimise this issue.  I appreciate your care is with your patient, but should your care not only be on the honesty and integrity of these clients to ensure that they are also not taking you for a ride?


Author: wattsnext Group
The wattsnext Group blog is a compilation of ideas and expertise from the entire team, past and present with a few added gems from guest authors from time to time. With this collaborative approach, we can provide you with a broader perspective and high-level expertise across the small business landscape.

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