Medical Certificates for Sick Leave

Can you ask for further details?

In recent times many of our clients have asked if they can challenge a medical certificate or ask for further details about the employee’s illness or injury.

One recent example was where an employee who was absent for 4 weeks has provided a medical certificate as evidence of the illness. As is often the case, the certificate states the employee was unfit for duty due to a ‘medical illness’. That particular employee had a poor record of absenteeism and had previously requested annual leave for this period, but this request had been refused. Given the circumstances, the employer asked for more specific details about the employee’s illness, because there were concerns about the genuineness of the absence. The employee has refused to provide any further details.

The question that was posed to us was, can we challenge a medical certificate and seek more specific details from the employee’s doctor?

The production of a medical certificate is usually regarded as reasonable proof an employee was legitimately absent from work because of the stated illness or injury and the employee has a right to keep details of their medical condition confidential.

There are however circumstances where an employer can ask for better and further particulars of an illness or injury. An employer may, in reasonable circumstances, seek further information from the medical practitioner who issued the certificate.

‘Reasonable circumstances’ could include work health and safety considerations, which may be relevant to the employee who is ill as well as other workers in the immediate workplace. This is particularly so if an employer suspects that an employee’s illness or injury is likely to be aggravated by being at work and undertaking certain duties, or that the employee’s illness or injury is likely to have an effect on other employees.

In some cases it may be reasonable for an employer to contact a doctor to verify the veracity of a medical certificate to check and determine whether or not the medical certificate is fraudulent.

In attempting to obtain further information, an employer should only enquire on the basis of identifying the symptoms and not the cause that prevented the employee from attending work, and the relevance of those symptoms to the employee’s duties.

A medical practitioner is usually required to obtain express consent from a patient before disclosing any further relevant information to an employer.

A diagnosis is not usually required to be provided. The medical certificate should be legible and written so that a non-medical person is able to read and understand it, e.g. avoiding unnecessary abbreviations and medical jargon.

Should you require further details regarding medical certificates, what’s reasonable and what’s not, please do not hesitate to contact us.

By Greg Arnold

Director and Principal Consultant

Effective Workplace Solutions

employmentlaw, employmentlawtweed, HR, humanresources, medical certificate, sick leave